A salute to this year’s Horizon Award winners

In acknowledgement of Sunday’s Horizon Awards ceremony, I want to give a shout-out to each and every winner of this prestigious honor from the Fresno Arts Council. I’m familiar with all but two of the winners, and I’ll add a few comments about each of those I know. Feel free to add your own comments about the honorees and how they have impacted the community; this is one of those times when it’s fine to get a little gushy.


Citizen: Howard Watkins. It’d be hard to imagine the Fresno cultural scene without Howard and his ever-present camera on the scene, recording numerous events for posterity. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been corralled by Howard to pose for a giant group photo. His images can be accessed at his large and comprehensive Howard K. Watkins Photographic Archive, where you can view and individually download more than 160,000 historic and current photographs. I know that Howard is usually on the other side of the lens at Horizon Awards ceremonies; who will be there to take his photo?

Special: Jonathon Hogan. A man of many talents, I have many fond memories of watching Jonathon on stage in many Fresno theater productions. He’s also been a key player behind the scenes, including a stint co-producing the venerable Rogue Festival. Lately he’s been devoting a lot of time to Creative Fresno, making good things happen in his community. Whether he’s in front of an audience or talking to you individually, his good-natured enthusiasm is infectious.

Special: Joel Abels. A few weeks ago I listened to Joel perform at one of his famous StageWorks Fresno cabarets, a beautiful tune titled “What You’d Call A Dream” from the musical “Diamonds” — and I thought to myself, “Wow, can this guy sing.” That should come as no surprise considering his background as a professional actor, but sometimes I get so wrapped up in my regular coverage of StageWorks, where he excels as artistic director, that I forget how multi-talented he is. After founding Children’s Musical Theaterworks, Joel pursued his Broadway dream for a time. Then he came back to Fresno to start StageWorks — a lucky break for us all. (Some of my favorite shows from over the years: “The Light in the Piazza,” “Next to Normal,” “Into the Woods,” the list goes on.) In just a few years the company has become an essential part of the local theater scene.


Artist: Mac Mechem. I remember in 2014 writing about a Fig Tree Gallery show by Mac, a figurative painter who comments “on the social, political, cultural and religious aspects of human nature,” and admiring his use of satirical humor in his work. He’s a funny and thoughtful guy, a potent combination. A longtime art teacher at McLane High School for 36 years, he also taught a painting class at Fresno City College for decades, and went on in retirement to teach a drawing class at Reedley College. It’s wonderful to think of the young lives Mac has inspired while still making his own art.

Artist: Aideed Medina. An accomplished poet, Aideed is a notable name on the Fresno poetry scene. I had the privilege of listening to a collaboration she did as part of “Opera Remix,” a wonderful Fresno Grand Opera project that teamed up local poets with Fresno State composing students. Her lyrical poem “The Wilting” was one of my favorites of the evening.

Business: Good Company Players. What can I say that I haven’t already said in my e-book on the subject? Dan, Laurie and Emily Pessano, who have devoted much of their adult lives to bringing Fresno year-round, consistent, wonderful theater, are community treasures. There should be a Good Company Players Day in Fresno.

There are two other honorees with whom I’m not familiar. Congratulations to them as well:

Educator: Michael Reece.

Youth: Pengsue Vang.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (4)

  • Stephen

    I’m far too long winded to even begin commenting on these honorees.

    I only wish Joel and GCP’s awards came with huge cash prizes so we could ensure amazing theatre would stay here forever. Dan Pessano has been somehow tireless and passionate ever since his first production umpty-ump years ago. Joel takes everything he touches and makes it 100x better than anyone could have expected. It’s awesome that Joel’s shows are often done in the Pessano Theater.

    And Howard Watkins? His photography? Meh. Whatever. His absolute devotion to fighting for social justice in the Valley makes him a downright hero.

    I don’t know the others, but I’m going to start learning about them stat. The Horizon Awards gets it right every time.

  • Margie Vogt

    Congratulations to GCP for this award!
    It is so well deserved. It’s a huge job to accomplish what they do, and they do it so well. Emily, Dan & Laurie are so dear to me. As a “theater mom”, I couldn’t be more pleased to have my daughter Involved with GCP. Our community is so enriched by this company!
    And congratulations to Jonathan Hogan, I am so happy for you!!

  • Michelle Olson

    Congratulations to all the honorees! Having moved to Fresno 23 years ago and raising our sons here without any local family, we have been blessed beyond measure to be a small part of the Fresno theater community. The encouragement, training, support, and love our boys (and I on a very small scale) have received with GCP are priceless. We also had the good fortune to move near the school where Joel Abels teaches and are now part of his branch of the theater family tree in school and with Stageworks. The dedication, fierce loyalty to the craft, and support of each cast/crew that drive these companies have set valuable examples to our kids and opened a world of live theater I had not fully realized before moving here. GCP and Joel, you deserve every accolade, and thank you for being a part of our home in Fresno. May your visions for high quality theater continue to thrive for many years to come!

  • Adele Graves

    What I love about Joel’s shows is how I continue to think about them for days and weeks after I have seen them.
    Congratulations and thank you for wonderful, memorable theater.


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