May 17, 2023

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Oct. 1, 2019) — The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday announced the recipients of the 27th annual Sally Awards.

The prestigious award recognizes individuals and organizations who strengthen and enrich Minnesota through their commitment to the arts and arts education. Recipients will be celebrated and honored at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov 4 in the Concert Hall at the Ordway located at 345 Washington St. in St. Paul.

The 2019 Sally Award winners are:

ARTS ACCESS: Lake Area Music Festival, which brings artists and performers from all over the world to collaborate with local artists on a series of concerts.

Lake Area Music Festival

ARTS LEARNING: Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop, providing opportunities for Native Americans and people of color to participate and practice puppetry, opening the field to a larger breadth of storytelling and the development of new puppetry aesthetics.

Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop

COMMITMENT: Janis Lane-Ewart, musician, arts administrator, reporter, mentor, and advocate who devoted years of support and cultivation of jazz, artist, and equity.

Janis Lane-Ewart

INITIATIVE: Saymoukda Vongsay, a Lao-American writer who brings to light the stories and lived experiences of refugees through plays, books, and poetry.

Saymoukda Vongsay

SOCIAL IMPACT: Kao Kalia Yang, an author of two award-winning books that focus on cultivating understanding of Hmong Americans while continuing the traditions of Hmong culture.

Kao Kalia Yang

The Sally Awards are a living tribute to the vision of Sally Ordway Irvine, who mobilized the community to support her dream of building a new performing arts center in downtown Saint Paul. After the Ordway opened in 1985, Sally was honored with a “First Trust Award” for her vision, innovation, and commitment to the arts and the community. In 1992, the award was reinstated and renamed the Sally Ordway Irvine Award.

“The Sally Awards have honored more than 85 outstanding artists, educators, and leaders since they were first introduced, and we are proud to continue this tradition by honoring these five inspiring recipients this year,” said Jamie Grant, Ordway president and CEO. “This year’s recipients use art to share their cultures and traditions and help Minnesotans of different backgrounds engage with art to tell their stories. We are proud and humbled to recognize their contributions to communities across the state.”

The 27th annual Sally Award recipients were selected by a committee consisting of Ordway representatives, past Sally Award recipients, Minnesota State Arts Board representatives, media representatives, and other leaders from Minnesota’s arts and cultural communities.

“We’re thrilled to receive recognition for our work in creating access to learning puppetry, it means a lot to have the rest of the arts community acknowledge our work,” said Chamindika Wanduragala, executive/artistic director of Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop.

Another recipient, Janis Lane-Ewart, said, “I am delighted to receive recognition for my commitment to the arts which brings joy and purpose in my life. Artists take great care to share their work. I am driven to ensure they are supported and heard by any means necessary.”

Besides receiving their awards, the recipients also get $1,000. Previous Sally Awards recipient, Maia Maiden will emcee and Gao Hong, a previous Sally Awards recipient will perform. Also performing actors Traci Shannon and Ann Michels who are appearing in the Oct. 3 Ordway Cabaret “Back To Before.” The ceremony is free and open to the public, but space is limited. Those interested in attending should RSVP by visiting or calling 651-224-4222.

More information about the 27th Sally Awards recipients:

Arts Access Award – Lake Area Music Festival

The Lakes Area Music Festival was established in Brainerd during 2009 when a group of students from the Eastman School of Music came to Minnesota for the summer. Enlisting guests from the Minnesota Orchestra, these students put on concerts that quickly gained popularity and widespread support. Today, the organization brings 190 artists from the top orchestras and operas companies across the globe to the each August to collaborate on chamber music, orchestra, opera, and ballet.

In addition to nationally acclaimed performances, the organization offers an extensive outreach program, bringing musicians out of the concert hall and into community spaces. Year-round education activities reach and inspire over 2,500 public school students every year. With the belief that excellent art should be accessible to all, each performance is presented without a set admission fee; instead, concert-goers are asked to donate as they are able.

Arts Learning Award – Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop

Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop was founded in 2016 by Chamindika Wanduragala, to support Native Americans and people of color in developing creative and technical skills in contemporary puppetry. Puppetry has been practiced around the world since ancient times, but in the United States, the contemporary field is largely white. Through workshops and mentorship, Monkeybear creates opportunities for people of color to gain skills, artistry and experience in contemporary puppet theater, so all people can be represented in this art form and participate in opportunities in the wider puppetry community in Minnesota.

Commitment Award – Janis Lane-Ewart

Janis Lane-Ewart hails from Chicago, Illinois and began her career as an arts administrator in 1977.  Her work with nonprofit organizations led her to Minneapolis, MN in 1989, where she currently resides as a Development Officer at KBEM, Jazz88.FM (Minneapolis, MN) and engaged with varied nonprofit organizations in the Midwest as a development consultant and media producer.

Lane-Ewart has an extensive background as an arts administrator working with local, regional and nationally based arts organizations requiring expertise with operational management of nonprofits; grant writing/fundraising/development; strategic planning; project development and initiation of youth-based programs, especially within communities of color. She has provided services to nonprofit organizations such as Arts Presenters, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation (Washington, DC); Little Black Pearl, Jazz Institute of Chicago, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and Muntu Dance Theatre (Chicago, IL); and, as KFAI, Fresh Air Radio’s Executive Director for twelve years.

Additionally, Lane-Ewart remains active in mentoring youth of color seeking direction and leadership towards advancing their educational and community-based careers.

Initiative Award – Saymoukda Vongsay

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is a Lao American writer. Her work focuses on creating tools and spaces for the amplification of refugee voices through poetry, theater, and experimental cultural production. Her plays have been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Theater Mu, and Theater Unbound. She’s a Playwrights’ Center and Theater Mu fellow in playwriting, a Loft Literary Center fellow in poetry (2018) and children’s literature (2019), a Twin Cities Media Alliance fellow in public art, and an Aspen Ideas Bush Foundation scholar. She’s received grants from the Jerome Foundation, Bush Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, MN State Arts Board, and elsewhere. Her work has been mentioned by the NY Times, Mpls/St. Paul Magazine, Mn Original, Minnesota Public Radio and more. She holds a Master in Liberal Studies degree and co-hosted a podcast on Minnesota Public Radio. 

Social Impact Award – Kao Kalia Yang

Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer. Born in the refugee camps of Thailand to a family that had fled the aftermath of America’s Secret War in Laos, she came to America at the age six. Raised in the housing projects of St. Paul, Yang is a graduate of Carleton College and Columbia University’s MFA Program. She is the author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (Coffee House Press, 2008), winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Awards in Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Readers’ Choice, and a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Asian Literary Award in Nonfiction. The book is a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read title. Her second book, The Song Poet (Metropolitan Books, 2016) won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award in Creative Nonfiction Memoir, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, a PEN USA Award in Nonfiction and the Dayton’s Literary Peace Prize.

The book will be the first Hmong story adapted into an opera by the Minnesota Opera for debut in the spring of 2021. In the fall of 2019, Yang will debut her first children’s book, A Map Into the World (Carolrhoda Books) and a co-edited collection titled What God is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss By and For Indigenous Women and Women of Color (University of MN Press).

Additionally, Yang has eight children’s books sold to Kokila Press, Carolrhoda Books, and the University of Minnesota Press. Kao Kalia Yang is also a teacher and a sought after public speaker.


Recognized as one of the country’s leading not-for-profit performing arts centers, the Ordway presents and produces a wide variety of performances throughout the year that encompass the finest in Broadway musicals, concerts, dance and vocal artists. The Ordway serves over 60,000 children each year through its education programs and presents the annual Flint Hills Family Festival. The performing arts center houses a 1,900-seat Music Theater, a 1,100-seat Concert Hall and magnificent lobbies. The Ordway is a proud member of the Arts Partnership, a collaboration comprising the Ordway, Minnesota OperaThe Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Schubert Club.

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