The Rabin Youth Arts Awards

Color Stripe Graphic

Recognizing Outstanding Contributions

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras awarded the first Rabin Youth Arts Award in 2001 in honor of our founding conductor, Dr. Marvin Rabin, who was well known for his international stature as a music educator and a researcher of the impact of the arts on youth. Dr. Rabin founded three youth orchestra programs; Wisconsin, Greater Boston, and Kentucky. He was a vigorous spokesperson for society’s need to recognize the positive and creative accomplishments of young people, as well as the individuals and organizations that support these artistic efforts. Click to read more about Dr. Rabin by visiting his full bio page.

Dr Rabin with Students

The prestigious Rabin Youth Arts Awards continue the legacy of Dr. Rabin’s life-long mission. Since 2001, more than 30 outstanding Wisconsin Arts Leaders have been selected to receive this award. Rabin Youth Arts Awards Nominations are sought statewide from all artistic disciplines, including music, dance, theater, and visual arts, and are presented for:

Artistic Achievement –
recognizing an individual or organization who has made a significant contribution in areas such as teaching, program development, leadership in youth performance, and/or presentation to youth audiences.

Philanthropic Achievement –
recognizing an individual or organization for significant monetary or in-kind support of youth arts initiatives, including both sustained support and exceptional one time or ongoing projects.

Rabin Youth Arts Award Nomination Form

  • Category (Choose One)

  • Artistic achievement will reflect:
    • Length of service and impact of nominee's contributions
    • Creativity and originality of the nominee's contribution
    • Excellence and quality of nominee's contribution
    Philanthropic achievement will reflect:
    • Overall impact on youth arts opportunities in the community
  • Nominee Information

  • Nominator Information

  • Requirements

  • Please provide additional information specifying why your nominee should receive this award. Candidates who demonstrate a distinct level of achievement and dedication to youth arts over a period of time will be given the highest consideration.

    Please cite examples of work they have accomplished. Be as specific as possible, focusing on the impact of the nominee’s work. Up to two additional typewritten sheets may be provided in support of your nomination.

    Please include at least three quality letters of recommendation from individuals who are familiar with the nominee’s work.

    NOTE: Nomination of an organization must be made by someone who is not a member (administrator, board member or employee) of that organization.

  • Drop files here or
    Max. file size: 50 MB, Max. files: 4.

    Nomination Details

    In 2001, WYSO created and awarded the first RABIN YOUTH ARTS AWARD as a way to recognize individuals and organizations across Wisconsin for outstanding contributions in youth arts program development, teaching or performance. A second award was created to recognize individuals or organizations for significant monetary or in-kind support of youth arts initiatives (including sustained support and exceptional one-time projects). Since 2001, WYSO has celebrated the work of more than 30 outstanding Wisconsin Arts leaders who have been selected to receive this special award by a committee of their peers.

    Past RYA Award Winners

    2010 - 2020 Winners


    Artistic Achievement by an Organization
    Shell Lake Arts Center

    Shell Lake Arts Center is the 2020 recipient of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Rabin Youth Arts Award for Artistic Achievement. For over 53 years, the Shell Lake Arts Center has provided music programs, master teachers, and unbounded inspiration to over 31,000 participants in its summer and school year programs. Each summer program alone hosts 600 plus students for eight weeks of fabulous camps and workshops. Celebrity graduates who can trace their beginnings to experiences at the Shell Lake Art Center include Byron Stripling, Geoffrey Keezer, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Lyle Mays, Ethan Iverson, and Zach Halmstad (JAMF). Due to COVID-19, the award will be presented in the Fall of 2020.


    Artistic Achievement by an Organization
    Verona Area Community Theater

    VACT is honored to be the 2019 recipient of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Rabin Youth Arts Award for Artistic Achievement. The award was presented to VACT on April 27, 2019, appropriately just prior to the teen production of Newsies, the culmination of VACT’s spring youth and teen production season, which also included Three Nanny Goats Gruff, Aristocats KIDS, and 42nd Street, Young Performers’ Edition. These four spring productions, their two fall youth shows, and other camps and productions afforded over 600 youth opportunities to be a part of theatrical productions this season.


    Philanthropic Achievement by an Individual
    Rick Young

    Rick Young, a Wisconsin native, has a long career in the music industry. His 30-year career with Yamaha Corporation of America culminated with an appointment as Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing. During his time at Yamaha, Rick was instrumental in securing financial support from Yamaha Corporation for Wisconsin-based youth music education endeavors such as sponsoring the Yamaha Music Technology Center at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education, annual sponsorships of WSMA’s Launchpad program and State Marching Band Championships, sponsoring WYSO’s 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration, and more.

    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    Norman Gilliland

    Norman Gilliland has been a classical radio announcer with Wisconsin Public Radio since 1984. Norman’s influence on youth music in Wisconsin is vast. He has featured interviews and performances by hundreds of young Wisconsin artists on weekday classical program, The Midday. For years, Gilliland brought weekly music lessons to classrooms all over the state as part of WPR’s School of the Air program. Gilliland was a founder of WPR’s Neale-Silva Young Artists’ Competition, which between 1990 and 2013 recognized the accomplishments and artistry of hundreds of young Wisconsin musicians.

    We will honor Rick Young with his Rabin Youth Arts Awards achievement during the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts. We hope you will join us in recognizing Norman Gilliland at his Rabin Youth Arts Awards ceremony during the Youth Orchestra Peru send-off concert on July 3, 2018 at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.


    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    James R. Smith

    James R. Smith served as WYSO Music Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for 32 years beginning in 1985, overseeing the program evolution into 3 full orchestras, 2 string orchestras, a Brass Ensemble, Harp Choir, and Chamber Music Program. Smith came to UW-Madison as a professor of conducting in 1983 after having achieved national recognition as a clarinetist. Two years later he took over as music director for WYSO. According to the award, “His gift for enabling students to give their very best in rehearsal, week after week, year after year, has contributed to their personal growth and the musical success of the orchestra.”

    His leadership was instrumental in taking the Youth Orchestra on their first international tour in 1989 to the British Isles. Since then he has conducted the Youth Orchestra on tour in Taiwan, Japan, Washington DC, France, Spain, Banff, British Columbia, Canada, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Argentina, and Italy. Because of the success of these tours, WYSO is committed to touring internationally every two years.

    Smith initiated several WYSO outreach programs, and from them many partnerships were created: The WYSO Chamber Ambassadors, the bi-annual Side-by-Side Concert with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Concert in the Park, the Music Makers Mentorship Program, the NBC 15 Sounds of the Season, and the Music Makers Honors and Honors Too ensembles.


    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    Harv Thompson

    Harv Thompson is Professor Emeritus of Theater, UW-Madison and UW Extension. A firm believer in the “Wisconsin Idea,” Harv considers the boundaries of the University System to be the boundaries of the state. His passion for arts education throughout Wisconsin is deeply rooted in his belief that the state has a commitment to bring the UW’s arts offerings to the diverse audiences found in every corner of Wisconsin.Harv served over twenty years as department chair for the UW Extension’s Continuing Education in the Arts Department. His role at the UW Extension included maintaining a link between UW arts professors and the UW-Extension youth program of 4-H. Over 50,000 children state-wide are enrolled in 4-H and Harv’s leadership helped develop and maintain funding for 4-H arts programs including: Arts Camp, Arts Leadership Lab, Showcase Singers, Drama Company and Art Team. Harv is also the founder of the Wisconsin Theater Association, which was developed to assist public schools in their theater offerings including classes and live performances of plays and musicals. Since its inception, the Wisconsin Theater Association has provided educational resources and performances to thousands of students throughout the state of Wisconsin. Twenty five years ago, Harv founded the Wisconsin High School Theater Festival. For every year since, hundreds of high schoolers attended the three-day festival to participate in a variety of educational workshops and to view live theater performances by both their high school peers and by professional theater groups. Thousands of high school students have benefited from the festival’s 25 year run.


    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    Jim and Geri Grine

    Together, Jim and Geri Grine make up the “First Family of Music” in Oshkosh. Throughout their careers as professional musicians, conductors, teachers, and arts administrators, the Grines have continuously strove to promote and expand arts opportunities for youth in Oshkosh and beyond. A long-time orchestra director and music teacher at both Oshkosh high schools, Geri has created arts opportunities at every level for the youth of the Oshkosh area. Geri has been the conductor and Musical Director of the Oshkosh Youth Symphony Orchestra for 28 years. In 2008, Geri created the Oshkosh Youth Symphony’s Philharmonia Orchestra, an orchestra for younger students. As a board member for Project SOAR, the artist-in-residence program for Oshkosh public schools, Geri has sponsored several hands-on artist residencies for local high school students. Geri also founded the Suzuki program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. From 1996 to 2006, Geri helped build a Suzuki string program in her native Hawaii, thus establishing the first string programs on the island of Maui. Now a retired public school teacher, Geri continues to consult and conduct for youth orchestra programs and summer music programs in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Hawaii.

    Since 2008, Jim Grine has served as the Volunteer Executive Director of the Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra. Jim’s work raising funds to support the symphony’s Art and Music Synergy Programs has led to numerous collaborations between the Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra, the Oshkosh Public Schools, public school visual arts programs, and the Oshkosh Boys and Girls Club. Under Jim’s leadership, the Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra devotes one-third of its annual income to promoting the Oshkosh Youth Symphony Orchestra. Jim’s vision for the Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra led to the creation of the Water City Chamber Orchestra which performs an annual concert for third graders in the Oshkosh School District.


    Artistic Achievement by an Organization
    American Players Theater

    American Players Theater has been a strong force for the arts and arts education in Wisconsin since its founding in 1979. While American Players Theater has been recognized as one of the finest theaters in America greeting captivating audiences year after year, its educational outreach program equally is inspiring. The student outreach program began shortly after the theater was established. Beginning in the mid-80’s they offered, on weekday mornings, student matinees at a special student rate. With these matinees were educational materials for teachers, plus free-preshow or post-show sessions, done at their schools by APT’s education director David Daniel, or a core company actor. These sessions allowed a students to understand Shakespeare’s language and poetry more clearly. This year the education staff conducted 151 workshops at 38 schools.

    Many of the students that APT reaches come from economically disadvantaged, poorly educated families. They don’t see the rich cultural heritage of classical theater as theirs. Once they have seen a play and participated in a workshop, the language speaks to them. The priceless opportunity to attend a play produced by professional actors dedicated to their craft and to the education and edification of youth is a great gift.

    Philanthropic Achievement by an Individual
    Diane Ballweg

    Diane Ballweg has been a fervent supporter of the arts in Wisconsin since her childhood. Throughout her life she has supported arts organizations with both vocal and financial support. She has been very active on local, state and national boards i.e. Overture Foundation, Madison Symphony Orchestra Board, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Advisory Board, Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra Foundation Board, U.W. School of Music Board of Advisors, the National Arts Board from the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., Madison Children’s Museum Board President and Executive Committee, and Edgewood College Board and Executive Committee.

    Diane has sponsored the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras Winterfest Concerts in perpetuity. This gift will allow WYSO to maintain its mission of providing transformational musical experiences and opportunities for young people across Wisconsin. The tenacious generosity of Diane cannot be understated. Through her time and gifts to arts organizations around the state, she has directly impacted the volume and quality of art in Wisconsin.


    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    Andrew Sewell

    Andrew Sewell has been a consistent and strong advocate for youth orchestras and youth arts in general throughout his tenure as Music Director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO). Drawing on his own experiences as a youth orchestra member, Andrew Sewell strives to create unique musical experiences for children through partnerships with professional and youth performing arts groups. Since his arrival in 2000, Andrew has devoted himself to enhancing WCO’s education programs by providing depth and repeated exposure to youth. Programs such as The Youth Concerts and “Get Close to the Music” immerse students into musical concepts through repeated classroom visits by trained musicians prior to attending a performance. The Youth Concerto Competition gives students the opportunity to compete and perform at a professional level.

    Described as a “Renaissance Mentor,” Andrew Sewell has sought to inspire anyone with an interest in the arts to whole-heartedly pursue artistic achievement and personal growth in their endeavors. While Andrew is constantly promoting youth arts education publicly, he also routinely works with choirs, orchestras, bands, small ensembles and soloists regularly. His sincere enthusiasm and support is readily recognized by children and the community. It is arts educators and supporters like Andrew Sewell whose devotion greatly benefits and leaves a lasting impression on local communities and individuals.

    Philanthropic Achievement by an Organization
    The John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Inc.

    The John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Inc., established by John and Carolyn Peterson, supports a variety of arts programs throughout the state of Wisconsin. The Peterson Foundation’s philanthropic support of local youth arts programs, such as Madison Opera’s The Student Matinee and Opera in the Park, helps organizations provide unique exposure to the arts both onstage and off. Through their support Wisconsin Public Television has been able to broadcast The Final Forte and Concerts on the Square to a large audience base annually. Arts organizations, such as the Madison Jazz Society, are able to incorporate world-class performers into their concert series for community members to enjoy. The John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation’s philanthropic efforts also include those of preservation and logistics for programming. Through this thoughtful support foundations such as the Heritage Military Music Foundation (HHMF) can maintain antique instruments, music and uniforms to accomplish their mission of presenting living history to the residents of Wisconsin. The breadth and extent of The John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation’s philanthropy connects with communities through youth education, local concert series, and the preservation of Wisconsin’s history.


    Artistic Achievement by an Organization
    Madison Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) Education and Community Engagement Programs

    Dedicated to providing outstanding educational and community opportunities, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Education and Community Engagement Programs are honored as this year’s winner for Artistic Achievement by an organization. Through the efforts of MSO Director of Education and Community Engagement, Michelle Kaebisch, these opportunities bring music to life for over 20,000 children annually. Programs such as Up Close and Musical® positively impact children of all socio-economic backgrounds, enabling them to experience live classical music, understand the music making process, and connect with professional musicians on a personal level. Lessons taught by the Hunt Quartet culminate in Symphony Soup, a performance at Overture Hall geared towards young children. The Fall Youth Concerts also showcase the goal of providing memorable music education to children. Developed by Michelle Kaebisch, the HeartStrings Community Engagement Program has touched the lives of individuals with special needs for the past three years. The Rhapsodie Quartet, a professional string quartet of MSO musicians, presents live, interactive, music therapy-informed sessions for people with various developmental disabilities, dementia and long term illnesses. MSO also proudly offers masterclasses, clinics, workshops and “Conversations with the Artist” to local communities in an effort to bring world renowned musicians and conductors into local schools.

    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    W. Earle Smith, Madison Ballet

    Sharing his passion for ballet with youth in Madison, W. Earle Smith was the 2012 Rabin Youth Arts Award winner for Artistic Achievement by an individual. Having served as the Madison Ballet’s Artistic Director since 1999, Earle has expanded the art of ballet within the community and to youth who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience its joys. Earle aided in the development of the School of Madison Ballet, which opened in 2005 and provides pre-professional training to aspiring dancers in Madison. The school helps students develop poise, a greater sense of self and experience the rigorous discipline of dance. Working alongside faculty and teaching classes as well, Earle started a ballet class exclusively for boys, the only such class in the Madison area. Other programs spearheaded by Earle include Discover Dance, the education and outreach branch of Madison Ballet, and Behind the Curtains which offers a look into Madison Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker. Earle Smith received his training at the prestigious School of American Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet School under the direction of famed teachers and directors such as Paul Mejia, Francia Russell and Nolan Dingman. Prior to coming to Madison, Earle danced as a soloist and in principal roles with the Texas Ballet Theatre and performed in the corps de ballet at Fort Worth Dallas Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.


    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    James H. Latimer

    Celebrating life through music, James H. Latimer is honored as one of the 2011 Rabin Youth Arts Awards winners for Individual Artistic Achievement. James performed as “timpanist extraordinaire” with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and as a percussionist with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler prior to joining WYSO. There he developed both the Percussion and Brass and Percussion Ensembles. In 1972, Mr. Latimer became WYSO’s second Music Director and Conductor. Over a six year period he developed the organization’s third orchestra and spearheaded two major interstate tours with the Youth Orchestra. Led by the late Elmer Ziegler’s request, Mr. Latimer sought to maintain and expand two community bands, the Capitol City Band and the VFW Band. Today both groups continue to flourish, inspiring audiences young and old alike.

    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    Virgilyn Driscoll

    A strong advocate for Arts Education, Virgilyn Driscoll is honored as one of the 2011 Rabin Youth Arts Awards winners for Individual Artistic Achievement. She has positively enriched the lives of youth through her longstanding devotion to the arts. Immediately after graduating, Virgi began her longstanding devotion to the arts and began to positively enrich the lives of youth in Wisconsin school districts such as Green Bay, Elm Grove-Brookfield and Milwaukee. Her involvement at the Children’s Saturday Art Program highlights her inane ability to both educate children and inspire them to embrace the arts and to incorporate them into other areas of their life. In 1989 she was awarded Art Educator of the Year Award from the Wisconsin Art Education Association, and as President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Virgilyn would ensure that the arts would remain an essential part of every child’s education. Virgilyn’s devotion to the arts, especially on the community and curriculum level, has touched the lives of Wisconsin youth and has ensured the arts remain a key component of every child’s education to this day.


    Philanthropic Achievement by an Organization
    Madison Jazz Society

    Dedicated to promoting America’s original art form, the Madison Jazz Society was the 2010 Philanthropic award recipient. Founded in 1984, MJS has accomplished the goal of providing a common meeting ground for all persons interested in jazz through its volunteer organization which relies solely on donations from its members and other supporters. The Madison Jazz Society has since then awarded over $70,000 in scholarships and grants to schools across Wisconsin and over $15,000 in scholarships to high school students entering college for music study. The numerous programs MJS has funded for local schools has broadened students’ experiences and opportunities, making a positive impact on Society’s educational and scholastic goals. Moreover, in its mission to stimulate youth’s interest in jazz, MJS has sponsored the broadcast of Live From the Landing, a radio program featuring the Jim Cullum Jazz Band from San Antonio, Texas, on Wisconsin Public Radio since 2002. Any person under age 18 and younger is admitted free to MJS concerts. As Kevin Lynch, former Arts Reporter for the Capital Times, wrote: “The Madison Jazz Society has never shrunk from its mission to promote jazz with a joyous passion…Ultimately it says something wonderful about the music’s inspirational power to bring people together and build on a century-long expression of freedom and life-affirming power… Madison is lucky to have this group.”

    Artistic Achievement by an Individual
    Michael George

    A proponent of Youth Arts, Mike George was the 2010 Artistic Achievement recipient. After attending the UW Band and School of Music and graduating with a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, Mike was introduced to the idea of serving the entire state through the UW extension program. Mike George began his commitment to Youth Arts as Associate Director of the newly formed Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, assisting Marvin Rabin in the orchestras second year of existence. While working as the Music Consultant for the Dept. of Public Instruction, Mr. George founded the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education. In 1984 Mike George took the position of Fine Arts Coordinator for the city of Madison, and by 1989 became the Executive Director of the State Music Education programs, helping both WSMA and WMEA programs grow rapidly. His ability to oversee staff, to relate to teachers of all the arts, to have the vision to move things into the future has made Mike a highly respected arts leader in the state.

    Philanthropic Achievement by an Individual
    Dr. Gary Lukes

    The 2010 Individual Philanthropic Award goes to Dr. Gary Lukes for his tireless efforts and passion for promoting the arts in his home community of Spring Valley. He has helped bring confidence to children involved in the Spring Valley Stagehands Theatre summer youth program by instilling an encouraging and but hard work ethic. The first performance, Pippin, showcased in 2004 and brought first-time performers to the stage along with increasing funding for the small theater. Les Miserables was performed in 2005 and allowed young performers to mature with the emotional weight of this piece. A more lighthearted piece, Grease, was chosen for 2006 and had sold out shows. The Spring Valley community is blessed to have someone so dedicated and passionate about the arts, and the joy he has provided through selfless work.