2023 State Arts Awards Winners

Congratulations to the following winners for this year’s State Arts Awards! We had many nominations and we are grateful to those nominators for all of their hard work!

We have 7 categories for this year’s awards with the following winners:

Access to the Arts

Circle Theatre

Circle Theatre works to provide a platform and voice for individuals with disabilities through the performing arts, both on and off stage.

Circle Theatre presents two fully staged productions each year with half the cast consisting of actors with disabilities. In addition to having an all-ability cast, the organization partners with local non-profits who serve the disabled population.

Each production features an opening act written and performed by a partner organization, where individuals participate in production workshops with a Circle Theatre artist. Performances are held at the Jewish Community Center and all partnering organizations are encouraged to be part of the production.


Haley Haas and the Anastasis Theatre

Haley Haas is the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Anastasis Theatre Co. She recently directed the tour of the Anastasis play More Than a Number, as well as the original production of the play inside NE State Penitentiary. Haley has also directed the Anastasis plays Stories: On the Brink and Voices Unbound. She has worked as a teaching artist and facilitator with The Union for Contemporary Art, Omaha Community Playhouse, WhyArts, and Creighton Medical School’s Clinical Education and Simulation Center.

Haley holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from Creighton University and trained with the groundbreaking community-engaged theater company Cornerstone, based in Los Angeles, CA.

An award-winning actor, Haley has worked with the Circle Theatre, the BLUEBARN Theatre, and the Union for Contemporary Arts.

Anastasis Theatre Co. is committed to creating new plays that engage our wider community in dialogue with new voices from underrepresented groups; to connect audience and performers in a shared experience that promotes empathy, broadens our understandings, and builds momentum for positive change.

Excellence in Arts Education

Dr. Pete Madsen

Pete Madsen is in his 23rd year of teaching at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). He received a Bachelor of Science degree in music education from the University of Missouri, a Master of Music degree from Northern Illinois University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in trombone performance from the University of Illinois.

Outside of his normal UNO duties teaching jazz and trombone, Pete’s service to arts education has been extensive and far-reaching. He is the founder and director of the Metropolitan Area Youth Jazz Orchestra (MAYJO), an auditioned group of high school students from the Omaha area that has been selected four times by an internationally competitive recorded audition process to perform at the Jazz Education Network International Conference in St. Louis, San Diego, and Dallas. Pete has twice served on the Board of the Nebraska Music Educators Association. He co-founded the annual Omaha All-City 8th Grade Jazz Band with Omaha Public Schools and Omaha Performing Arts in 2021, and regularly serves as an adjudicator/clinician for jazz festivals throughout the region.

Pete coordinates the UNO Jazz Festival, annually serving over 50 school jazz bands from across Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and South Dakota. The UNO Jazz Camp, which Pete founded, has impacted 1500+ students, many of whom have gone on to music careers in Omaha, Los Angeles, New York, Cincinatti, Kansas City, Miami, and Denver. He remains active as a panelist and grant reviewer for the Nebraska Arts Council and the Mid-America Arts Alliance.


Dr. Diane Wolfe

Diane Wolfe is a Nebraska educator and Director of Special Projects for ESU 2. She has dedicated her time, knowledge, and enthusiasm to ensuring that the arts are integrated in Nebraska schools. Through her work in ESU 2, she has expanded opportunities for students to participate in experiential and advanced arts learning and for teachers to participate in professional development.

Diane received her undergrad from Morningside College, Master’s from Wayne State College, and Doctorate from University of South Dakota.

Diane is happily married with two adult children and three grandchildren.

Leadership in the Arts

Ken Molzer

Ken Molzer has served as president of the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association and the Nebraska Music Educators Association. He has led, as the president and other board positions, his local Papillion Lions Club, of which he is a charter member. When the Papillion/La Vista School Foundation was formed, he served on the initial board of directors. He was selected as the NSBA Bandmaster of the Year, is a member of the NMEA Hall of Fame and was honored as the Papillion/La Vista Secondary Teacher of the year.

Upon his retirement from teaching, he was Grand Marshal of the Papillion Days Parade and the first person honored by the City of Papillion as the Volunteer of the Month. The Mayor of Papillion also presented Ken with the Community Art Award for his dedication to improving the arts in the area.

Ken is the founder and director of an adult community band, the Papillion Area Concert (PAC) Band. Ken has played professionally in a dance band for over 60 years.


Dean Haist

Dean is a native Nebraskan and can best be described as a musical entrepreneur involved with a variety of nonprofit arts organizations and musical activities in Lincoln, Nebraska and the surrounding communities. He served on the faculty of Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln for 31 years teaching trumpet, brass and jazz ensemble, and jazz improvisation. He is the President of Arts Incorporated, a business formed in 1987 that provides management services for a number of organizations.

Through Arts Incorporated, over 125 musicians are employed yearly for nearly 250 professional music services in the Lincoln/Omaha area and across Nebraska, and during the pandemic they helped to present nearly 150 live-streamed events.

Dean is a member of the International Trumpet Guild, and has been a frequent performer at their annual conferences since Sydney, Australia in 2010. He has served on the board of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 463, Lincoln, the Lincoln Arts Council, and grant review panels for the Nebraska Arts Council. In 1997 he was named Nonprofit Executive of the Year by the Association of Nonprofit Executives, and in 2021 his business received a Mayor’s Arts Award in part for the events produced by his business during the pandemic.

Heritage Award

Greenblatt & Seay

Their upbeat duo performances can include tunes from many different traditions, including Irish, Swedish, Danish, Jewish, Scottish, Cajun, and American folk.

Greenblatt & Seay are particularly noted for their clever original tunes, (well over one hundred) and have written a variety of shows. They are frequently found at banquets, picnics, and barbecues setting a festive upbeat mood with their lively music in the background.

At a Greenblatt & Seay event, the multi-talented duo provides rich vocal harmonies, and will play a variety of acoustic instruments, such as fiddle, guitar, nyckelharpa, and tabor pipe, Lakota style flutes, etc.

They are active with the Nebraska Arts Council’s Nebraska Touring Program and Artist in the Schools/Communities Program. Individually they each offer programs thru the Humanities Nebraska Speakers Bureau.


Mallika Madduri

Mallika Madduri is the Creative Director and Choreographer at Gurukulam Center for Indian Arts in Omaha. Proficient in diverse Indian classical dance forms, Mallika emerges as an advocate, propelling the cause of Indian Arts and Culture in Nebraska. Her accolades include the titles “Natya Sri” in 2007 and “Nruthya Praveena” at the International Dance Congress in India in 2009. In 2020, she was honored with the distinguished Best Choreographer Award. Recognizing her contribution, the Telugu Association of North America (TANA) celebrated her in 2023 for her dedication to Indian culture in North America.

Mallika’s influence extends beyond her local community. Her commitment to cultural preservation is exemplified by her collaborative efforts, including participation in events such as the World Arts Festival, Nebraska Asian Arts Festival, Omaha Summer Arts Festival, and the One Community Festival. Notably, she collaborated with the Omaha Children’s Museum, curating an exhibition that showcased Indian culture, including grand temples and revered goddesses, alongside a comprehensive 4-day showcase of Indian performing arts and traditional games.

Mallika Madduri stands as a beacon of cultural preservation, artistic excellence, and community harmony, fostering diversity and inclusion by imparting knowledge and access to Indian culture and arts.

Organizational Achievement

West Nebraska Arts Center

The West Nebraska Arts Center (WNAC) is a nonprofit organization committed to education, awareness, and excellence in the arts, serving the North Platte Valley Region.

Their facility is used as a community venue for promoting the appreciation and education of the arts, while also encouraging diversity, creativity, and cultural enrichment to help inspire and awaken artistic expression in people of all backgrounds and ages.

The organization is led by artist and former WNAC board member, Michele Denton, who has filled the executive director position since 2019. Former WNAC board member Mary Hunt also has a vital role in the organization as grant writer and finance manager.


River City Mixed Chorus

River City Mixed Chorus, Omaha’s only LGBTQ+ community choir, has been giving voice to the hopes of many that yearn for a more fully inclusive and diverse society. Over those many years, Omaha has changed and RCMC has changed with it – growing from a group of 10 friends singing at The Max to more than 130 singers who perform at Omaha’s most prestigious arts venues, including the Orpheum Theater and Holland Performing Arts Center.

RCMC’s mission of creating exceptional musical experiences to support diversity, inspire change, and empower communities offers singers and audience members alike safe spaces to celebrate all that makes us unique, diverse, and joyful.

Outstanding Artist

Littleton Alston

Littleton Alston is Professor of Sculpture at Creighton University in Omaha, where he maintains his sculpture studio. His artwork ranges from classically sculpted cast bronze figures to monumental abstract sculptures made of stainless steel. His works are included in many public and private collections and have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Following a national search, he was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture portraying author Willa Cather to represent the state of Nebraska in the National Statuary Hall Collection of the United States Capitol. The statue was dedicated in Washington, D.C. during June of 2023.

Littleton was featured in the 2021 Nebraska Public Media documentary film, ‘A Sculpted Life’ and a PBS News Hour story in 2022. He has conducted artist residencies at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, the Martine Vaugel Studio in France, and the International Centre for the Arts in Italy. He earned a B.F.A. degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art Rinehart School of Sculpture in Baltimore.

Thomas C. Woods III Partner in the Arts

Steve Woerth

Steve Woerth was born in Fairbury, NE and grew up in Columbus, NE. He have been a lifelong Catholic, and is currently a member of Knights of Columbus and trustee for St. Clara’s in Peru Nebraska.

Steve is a veteran of the Nuclear Submarine Service after serving in the Navy for 8 years.

Steve was selected as the Peru Kiwanis Citizen of the Year in 1999 as a result of his work with youth and with the Steamboat Trace Association. He has been a member of the Steamboat Trace Association since 1995 and is currently chairman of the Association.

He has been an active member of the Brownville Historical Society, including being a Board member and president. Steve has been an advocate not only for Brownville, but also about the Creative District Program and specifically what it does for small communities throughout Nebraska. For his work in supporting this program and service to Brownville in general, Steve received the Daughters of American Revolution Award for Excellence in Community Service.


Congressman Mike Flood

Raised in Norfolk, Congressman Mike Flood started working in radio in high school, a passion that continued throughout his time in college at Notre Dame and law school at the University of Nebraska. In 1999, he founded Flood Communications and grew the company from one Norfolk radio station, US92, into a statewide media network. News Channel Nebraska and Flood Communications radio stations deliver content important to rural communities, including local news and weather, high school sports, morning mass, and local entertainment. 

In 2005, Rep .Flood was elected to represent his hometown and surrounding Madison County in the Nebraska Legislature. In 2007, his colleagues elected him the youngest Speaker of the Legislature in Nebraska history.

In June 2022, Rep. Flood won a special election to take over Nebraska’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently serves on the Financial Services Committee.

Over the years, Rep. Flood has given back to Nebraska in numerous ways. He has long been active in Northeast Nebraska economic development and community efforts. Rep. Flood served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, advancing its mission to open the doors of educational opportunity for families with financial need. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Invest Nebraska, which is committed to growing Nebraska’s economy by assisting entrepreneurs and investing capital in companies with growth potential.

Senator Megan Hunt

Senator Megan Hunt is a small business owner, community activist, and mother first elected to the Nebraska State Legislature in 2018 and re-elected in 2022 to represent District 8; becoming the first LGBTQ+ person ever elected to the Legislature, and the first woman ever from the district. A sixth-generation Nebraskan, Megan has lived and worked in the district for the past 18 years.

Sen. Hunt is passionate about public education, reproductive justice, gender equity, workforce development, and reducing brain drain in the Midwest. Since taking office, she has worked with senators across the political spectrum to tackle food stamp reform, tenants’ rights, access to healthcare, and affordable housing in Nebraska, as well as increasing state funding for the arts in schools and communities. Sen. Hunt grew up in a creative household. Her parents met as actors with the Blair Community Theater, and acting, singing, instrumental music, and visual arts were a foundational part of her upbringing and remain a cornerstone of her family culture today.

Sen. Hunt has given board service to Omaha Area Youth Orchestras, Charles Drew Health Center, Friends of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and Friends of the Nebraska AIDS Project, among other organizations. Sen. Hunt’s work and impact has been featured in dozens of publications including the New York Times, Forbes, INC, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, the Huffington Post, and more. She and her son, Ash, make their home in the Benson neighborhood of Omaha with their dog, Cricket. When the Legislature isn’t in session, you can find her at her stationery shop, Five Nine, at any of Omaha’s amazing local restaurants (she does not cook), or at the next gallery opening.


Fmr. Senator John Stinner

Fmr. Senator John Stinner was born in Pittsburgh, PA and attended the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship, proudly playing on the 1970 and ‘71 National Football Teams. Following his graduate work, Sen Stinner earned his CPA and worked in public accounting for Peat, Marwick, Mitchell. In 1988, John assembled a group of investors and founded Gering State Bank, which ultimately grew into Western States Bank, with branches in three states.

Sen. Stinner was very active in both community and state associations, ultimately being elected as Chairman of the Nebraska Bankers Association in 2014. He then campaigned and was elected as a Nebraska State Senator, representing District 48 for two consecutive four-year terms. Senator John assumed leadership of the Appropriations Committee in 2017 and served as chair until the end of his tenure.

Sen. Stinner has demonstrated enduring support of the arts and humanities throughout his career, including the introduction and passage of LB780, which formed the Nebraska Arts Council Creative Districts.

Sen. Stinner and his wife Rita Stinner have been married for over 50 years. They have two children and four grandchildren.