Published in KPBS On Air Magazine May 2003

It’s a family affair. That’s how Alan Ziter, executive director of the San Diego Performing Arts League, sees the 12th annual STAR Awards event. The gala draws over 1000 people, but it still feels intimate.

“It’s a family reunion for the arts,” says Ziter enthusiastically, “one of the few events that brings the entire performing arts community together — trustees, staff, key artists, performers and volunteers — everyone from the Globe to the smallest storefront performing arts group.” But what about the League’s 1100-guest Fall BRAVO event, that connects the arts and the business community? “BRAVO is like inviting the in-laws over,” says Ziter with a laugh. “STAR Awards is family.”

STAR Awards honors and celebrates representatives of the 15,000 volunteers who give tireless energy to San Diego’s arts organizations. In these tight financial times, Ziter is thrilled that “there’s an almost endless supply of volunteers to honor.” In terms of energy, enthusiasm and economics, they’re invaluable.

“There are about 5000 people employed in the non-profit arts establishments of San Diego,” Ziter explains. “That’s about three volunteers for every paid person. No one could survive without them. They are the backbone of every arts organization.”

One part of that supportive spine is Sandra Timmons, whose own family was the impetus for her volunteer efforts that began eight years ago. She was driving her son and daughter back and forth to their performing arts extracurricular activities, and pretty soon, she was hooked as well. This year, she’s being honored as the STAR of two arts organizations: the San Diego Children’s Choir and Coast Kids Theatre.

“My daughter was 8 when she started in the Children’s Choir,” Timmons says. “She sang as early as she talked. I liked what I saw at the Choir, and I got more and more involved. In a couple of years, Jenna will graduate as a ten-year member. Now I’m President of the Parents’ Board that helps kids raise funds to go on tour, and with my background working at KPBS years ago, I bring the skill to professionally videotape the tours.”

Timmons, who also writes programs and newsletters for the Choir, has chaperoned trips to France, Germany, Hawaii and Wales. Her son, a high school senior, has been in the Children’s Choir’s “Changed Voices” group for the past three years and he’s a ‘techie’ for Coast Kids, where her daughter is an actor/singer and Timmons serves as backstage manager, prop mistress and program designer. So what’s the payoff for Mom? “I get to use my skills and keep them current,” Timmons says, “and I get to learn a lot of new skills. I’ve won more from this partnership than they have.”

Arts volunteerism is a mutually beneficial give-and-take, celebrated in a stellar annual event, the only one of its kind in the country. This year’s gala, dubbed ‘Stars Under the Stars,’ boasts a new time and a new venue. Instead of a mid-week luncheon in a hotel ballroom, the Monday evening open-air event will be at Humphrey’s By the Bay on Shelter Island, replete with an island feel, a torch-lighting tribute to past honorees, a candle dance, a poolside reception, a silent auction, interactive food stations and dessert and coffee after the awards presentation in the newly renovated main stage area. The ever-changing, always-classy awards come from sponsors Tiffany & Co. Evening-long entertainment, produced by Job York, will include music, dance and performing puppets. As York puts it, “First and foremost, I want to give heart to this event and honor the volunteers. My goal is for one brief shining moment to let everyone feel like they have been treated to a little vacation retreat.”

At the first STAR Awards event in 1992, there were 350 attendees representing 75 Performing Arts League members. The organization has grown to 140 members, and attendance is expected to come close to the site’s 1200-guest capacity. Each year, a particularly outstanding volunteer is named the Gold Star Honoree, an tribute to someone who has brought a meaningful commitment and impact to several different organizations over an extended period. This year, it’s two-time STAR Award winner Lael Kovtun, an optometrist, professional figure skater and weekend anthropologist who has brought her vision, vigor and knowledge to the San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, Mainly Mozart, as well as KPBS, Mama’s Kitchen and the Vista Hill Foundation.

“She’s concerned about the well-being of all of our arts organizations,” says Ziter. “Very giving of her time, generous financially and most important, willing to roll up her sleeves and get involved wherever help is needed.”

This year’s event committee, headed by two-time former chair Linda Shohet, includes several past presidents and staffers of the League. “We’re like the La Brea tarpits,” Ziter quips. “Once people get involved with us, they’re with us for the long haul. Just like family.”

STAR Awards 2003 begins at 5:30pm on Monday, May 19 at Humphrey’s By the Bay. Tickets ($45 and $80) and information are available at 619-238-0700.

©2003 Patté Productions Inc.