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Iris Awards Highlights Elk Grove’s Creative Talent

Iris Awards Highlights Elk Grove’s Creative Talent
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After a two year hiatus, the Elk Grove Arts Commission honored the city’s artists and volunteers in grand fashion at the May 18 “Iris Awards” held at The Center at District 56 in Elk Grove.

Mayor of Elk Grove, Bobbie Singh-Allen, along with Vice Mayor, Darren Suen; City Council Members, Kevin Spease and Pat Hume were all in attendance.

“I am proud to be the mayor of this amazing city, and recognize my colleagues,” Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen said, “we value and appreciate the arts so very much.”

“We look forward to not only celebrating these kind of events, but supporting the arts in general”

-Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen

“I think it’s very important that we recognize artists in the community – they’re all professional artists,” said Nan Mahon, Chair of the Elk Grove Arts Commission.

“We choose them on the basis of their commitment to the arts, their past body of work, and what have they done to help the community in some way using their profession”

–Nan Mahon, Chair, Elk Grove Arts Commission

This is the third year for the awards, named after Strauss Festival originator, Iris Zimbelman. Also, 2018 Iris Awards winner in the “Performing Arts” category, Gary Mendoza, was the emcee for the evening.

This year’s award winners were recognized in five categories.

Performing Arts/Nat Brown

Nat Brown sometimes skipped school, spending most of that spare time staring at the saxophone in a pawn shop window.

“I’d dream of myself on stage. I took piano lessons, which I hated. The saxophone – there was something about it. It felt right. It was my instrument.”

-Nat Brown

Brown lost his eyesight in a shooting as he played in the street. He was only 12 years old and could have let go of those dreams. Instead, a persistent social worker would not let that happen. As he recovered, she promised him a saxophone if he enrolled at the Missouri School for the Blind. Two years after his first lesson, he was playing at the nightclubs in East St. Louis, Illinois.

His work includes a long list of historical greats, such as: Ike and Tina Turner; Etta James, and Little Richard and the Coasters. Brown would eventually move on to record eight CDs and earn two Grammy nominations. Locally, Brown often plays for patients at assisted living facilities in Elk Grove, churning out country westerns, blues and pop. Every Sunday morning, he’s the gospel music man at Paradise Missionary Baptist Church in Sacramento. The audience swooned over Brown’s solo performance before Chair of the Arts Commission, Nan Mahon, presented his award.

“I just have fun playing,” Brown said, “I’ve been fortunate in a lot of ways.”


Literary Arts/Friends of Elk Grove Library

The Friends of the Elk Grove Library are a book-loving group of about 95 members. They’re intent on keeping public libraries a viable spot for people to gather.

“Everyone involved believes in the concept of libraries as a backbone for the community. We’re there to support the library in whatever ways they need.”

-Paul Lindsey, President , Friends of the Elk Grove Library
Paul Lindsey of Friends of Elk Grove Library
Photo by: Marissa Johnson

The group is an affiliate of, “Friends of the Sacramento Public Library.” At this year’s, “Big Day of Giving,” the Elk Grove branch helped to raise $99,000 for the Book First Program. Moreover, books will be distributed to nearly every first-grade student in the region because of this program.

Visual Arts/Margaret Munson

Margaret Munson’s love for art started in elementary school. The local Farmer’s magazine found her 8-year-old pencil sketches of great Live Oak trees impressive, and published her work. Afterwards, the accolades kept on coming.

She has used oils, acrylics, pastels and ceramics and dabbled in watercolors. A self taught artist, she continues to evolve and determine which medium and genre she prefers.

The Elk Grove Fine Arts Center and the Tong Gallery have displayed her work. Additionally, Munson is a member of the “Northern California Artists,” and the Vice President of “The Elk Grove Artists, Inc.”

“It’s a small group, we do shows and our monies that we make we hold onto it , and at the end of the year we present it for scholarships.”

-Margaret Munson
Margaret Munson (L) picture with Cheryl Griess, Vice Chair of the Arts Commission
Photo by: Marissa Johnson

Patron of the Arts/Marsha Holmes

Marsha Holmes was a hands-on player in the city’s art and philanthropic scene for many years. Today she considers herself “out to pasture.”

“I’ve been on the sideline cheering everybody on,” said the fifth-generation Elk Grove resident. “I guess people don’t forget. That’s cool.”

Holmes was one of the seven pioneers of the Strauss Festival,. She worked on it for 20 years and served as chair of the board of directors. She was on the city’s initial Committee for the Arts, now the Arts Commission. Also, she worked on the Elk Grove Community Foundation BBQ and Blues, which helps provide scholarships for local youth.

Photo by: Marissa Johnson

She loves the arts, having traveled the world with her husband to view museums and festivals. She has “no talent art wise,” she said, but has enjoyed being a behind the scenes player.  

“You don’t do anything for recognition. You just do the things where your heart pulls you and the things you really enjoy.”

-Marsha Holmes

Rising Star/ Stephen Kimball

Stephen Kimball, a 28-year-old decade long musician, has led the “Stephen Kimball Blues Band” for the past year. He started playing the guitar two weeks after his grandfather passed away to help deal with his grief. Kimball learned to play the blues in 2011. He then joined a band led by Gary Mendoza, and eventually took the reins. Mendoza has been a huge fan of Kimball ever since.

“The kid just loves to play his guitar. He was born to do this,” said Mendoza. “I’m very proud of him.”

Kimball spoke about how he was inspired by a family at a past gig. Their son was grooving to the blues chords pouring out of his guitar. The family noticed how his band helped their 3-year-old son dance to the music. Kimball walked behind the family while playing his guitar, and when the boy turned to him, his eyes widened.

“His face just lit up. That’s something I love to do – playing for the children. They’re some of our best audiences. They see me doing it…maybe they think they can do that one of these days.”

-Stephen Kimball

Kimball is in demand, with performances stretching from Elk Grove to Roseville.  

“I don’t feel I deserve the award just yet,” he said. “I’m surprised.”

Gary Mendoza (L) pictured with Stephen Kimball
Photo by: Marissa Johnson

To learn more about the Elk Grove Arts Commission CLICK HERE

About The Author

Tony Mercado

Tony is our News & Events Editor. Tony Mercado brings a decade of experience as a Bay Area newspaper reporter to the Tribune. He studied journalism and political science at San José State University and has written for such dailies as the Gilroy Dispatch, San José Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. By day, he’s a communications specialist for a San José water district and somehow finds time to dive into a Stephen King novel, get in the stands for San José Sharks and Las Vegas Raiders games and whoop it up with his family and rescue dogs.

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