The Robert E. Gard Foundation Leadership Award
formerly the Award of Excellence

The Robert E. Gard Foundation celebrates and perpetuates the life, work and values of Robert E. Gard as a symbol of leadership in making creative communities a reality.

The Robert E. Gard Foundation Leadership Award is given by the Foundation to an individual to celebrate their substantial commitment to fostering healthy communities through arts-based development.

Download a copy of the Gard Foundation Leadership Award criteria.

Reginald Edmund (2021)

Reginald Edmund is the Co-Founder and Managing Curating Producer for Black Lives, Black Words International Project. Inspired by #blacklivesmatter, this project gives voice to some of the most contemporary political black writers from both the US, Canada and the UK, asking them to explore the question, “Do black lives matter today?”. He is a proud recipient of the 2021 Gard Foundation’s Award for Leadership in the field of community arts development. In addition, he was a Resident Playwright at Tamasha Theatre in London, England and an Alumni Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists Theatre, an Artistic Associate at Pegasus Theatre-Chicago and an Artistic Patriot at Merrimack Repertory Theatre; he was also a 2010-11 Many Voice Fellow with the Playwrights’ Center. His play Southbridge was runner up for the Kennedy Center’s Lorraine Hansberry and Rosa Parks National Playwriting Awards, and most recently named winner of the Southern Playwrights’ Competition, the Black Theatre Alliance Award for Best New Play and the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award. His nine-play series titled The City of the Bayou Collection, include Southbridge, Juneteenth Street, The Last Cadillac and All the Dying Voices were developed at esteemed theaters including Pegasus Theatre-Chicago, Deluxe Theatre, Actors Theatre of Charlotte, Bush Theatre (UK), Theatre @ Boston Court, The Landing Theatre, Playwrights’ Center and The National Theatre (UK). Reginald Edmund received his BFA in Theatre-Performance from Texas Southern University and his MFA in Playwriting from Ohio University.

Karen Goeschko (2020)

Karen Goeschko photo

Karen Goeschko is the Assistant Director at the Wisconsin Arts Board. In this capacity, she works with communities, arts and other community-based groups, and artists throughout Wisconsin in the areas of community assessment and development, arts programming, and organizational development. Internal to the Arts Board, Ms. Goeschko coordinates the Board’s grants programs and technical assistance services as well as its long-range planning process, which continues to provide new ways for citizens to provide input to the Board. Ms. Goeschko works closely with Arts Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Presenters Network. She is a leader among her peers nationally, a past chair of the Community Development Coordinators Peer Group of Americans for the Arts, and a grant proposal reviewer for the NEA and various state arts agencies.

Carlton Turner (2018)

Carlton Turner 2018 Gard Awardee, group photo

Bio coming soon.



Barbara Schaffer Bacon (2018)

2018 Awardee Barbara Schaffer Bacon, group photoBio coming soon.







Patrice Walker Powell (2016)

Patrice Walker PowellAfter joining the Endowment, Ms. Powell was appointed the director of the Expansion Arts Program with oversight of NEA-funded programs in rural, inner-city, tribal, and ethnically diverse communities. When the Expansion Arts Program came to an end in 1995, Ms. Powell was appointed to lead the local arts agency program and the Challenge America portfolio, supporting grants benefitting underserved communities. In these capacities, she was responsible for federal grants totaling nearly $60 million to rural, urban, and underserved communities across the country.

Ms. Powell was more than a government grantmaker; she was an innovator and leader in the field. As the agency began to acclimate to a reduced funding environment, NEA research showed that there were 20 States receiving five or fewer direct grants per year. Ms. Powell created a strategy that collaborated with state and local arts agencies to hold seminars on NEA funding opportunities and identify potential applicants and panelists for grant reviews. Over the course of the three-years, the number of NEA-supported projects in these states increased by 350 percent.

At the end of Ms. Powell’s tenure, she had been promoted to deputy chairman of programs and partnership overseeing grants and projects involving a national network of governmental and nonprofit partners. In 2009, she was appointed as acting chair of the Endowment and led the $50 million “stimulus” program that saved jobs in the arts and cultural sector as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Patrice Walker Powell was a leader in the field, caring for the organizations, communities, and people that she helped for over 23 years.

Michael Rohd (2015)

Michael Rohd is founding artistic director of Sojourn Theatre, a thirteen-year old ensemble-based company and a 2005 recipient of Americans for the Arts’ Animating Democracy Exemplar Award. He devises and directs new work around the nation and is on faculty at Northwestern University where he helps lead the MFA Directing Program. He wrote the widely translated book Theatre for Community, Conflict, and Dialogue (15th printing, Heinemann Press, 1998). He leads the recently formed Center for Performance and Civic Practice, an ongoing body of activity comprised of research, programs and projects that aim to make visible the power of the arts to demonstrably increase civic capacity. His work with the Center, Sojourn, and in non-arts sector settings around the nation focuses on social practice and civic practice cross-disciplinary projects through collaboratively designed arts-based engagement and participation strategies. He is the 2013-2016 Doris Duke Artist-in-Residence at Lookingglass Theater Company in Chicago. Current project partners/collaborators include: Steppenwolf Theater; Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs; Catholic Charities USA; Georgetown University; Tucson/Pima Arts Council & Milwaukee, WI Commission on Aging. With Sojourn, he is currently collaborating with theaters and universities around the country to mount locally specific projects based on Sojourn’s model performance/engagement process/production How To End Poverty in 90 Minutes.

Laura Zabel (2014)

zabel Laura Zabel is executive director of Springboard for the Arts, an economic and community development agency based in Minnesota. Springboard provides programs that help artists make a living and a life and programs that help communities tap into the resources that artists provide. This year, Springboard launched Creative Exchange: a new national platform for story and resource sharing. Laura was recently named a 2014 Bush Foundation Fellow and serves on advisory boards for the Knight Foundation, Twin Cities LISC and the University of Kansas. Laura is also an actor and lives in Minneapolis with her comedy writer husband, Levi Weinhagen, and their 8-year old daughter.

Please find below the Oral History Interview with Laura Zabel

Roberto Bedoya (2014)


Roberto Bedoya has served as the executive director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council since November of 2006. He is also a writer and arts consultant who works in the area of support systems for artists. As an arts consultant Bedoya has worked on projects for Creative Capital Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Urban Institute. From 1996-2001 he was the Executive Director of the National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO), a national arts service organization for individual artists and artist-centered organizations, primarily visual and interdisciplinary. A writer, Bedoya’s poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including The New Gatekeepers Emerging Challenges to Free Expression in the Arts (Columbia University Press, 2003), CMYK, EOAGH, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of the monograph U.S. Cultural Policy: Its Politics of Participation, Its Creative Potential and The Color Line and US Cultural Policy: An Essay with Dialogue

Theaster Gates (2013)

gatesChicago-based artist Theaster Gates has developed an expanded practice that includes space development, object making, performance and critical engagement with many publics. Founder of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation, Gates is currently Director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago.  He was featured in a New York Times article as Chicago’s Opportunity Artist.

Recent exhibition and performance venues include the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Punta della Dogana, Venice; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Santa Barbara Museum of Art, among others. Watch the interview with Gates about the Stoney Island Arts Bank.

In 2012, Gates was awarded the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, the Wall Street Journal’s Arts Innovator of the Year, a Creative Time Global Residency Fellowship, and became a United States Artists Fellow. Gates has also received awards and grants from Creative Capital, the Joyce Foundation, Graham Foundation, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and Artadia. He is represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago and White Cube in London.

Robert L. Lynch (2012)

Robert L. Lynch is president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. With more than 30 years of experience in the arts industry, he is motivated by his personal mission to empower communities and leaders to create stronger places with the arts as a partner that work. Under his 26 years of leadership, the National Assembly for Local Arts and now Americans for the Arts has grown to become a nationally recognized force in community arts development. He currently serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, a position appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, as well as on the board of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, the Arts Extension Institute, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts Board. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and plays the piano, mandolin, and guitar. He lives in Washington, D.C. As the third Director of the Arts Extension Service (AES) of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Mr. Lynch knew Mr. Gard and his work personally. In fact, AES was modeled after the University of Wisconsin-Extension Arts program, where Mr. Gard was a faculty member and passionate community arts activist. Mr. Lynch’s connections to Wisconsin and his advocacy for local arts everywhere make him the most appropriate first recipient of this award by someone from outside of the State of Wisconsin. His career is an example of how each of us has the capacity to “alter the face and the heart of America.”

Other videos of interest include:

Don Ruedy (2010)

An artist conceives the motif not only in terms of convictions and elements, but also in terms of the possibilities and limitations of the chosen medium. Don Ruedy is currently a Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Colleges- Baron County Campus in Rice Lake. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1967, immediately began teaching at the Barron Campus, and has remained there ever since. Over the years Don’s work has been exhibited in numerous regional and national shows, and is represented in collections around the world. Don has received commissions to do portraits, among other subjects, including a bronze sculpture of a World War II soldier for the Rice Lake Veterans Memorial Park. As a graduate student, Don met Robert Gard and accepted his challenge to introduce visual arts workshops to the School of the Arts at Rhinelander, which at that time focused primarily on writers. Since then, he has offered various painting programs until his retirement.

Rogers Keene (2009)

Rogers Keene runs Voices Theater, a grassroots theater based in Medford, Wisconsin. He collaborates with community groups and organizations, supporting their missions by creating original theater that entertains, educates and fundraises. Early in his career, Mr. Keene participated in the Wisconsin Idea Theater touring company. He was part of the cast of Hodag! and performed for Mrs. Lyndon Johnson during her visit to Wisconsin. For many years, Mr. Keene has worked in social-concern theater with the firm belief that social issues should be on the front burner of discussion. He strives to give voice to everyone, provide different perspectives, and promote discussion… and by doing so, exemplifies the best practices for community development (and transformation) though the arts. More specifically, Mr. Keene helps people and their communities – whether it’s the hospice community or a geographic community like Eagle River – discover the vital role the arts play in their day to day lives. His work springs from the commonplace and celebrates our essential humanity. He nurtures and expresses the arts – and helps others to do so – so that they can change people and their communities for the better. Mr. Keene is, even now, altering the face and heart of Medford, Eagle River, Eau Claire and other northern Wisconsin communities… and by doing so, celebrating and perpetuating the life and work of Robert E. Gard.

WormFarm Institute (2008)

Wormfarm is an organic farm conceived of, and managed by, artists Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. Wormfarm came to the attention of Maryo Gard Ewell when they were a part of the “Putting Culture Back Into Agriculture project of the College of Liberal Studies and the Arts at UW Madison. Wormfarm assembled groups of artists and farmers with the goal of putting the culture back in agriculture. It quickly became clear that putting the “agri” back in the culture was at least equally important. As a result the thrust of their project shifted toward ensuring a thriving rural culture. Jay Salinas coined the term cultureshed defined as: “1. A geographic region irrigated by streams of local talent and fed by deep pools of human and natural history. 2. An area nourished by what is cultivated locally. 3. The efforts of writers, artists, performers, scholars and chefs who contribute to a vital and diverse local culture.” “The word culture is embedded in agriculture. When farming was more integrated into most people’s lives, celebrations of planting, fertility and harvest included music, art, ritual, dance and was inseparable from the activity of growing food. There is every reason to believe that with committed people, good food and institutional support that there can be a 21st century rural renaissance.” Wormfarm is furthering the vision that Gard imagined: returning culture to its vital place in agriculture, and to small community life in general. Wormfarm embodies the vision of “helping people and their communities discover the vital role the arts play in their day-to-day lives.”

Ellen Kort (2007)

Ellen Kort was named Wisconsin’s first Poet Laureate in 2000. For decades she has been committed to poetry in Wisconsin, teaching, writing, giving public readings and instructing in workshops and retreats. Ellen’s poems have been featured in a wide variety of anthologies, and architecturally incorporated in downtown Milwaukee’s Midwest Express Center, the Green Bay Botanical Garden, and the Fox River Mall in Appleton, Wisconsin. Kort’s writing has also been performed by the New York City Dance Theater, and recorded on audio cassette by Ellen Burstyn, Ed Asner, CCH Pounder, and Alfre Woodard, as well as included in the 1997 “Re-Membering” exhibit in Wichita Falls and the 1998 “Women and Their Work” exhibit in Austin. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the School of the Arts in Rhinelander, and at the Renaissance Fine Arts Charter School in Appleton, and carries a bucket of glow-in-the-dark chalk in her car so she can write poems on city sidewalks. Ellen runs writing workshops for at-risk teens, for women in prison, and for survivors of cancer, AIDS, and domestic abuse. Her social activism enhances rather than detracts from the quality of her poetry. Kort’s numerous prizes include the Pablo Neruda Literary Prize for Poetry, the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Prize for Poetry, and the Dr. Hanns Kretzschmer “Excellence in the Arts” Award. She is the author of 12 books, including seven books of poetry.

Ben Logan (2006)

Ben Logan traveled as a merchant seaman, and worked many years as a novelist, producer and writer of films and television, and lecturer, while living forty miles north of New York City. Yet his roots remained in the southwestern area of Wisconsin. He returned to his childhood farm “Seldom Seen” in the mid-1980s, and has lived there ever since. From 1960-1985, Ben was senior producer for United Methodist Communications in New York state. He won an Emmy award for best-written documentary film, “Taking Children Seriously”, which aired on NBC-TV in 1986. His book The Land Remembers: The Story of a Farm and Its People was published in 1975 and has never been out of print since. It retells the story of Logan’s boyhood and his home around Richland Center in a way which captures the essence of the Robert Gard Foundation ideals.

Anthony Bukoski (2005)

Bukoski teaches English and creative writing at University of Wisconsin – Superior. His stories, focusing upon his ethnic roots within the Polish east end of Superior, celebrate the Gard Foundation’s ideal: there is a universe to be discovered in everyone’s backyard. His stories have been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize and have appeared in many literary venues in the U.S. He won the Oskar Halecki Prize, the Creative Arts Award from the Polish American Historical Association and the first ever fiction prize from the Polish Institute of Houston. His books have received Outstanding Achievement Awards from the Wisconsin Library Association and twice received the Anne Powers Book-length Fiction award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. In 1997 he was featured in the PBS video A Sense Of Place: Three Midwestern Writers. He was recipient of a 2002 fellowship in fiction from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. Time Between Trains was selected as a “Booklist Editor’s Choice“, one of the best adult fiction titles for public libraries in 2003.

Gerard McKenna (2004)

McKenna made sustained, outstanding and significant programmatic, administrative, or support contributions to arts education at the local, state and national levels. Retired Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication (1989 to 2005), McKenna is the founder of the arts management degree at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, the only BA degree in arts management in the UW System. He managed ArtsWorld, an interdisciplinary summer program for high school arts students at UWSP. As chairperson of the Stevens Point Arts Council, McKenna assisted the community in building the Riverfront Arts Center. In addition, he served as chairperson of Region Four of the National Association of Schools of Music; president of the Wisconsin Music Educators Association, board member of the International Council of Fine Arts Deans; and vice president for the Arts, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. In 1992 he was awarded the Wisconsin Music Educators Association’s Distinguished Service Award.

Community of Spring Green, Wisconsin (2003)

Spring Green has an historic partnership with Robert Gard in the 1960s and with the Uplands Arts Council. This unique relationship created a catalyst for the arts in the Wisconsin River Valley.

Margaret (Peg) Stiles (2002)

As a community arts volunteer, Peg Stiles is a model of extraordinary achievements. In 1974 she started a massive campaign to save a vacant church in Monroe, Wisconsin to become what is now the Monroe Arts Center. She is spearheading a campaign for an endowment for the Center. The Center embodies Robert Gard’s vision of a place where the community gathers to celebrate its creativeity. She has been recognized in her community and with a Wisconsin Governor’s Award for the Arts for her work.

Harvey Stower (2001)

Stower has provided strong supportive leadership for the development of arts at the local level, championing local artists throughout Wisconsin. He is a United Methodist minister and Mayor of Amery, Wisconsin. For eight years he represented Polk, Burnett and portions of Saint Croix counties in the Wisconsin State Assembly. In 1995 he received the Community Arts Development Award from the Wisconsin Assembly for Local Arts.

Harv Thompson (2000)

Thompson began his career 30 years ago as a specialist in statewide theatre programming through the University of Wisconsin. His early faculty supervisor and mentor was Robert Gard. Over the years, Thompson has chaired various art departments at the University and is retired as the chair of the Dept. of Liberal Studies and the Arts. Among his achievements, he founded the Wisconsin Theatre Association, is co-producer of the Wisconsin High School Theatre Festival, director fo the School of the Arts at Rhinelander founded by Robert Gard, producer of the annual Theatre Auditions in Wisconsin and was director of the National Conference for Community Theater Directors.

Dean Amhaus (1999)

Amhaus, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Arts Board from 1991 to 1996, former President of Forward Wisconsin, the state’s business attraction organization and currently President of Spirit of Milwaukee.. He was the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Commission, the chief executive officer responsible for the two-year planning of programs and activities related to a yearlong 1998 statewide celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Wisconsin’s Statehood.

Emily Auerbach (1998)

Auerbach is professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to teaching and lecturing to community organizations, she also co-produces “University of the Air,” broadcast weekly on public radio, and continues to develop the award-winning “Courage to Write” series of documentary programs on women writers. She currently is working on a book “Searching for Jane Austen.”

Susan Hunt-Wulcowicz (1997)

The visual art of Hunt-Wulcowicz, created in her Janesville studio, interprets the rural countryside through linework drawing, etching, lithography, printing and watercoloring. Her work was selected for the Andrew Balkin Editions, a portfolio organized for the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial. She was represented in the Elvejhem Museum’s “150 Years of Wisconsin Printmaking” in 1998. She has exhibited and demonstrated printmaking techniques in Japan.

Jerry Apps (1996)

Jerry Apps writes about rural America, authoring more than 25 books and articles on adult education and learning, plus the history and lore of Wisconsin and the Midwest. As professor emeritus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he wrote and taught others to write, his books examine the history and lore of one-room country schools, barns, mills, breweries, and cheese. Apps teaches classes at The Clearing in Door County.

Reprise Theater (1995)

Reprise Theater was established to channel the artistic talent, time and energy of older adults who are interested in the theater. It serves as a community production company and is one of the organizations involved in a Dane County theater coalition, which undertook the rehabilitation of the Esquire movie theater for use as a live theater performance facility.

Community of Rhinelander (1994)

Years ago, Robert Gard chose Rhinelander as the site to establish a grassroots learning environment for the arts – now known as the successful Rhinelander School of the Arts. The community also was one of the five locales for the research conducted in Gard’s 1966 grant from the National Council on the Arts. Today, the arts flourish in the area through the School of the Arts, the Northern Arts Council, the Historical Society, Museum, District Library, and many community collaborators, such as Nicolet College.

David C. Peterson (1993)

Peterson’s creative work as professor of theater arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison integrated fields of theater, music history and culture and captured the spirit and heritage of early Wisconsin. His many music/historical performance productions celebrated Wisconsin and were strongly influenced by Bob Gard. In retirement, he pursues new-found artistic interests. With his wife, Joan, he founded Ginkgo Press; they write travel books on food, with research taking them to Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and Mexico.

Kevin Henkes (1992)

Children’s author and illustrator Kevin Henkes has written nearly 50 books for children. He sold his first manuscript in 1981 to Greewillow Press, the first publisher he approached on a trip to New York at the age of 19. His books have received the Caldecott Honor award and national ‘best book” honors from A Child Magazine, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Horn Book Fanfare, American Bookseller, New York Public Library and other presit5ge book review panels. All ages delight in Henkes’ books. The New York Times lauded Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, which has been adapted to theater and music productions.

Roberta J. Hill (1991)

Robert Hill, poet, fiction writer and scholar, is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She is an associate professor English and director of the American Indian Studies Program At the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Two collections of poetry were published under the name of Roberta Hill Whiteman. Her poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She was awarded a Faculty Development Award in creative Arts and a Lila Wallace Readers’ Digest Award, which enabled her to complete a two-volume biography about her grandmother, Dr. Lillie Rosa Minoka-Hill, the second American Indian woman physician.

Ronald Wallace (1990)

Ron Wallace is Felix Pollak Professor of Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has taught since 1972. He co-directs the Creative Writing program and is editor of the University of Wisconsin Press Poetry Series. He has written over 600 poems, books, stories and essays, published in prestigious magazines and anthologies across the country. His writing, teaching, and arts development awards are numerous, ranging from the 1998 Lynde and Harry Bradly Major Achievement Award (Lifetime) to the 1984 Distinguished Teaching Award and multiple-year recognition by the Wisconsin Arts Board, Council for Wisconsin Writers, and ACLS Fellowships.