The Cantinas Arts Foundation brought the dazzle to Malibu, California this past weekend, as Kathie Lee Gifford hosted the First Annual COTA Awards, celebrating some of Southern California’s best and brightest up-and-coming new young artists.
The COTA Awards, or “Celebration of The Arts” was, without question, an elegant five-star affair, with champagne and ocean-views from the private “Chateau de Grace” estate, but, more remarkably, the event was steeped in the strong themes of inspiration, artistry and beauty.
The Cantinas Arts Foundation, founded by artist and visionary Wendy Miller, “was created to be an outreach arts ministry with the purpose of developing Christian leaders through dynamic performances, inspirational concerts, exciting workshops and retreats, artist development and community service opportunities.” And they are just getting started with their new and now-annual COTA Awards, a fabulous event by all standards.
Black-tie guests began the golden-hour evening on the lawn underneath Chinese lanterns, champagne and hors d’oeuvres passed to guests as they listened to live music from Andy Davis, Janice Freeman and Crystal Lewis. Guests had a chance to mingle with the Cantinas Arts dancers and musical artists, who donned ultra-cool black track-suits and unabashedly beaming smiles. There was no shortage of joy in the place.
Spoken-word Cantinas Arts Foundation artist Arielle Estoria, a beautiful and powerful presence, live-streamed a lively and somewhat hilarious commentary from the red carpet as VIP guests arrived, adding personality and another layer of mirth to the cocktail hour.
Rabbi Jason Sobel, a Los Angeles-based faith leader, kicked off the sit-town dinner and awards presentation, with his co-host, Kathie Lee Gifford, who also happens to be his co-author. The pair have co-written the New York Times bestselling book, The Rock, The Road and The Rabbi.
Five major awards were given during the event: two to young artists and three to individuals who have made a significant impact on the arts with their excellence, hard work and faith.
First, Tommy Rhodes and Amy Grant were honored for their work with Barefoot Republic Camps and Retreat Center. Barefoot is a camp that “welcomes kids from all racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and through an equally diverse platform of artistic, athletic and team-building programs, facilitates Christ-centered relationships.”
The second honor was awarded to painter Anne Neilson. Neilson’s oil and canvas work is extraordinary and has an ethereal quality to the color, brushwork and abstract portrayal of angelic beings. Neilson consistently donates proceeds from her art shows, books and products to national and international charitable organizations.
The third COTA award of the evening went to the ever-dynamic and indefatigable Justin Mayo. Justin has been leading The Red Eye organization for over a decade as the organization’s founder and Executive Director. Red Eye “works to empower youth to develop their talents in positive environments, thus allowing them to utilize their creativity to help others.” Most recently, The Watts Empowerment Center was at risk of closing due to budget cuts, but Justin and Red Eye rallied together local influencers and leaders and philanthropist to unify and save the center. The Watts Empowerment Center, thanks in large part to Justin and his work, is now a thriving center that provides a safe place for youth to engage in the arts, education and athletics.
One of the most special moments of the evening was the awarding of the Rising Artist Worship Song Contest Winner. Singer Carrington Gaines won the contest with his “Prodigal Son” song. More amazing was Gaines’ live performance of his award-winning song. Carrington’s rousing voice, effusive joy and the real faith behind it amounted to a memorable and soul-stirring performance.
The evening’s beauty was capped off by a surprise award for one of the evening’s most special dancers, cancer survivor Melinda Marchiano. Earlier in the evening, Marchiano was center stage in a moving multi-dancer performance that, through movement, captured part of the story of Marchiano’s struggle. The inspiring performance ultimately references Marchiano’s triumphant victory over the disease. Marchiano received a COTA award for her commitment to excellence in the arts even in the face of pain and adversity.
Founder and Executive Director Wendy Miller, fittingly, does the best job of summarizing the purpose and ultimate goals of The Cantinas Arts Foundation’s Annual COTA Awards “The arts are a global and universal tool speaking the language of hope, healing and freedom through the many different artistic expressions… It is how we battle the darkness and overcome our circumstances. Artists have been given gifts of music, song, dance, drama, photography, and writing to glorify God.”
The Cantinas Arts Foundation’s commitment to the finest in quality and the highest level of artistry, mixed with pure inspiration and authentic faith, is not unlike the culture of Renaissance art. Specifically: in the Renaissance, artists and their communities celebrated faith and God by pouring work and resources into the art to achieve the pinnacle of excellence: Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, William Byrd’s musical compositions and a world of more fine art all came out of that culture. To see the live performances by the Cantinas Arts dancers and musicians at the other-worldly Chateau de Grace, the comparison to the aspirations and value system seems appropriate… Here’s to looking forward to the Second Annual COTA Awards…