Alumni Board awards announced

Left to right: Karen Blessen (photo by Danny Fulgencio), A. Kevin Kaisershot, Matthew Miller and Liana K. Sandin.
Left to right: Karen Blessen (photo by Danny Fulgencio), A. Kevin Kaisershot, Matthew Miller and Liana K. Sandin.

Alumni Board awards announced

calendar icon27 Feb 2018    

Lincoln, Neb.--The Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Alumni Board has selected the recipients of this year’s Alumni Board Awards. The awards will be presented at the College’s Honors Day Dinner on Sunday, April 22. The dinner is by invitation only.

The Alumni Achievement Awards honor alumni from each academic area of the college who have demonstrated outstanding achievement and overall professional excellence.

The Alumni Achievement Award in Art, Art History & Design will be presented to Karen Blessen (B.F.A.  1973). Blessen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and artist. She is from Columbus, Nebraska, and graduated from UNL in 1973 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

In the first chapter of her career, she worked as a free-lance artist and writer. Her work appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Times Square, books for GP Putnam & Sons, Simon and Schuster, and many other places.

In August of 2000, her life was disrupted and the second chapter of her career was ignited. The organization 29 Pieces was born. The seeds of 29 Pieces were planted with a bullet, the bullet that murdered a man in front of Blessen’s house.

Blessen reacted to the tragedy using the tools of her profession. The result was “One Bullet,” a piece that she wrote and illustrated for the Dallas Morning News, exploring the act of violence and tracing the path of its impact on the victim's family, the killer's family, the law enforcement community and the community at large.

She turned to a tool she knew—art—with hopes of using its power as a catalyst for peace and kindness. Engaging, involving and inspiring our community's youth to learn, share and live the lessons of peace became the unifying goal of the organization known as 29 Pieces.

Since its inception in 2005, 29 Pieces has grown in number and impact. 29 Pieces: Artists Making a Kinder World workshops and classroom curricula have helped more than 50,000 students develop their creativity and their love of peace. More than 400 teachers have been trained in 29 Pieces: Artists Making a Kinder World Lessons.

Spanning both chapters of Blessen’s career is the practice of keeping written and visual journals. She is currently in the process of archiving more than 65 journals.

The Alumni Achievement Award in Music will be presented to A. Kevin Kaisershot (B.M.E. 1980). After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Nebraska, Kaisershot received his Masters degree in trumpet performance from Illinois State University. After more than 35 years of teaching, Kaisershot retired in 2015, most recently teaching at East Aurora (Illinois) School District #131, where he served as Music Director 5-12 from 1984-2015.

As a conductor and clinician, Kaisershot has become well traveled throughout the Midwest. Internationally recognized as a composer/arranger, especially of music for trumpet and brass, his music has achieved critical acclaim. His music has been performed not only in the United States, but also in several other countries including Japan, Korea, Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Switzerland, England, Norway and Germany.

He has won several awards for his band compositions, including the distinction that his march, titled “Spectre of Fortune,” was adopted by the State of Massachusetts Lions Club Organizations as their "official" march. In 2009 he won the ASCAP/MENC (now NAfME) composition competition wherein his march entry was selected as "The Music Teachers March." Since 1994 he has been almost a yearly recipient of the annual ASCAP standard awards for his contributions to the advancement of American/educational music.

The Alumni Achievement Award in Theatre and Film will be presented to Matthew Miller (B.A./B.F.A. 2008). Currently based in Brooklyn, New York, Miller brings more than a decade of experience to the industry, lighting for dance, theatre, live events, galas, symphonies, festivals and much more.

He has worked for such companies as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Yeager Design, arc3design, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Microsoft, Github, Atlanta Ballet, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Jessica Lang Dance, Gallim Dance, HMS Media, Lines Ballet, The Chicago Dancing Festival, Dance for Life, Music Theatre of Wichita, Danceworks Chicago, The New Victory Theatre, The Plagiarists Theatre Company, Madison Square Garden, Spotify, New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts, Step Up Productions and The Chicago Children's Choir.  

Miller has toured extensively—domestically and internationally—with a number of world-renowned dance companies.  During his time with Hubbard Street, he designed more than 30 new works and helped facilitate the work of numerous world-renowned choreographers and their artistic teams.  He has also acted as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department during Hubbard Street’s participation in Dancemotion USA. Miller is a member of United Scenic Artists 829.

The Award of Merit honors those who have made contributions to the College, but who are not necessarily alumni of the college, and who have demonstrated continued interest in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts.

This year’s Award of Merit will be presented to Liana K. Sandin, president of The Pearle Francis Finigan Foundation. Sandin received her Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from Nebraska Wesleyan and pursued graduate work in the same field at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

As president of The Pearle Francis Finigan Foundation, she selects and manages grants for music and to the arts to local educational, humanitarian and religious institutions. Recently funded projects include endowed music scholarships, a commissioned chamber work, stained glass installations and the new tiger enclosure at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo.

The foundation has established The Pearl M. Finigan Piano Scholarship at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Glenn Korff School of Music to honor the memory of Finigan’s mother and her great love of music. She graduated from the Conservatory of Music in Lincoln in 1917, which later became the Glenn Korff School of Music. The scholarship is awarded annually to the top two piano recruits.

The Finigan Foundation is also the major commissioning funder for the Philip Glass Annunciation Piano Quintet project, which will premiere at the Lied Center for Performing Arts on April 17 in a program titled “A Celebration of Philip Glass.” The celebration features Pianist Paul Barnes, the Chiara String Quartet, vocal ensemble Cappella Romana, Native American flute player Ron Warren and the UNL Symphony Orchestra.

The Finigan Foundation has also provided additional support to the graduate program in piano and supported Barnes’s “Lisztomania” event in Kimball Hall last fall.

Sandin is also vice president of the Mu Phi Epsilon Foundation, as well as sitting on the boards of the Nebraska Chamber Players, the Lincoln Friends of Chamber Music, the Friends of Opera and Calvary Cemetery. Active in local music groups, she has helped facilitate the merger of two performance clubs, each with more than 100 years of history, and was the first president of the resulting, newly formed Musical Arts Review. She has also sung with the Lincoln Choral Artists at Carnegie Hall and has been a church musician for more than 30 years.

Sandin is also an expert seamstress who travels to give classes and trunk shows featuring Italian designs to both local and national audiences.

The Student Leadership Award is presented to students who have proven to be true leaders through their scholarship, talents, service and dedication. This year’s award will be presented to Candace Nelson, a senior performance and film and new media major in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.

Nelson is a talented student, actor, filmmaker and playwright. She has also served as a Hixson-Lied College Ambassador since 2015 and is the current president of Nebraska Masquers. She has directed four short films, and has written and produced three short films. In January, she received honorable mention for her original play “Head Space” at the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival Region V Festival in Des Moines.

Additional faculty, staff and student achievement will be celebrated at the Honors Day celebration.