From nominees to honorees: the Sally Awards selection committee

Tommy Sar, Ordway 6/28/18

On October 15th, 2018, five exceptional individuals or organizations will be honored at the Ordway’s 26th Annual Sally Awards. They’ll be recognized for the work they do to strengthen and enrich the arts in Minnesota in one of five categories: arts access, arts learning, commitment, initiative, and social impact. But how do those groups and individuals become honorees? They’re nominated by the people they’ve impacted all across Minnesota, then chosen by a selection committee – and the process is already underway for this year’s awards!

Read on to find out about the vital role the selection committee serves, check back in late August when this year’s winners are announced, and be sure to save the date to attend the 26th Annual Sally Awards this October. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

For now, though, let’s explore how the selection committee chooses those five honorees.

26th Annual Sally Awards selection committee
From left to right: Steven Schmidt, Rudolph “Tré” Searles III, Tommy Sar, Jimmy Longoria, Kao Kalia Yang, Tammie Weinfurtner, SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE, Janis Lane-Ewart, Sue Gens. Not pictured: Rhiana Yazzie, who participated by phone.

The selection committee consist of 11-13 individuals from Minnesota’s arts communities. They may include past award recipients, artists of various genres and practices, arts administrators, community members who work with artists and arts organizations, representatives from the media, Minnesota State Arts Board representatives, regional arts council members, and Ordway staff. The committee changes each year, and every member can serve for a maximum of only two consecutive years. New committee members are chosen from past committee members’ nominations. Potential members are recommended for their ability to speak to a unique lens or experience representative of various cultures, ethnicities, abilities, communities, socio-economic associations, and geographies.

Representing a variety of perspectives within the selection committee is and will always be a priority. If you are interested in participating in a future committee, please email Coordinator of Community Programs Tommy Sar at

The 26th Annual Sally Awards selection committee consists of the following:

Committee Members

Hunter Gullickson* – Accessibility Manager, Guthrie Theater
Janis Lane-Ewart – Radio Host
Jimmy Longoria* – Visual Artist
Kao Kalia Yang* – Writer
Rebecca Moran-Cusick* – Dancer/Founder of Los Alegres Bailadores
Rhiana Yazzie* – Playwright/Filmmaker/founder of New Native Theater
Rudolph “Tré” Searles III – Actor
SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE – Spoken word artist/Board of Minnesota Regional Arts Council
Steven Schmidt* – Musician/General Manager of Rochester Music Department, Riverside Concerts
Sue Gens – Executive Director of Minnesota State Arts Board
Tammie Weinfurtner – Director of Guest Services, Ordway

* Past Sally Awards recipients


Sarah Witte-Jacobs
Tommy Sar

Nominations for the Sally Awards are open to the general public and are accepted through the Ordway website. Once all nominations are compiled, they are provided to selection committee members. Members then read through the nominations on their own time. During this phase of the process, they do not evaluate the nominees or the applications; instead, they select their top choices for each of the five categories of arts access, arts learning, commitment, initiative, and social impact. Committee members are invited to determine their top choices according to whatever criteria they deem best.

These top choices are then brought forward to the full committee for discussion during the next phase of the process: a selection panel.

During the selection panel, the committee members meet at the Ordway. This is frequently the first time all members of the committee meet specifically to discuss the Sally Awards. The meeting is structured similarly to a grant panel review, but it’s a bit more informal.

First, the committees’ top choices are listed for each category. Then, they have the opportunity to discuss and adjust which nominees appear in which category. Once the committee has come to a consensus, the categories are considered final and nominees cannot be reassigned again later.

After the categories are determined, the selection committee can move on to discussing the nominees themselves – their merits and areas of impact, their background, and the context surrounding their work. This is also the committee members’ opportunity to ask questions. It’s not uncommon for the committee to do further research together during the panel.

The selection committee discusses nominees category by category; after discussing each nominee in a given category, they together conduct a ranked choice vote to determine the recipient for that category. Ranked choice voting is an effective method for making the final determination because often times, the committee members can’t choose just one among the high quality and deserving groups of finalists.

The goal of this selection process is to be as democratic and reflective of the Minnesota arts community as possible. It’s not perfect, and the Ordway and Sally Awards selection committees are constantly striving to improve all the steps along the way! If you have thoughts or ideas on how to improve this process, you are invited to email Tommy Sar at


Mark your calendar for the 26th Annual Sally Awards free and public ceremony on Monday, October 15th, 2018!

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