Berkshire Awards highlight education and the arts

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PITTSFIELD >> Joy in educating and sharing the arts with young people was the common thread linking four recipients of Berkshire Awards during the fourth annual celebration of that event on Friday.

Collectively, the recipients were dancers, scientists, entrepreneurs, educators, historians and civil rights workers. All shared an appreciation for arts and culture.

Jane Burke, executive director of New Marlborough's Flying Cloud Institute, has taught students there an eclectic blend of environmentalism, math, science, technology, engineering and arts.

"My life is a dream, because every minute is exciting," Burke said upon receiving her award at a Berkshire Museum ceremony. "Today, I was working with second graders. We were discovering the properties of matter; I asked the kids what they thought of it."

The students, Burke said, responded enthusiastically that the subject was "fun" and "so mysterious."

She added, "How can one not be blessed to have the life that I have. I want you all, when you have an opportunity, to reach out to a kid, a teacher or an educator and tell them how worthwhile their efforts are. We all need to get behind kids so they can solve the problems that we made in our society."

Flying Cloud Institute touches more than 3,500 area students annually.

Professors Sandra L. Burton and Don Quinn Kelley won their awards for, among other things, helping to found Lift Ev'ry Voice, a multi-event Berkshire celebration of black culture and history.

Both said there remains much to be done and departed with a message: "Onward."

"We believe that any community can hold each other's hands and create something larger than what was there before," Kelley said. "We do that through the arts; we do it through the humanities, we do it through working with our political leaders; we do it by holding on to each other and saying, 'Lift every voice and sing.'"

"There's a song that says, 'There's a rose in a fisted glove, and the eagle flies with the dove,'" Burton said. "We're in those times again. I'm encouraged to be living in these times because I enjoy working."

Burton is a dance director and lecturer at Williams College. Kelley is professor emeritus at City University of New York.

The final recipient, Lola Jaffe, founded Great Barrington's Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, which serves an annual audience of more than 40,000. The center has also hosted more than 14,000 students from 53 schools, and Jaffe heads up field trips to Broadway annually to catch plays.

More than 1,100 students have gone on such excursions.

"The Berkshires is a place that allows us to grow, allows us to express ourselves in whichever manner excites us," Jaffe said. "And excitement is the word."

Reversing a quote from the classic film "Now, Voyager," Jaffe added, "Let's do ask for the moon. We can do it."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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