Quilt artist Carolyn Mazloomi and longtime Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra cellist Norman Johns have been honored by ArtsWave as the 2023 winners of the Rosa F. and Samuel B. Sachs Fund Prize for their artistic accomplishments and contributions to the cultural life of the Cincinnati region.
ArtsWave announced the winners during its annual board of trustees meeting.
“Norman Johns and Carolyn Mazloomi have each shown lifelong dedication to perfecting their craft, and they have also uplifted marginalized people and stories,” said Alecia Kintner, ArtsWave’s president and CEO. “We thank them both for their many contributions, and we honor their artistry.”
Mazloomi is the founder of the National African American Quilt Guild and the Women of Color Quilters Network. She views her roles as an African American wife, mother and grandmother, born in the Jim Crow-segregated South, as being vital to everything she’s done.
“I create exhibitions both as a curator and an artist that deal with social justice issues and the status of women,” said Mazloomi. “The creation of art is about change. That’s been my life’s work.”
Quilt-making presents a unique way to begin those conversations, Mazloomi said.
“I love working with quilts. They can be very disarming when discussing difficult subjects because every human being has a lifelong relationship with cloth,” Mazloomi said. “Textiles can reflect warmth, hearth and home. So, it’s an effective way to talk about difficult subjects when you can visualize them in a quilt.”
Cameron Kitchin, director at Cincinnati Art Museum has seen the effect her work has on the region. He called her a “true champion” for artmakers and change agents in the community.
“Over a lifetime, she has brought forward stories of excellence and artists whom we should hear and see,” Kitchin said. “I am continually inspired by the positive and uplifting civic and cultural conversations that she has influenced.”
Johns has spent the better part of the past five decades performing in the CSO. But growing up in West Philadelphia, he’d play any genre of music he could.
“I was doing all kinds of different gigs, even R&B. It was all an adventure to me,” recalled Johns.
While in Philadelphia, Johns also saw first-hand what it took to succeed as a member of an underrepresented population. Elsa Hilgers, the first woman to play in a major orchestra, was his cello teacher in college and showed him the importance of not only being an excellent performer but also creating platforms for those who may not have one.
“When I got to Cincinnati, I focused on teaching kids of color. I would have the marketing folks at the CSO put aside blocks of tickets for me so my students could come and see what the orchestra was like,” Johns said. “They may never have seen that before.”
Throughout his 47-year career in Cincinnati, Johns has championed the advancement of talented high school orchestral students from traditionally underrepresented communities. In 1995, he helped to pioneer the Norman E. Johns Award, supporting young African American, Latine and Native American students with full-tuition scholarships to the Youth Orchestra.
The first year, there was one award because there was only one applicant. Now, they give out multiple awards each year.
“It warms my heart,” Johns said.
To date, the award has provided more than $30,000 in scholarships. Recipients have gone on to continue their music studies at major conservatories and universities and won positions at major American orchestras.
“Norm is critical to this success, and we are grateful for his ongoing commitment to this work,” said Jonathan Martin, president and CEO of the CSO.
The Sachs Fund Prize is the result of a bequest from the late Samuel Sachs in 1929. Through the award, ArtsWave recognizes visionary individuals who have brought distinction to the Greater Cincinnati community through their work in the arts.
The Sachs Fund Prize Committee, this year led by Ron Bates, uses the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grants” as a model. ArtsWave assembles a group of this region’s most knowledgeable leaders in theater, music, dance, architecture, visual arts, photography and literature to select individuals who best meet the criteria for this award.
The prize does have a cash award, however, ArtsWave doesn’t publicize the amount. There are no restrictions for how the award money can be used.
Mazloomi and Johns join a long list of individuals who have profoundly affected the region with their artistic contributions. Previous recipients include Zaha Hadid, Leah Stewart, Phyllis Weston, Stephen Sondheim, Shepard Fairey, James Conlon, Kathy Y. Wilson, Patty Beggs, Victoria Morgan and Annie Ruth Napier.