ACE Awards


The ACE (arts, culture and education) Awards are presented annually by 40 North | 88 West to honor the work of artists, teachers, businesses, individuals, organizations, volunteers, community and government leaders. All seven ACE Awards highlight a different part of the cultural life of our community and celebrate those that, through hard work, dedication, and creative energy, cultivate the arts of Champaign County. This year has brought more challenges than we could have ever expected – this year’s awards hope to highlight and celebrate the remarkable people that stepped up and used their creativity and generosity to navigate unknown waters and be a vehicle for change, innovation, and advocacy. There will be a virtual celebration of these outstanding contributions in mid-December! 

The winners of the 2020 ACE Awards are:

Advocate ACE AwardJill Miller, for consistently acting as a beacon of light and a stalwart advisor to artists of varying levels, for consistently lending a helping hand to local artists including creating the initiative CU pARTners that encouraged artists to forge partnerships with local businesses at a time when our community was struggling to comprehend the helplessness and isolation set on by the pandemic, and for 17+ years, as a mentor and host, opening the doors to her home twice a year for shows featuring local artists.

Artist ACE AwardJa Nelle Davenport-Pleasure, for her seemingly-endless talents including poetry, dance, fashion, jewelry, and mixed media sculpture, for her sincere support and genuine enthusiasm for other artists in this area, for recruiting and introducing young children to the art of dance, and for inspiring the community through her passion, positivity, dedication, and remarkable ability to transform recycled materials into provocative and thoughtful works of art.

Volunteer ACE AwardGregory Stallmeyer, for his endless curiosity and magnetic energy, for his remarkable leadership and genuine encouragement of artists in this community, for his constant generosity, creativity, and selfless ability to shine a spotlight on other local artists, and for countless volunteer hours dedicated to bringing artists together and creating the ultimate successful collective experience.

Business ACE AwardRose Bowl Tavern, for bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge as well as the heart and soul to diversify the scope of their programming, inviting a broader, more varied audience to their venue, for preserving the longstanding history of the Rose Bowl while revitalizing it as a destination for quality live music experiences, and for creating a safe plan to adjust their space to offer high quality, streaming and live performances that inspired audiences amd musicians in a time of need.

Teacher ACE AwardAbby Crull, for being a champion and a light for her students and bringing a love for music and the arts to each and every student she comes in contact with, for her compassion, inspiration, and outstanding commitment to the arts through collaboration with classroom, specials, and other area educators to create relevant and responsive curricula for our youth, and for being at the forefront of addressing the complex social-emotional needs of her students as they ventured into remote learning and grappled with racial inequalities.

Student ACE AwardLuke Matias, for his helpful, kind, and positive attitude, for his thirst to learn as much as possible about sound, music, recording, production and more, combined with an eagerness to participate and contribute to our local music scene.

Lifetime ACE AwardCarl Johnson, for countless years dedicated to teaching music and entertaining audiences all over Champaign-Urbana and beyond, for being a one-of-a-kind contributor to our community's music scene through his capacity to engage and inspire people with his musicianship and outstanding character, for volunteering in the local high schools, providing countless clinics, concerts, sectionals and lessons to our students, and for his humble, devoted, and generous spirit that is an inspiration to all who know him.

2020 has been a year that no one could have planned for and guidelines of previous years are not necessarily adequate to encompass the trials undergone over the past several months. Therefore, we have decided to add an additional, unique to this year, ACE Award: the 2020 Remembrance ACE Award presented to Jack Eckstrom. Jack received numerous nominations this year for being a teacher and mentor of many art students beyond his 20+ year career at Parkland College. He was engaged, supportive, and attended almost every art event with an enthusiasm of seeing, hearing, and engaging in local art. Jack modeled for so many what it means to be an artist, what it means to be engaged in local art, and what it means to encourage and support others. Weeks before passing away from COVID in April, he was at art talks, receptions, and openings. Jack Eckstrom devoted his life to the arts in this community.

The winners were chosen from over 65 public nominations by an independent panel of community-based judges.

The seven ACE Award categories are: Advocate, Artist, Volunteer, Business, Teacher, Student, and Lifetime Achievement. Nominations are reviewed by an independent panel of community-based judges representing a broad cross-section of Champaign County. Anyone can submit a nomination for an ACE Award. You may nominate multiple candidates and self-nominations are accepted. Must be 14 years or older and a resident of Champaign County to be eligible to win an ACE Award. Previous nominees may be resubmitted.