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The 43rd Annual New Jersey Governor's Awards in Arts Education To Honor Over 100 NJ Students and Educators

By Carolyn M. Brown,

originally published: 05/18/2023

The 43rd Annual New Jersey Governor

Over 100 students and arts educators will receive the state’s most prestigious award in arts education at the 43rd Annual New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education celebration during Arts Ed NJ Day. The event will take place June 2 at 5 p.m. at the College of New Jersey and will honor those who have demonstrated excellence in and dedication to arts education. Over the past four decades, the Governor’s Awards has highlighted New Jersey’s most talented youth. Students of artistic disciplines as varied as dance, music, poetry, visual arts, speech, debate and theater have walked across the awards stage to receive their medal.

Kayla Donaruma is this year’s student recipient of the Governor’s Award in Group Musical Theater. “Winning this award is something that none of us thought we could accomplish, because we had a lot of other musical theater groups we were going up against,” says the junior at Gloucester County Institute of Technology (Academy for Performing Arts – Drama). “We are all very appreciative that we were awarded this because it shows our hard work and dedication to the number (we performed). And that hard work and dedication pays off.”

Donaruma and fellow members of the GCIT’s Troupe 5480 competed at the NJ Thespian Festival in January, winning 30 medals, the most medals in the state, according to school officials. The Troupe won the Governor’s Award for their Group Musical Theatre Piece performance of “Nine People's Favorite Thing” from “[title of show],” a musical by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell.

“I love musical theater because it's a way to express myself and showcase what I can do while having a really good time at it,” says Donaruma, who plans to attend college and earn a BFA degree in musical theater education. “You can pretend to be someone else, create a bunch of other characters, and step into a million other worlds other than this one.” She is quick to point out that her grandma was her No. 1 supporter. “She took me to see Broadway shows every single year, ever since I was a kid, before the COVID shut down.” She adds, “my No. 1 musical will always be “Newsies.” It's incredible.”

Princeton High School students Matthew Baglio and Graham Beers are recipients of the Governor’s Award for Improvisational Pairs. The duo performed skits where they pretended to be birthday clowns with a bit of a dark past and the British founders of a new land. “I'm very honored to win this award, especially because at the stand-up competition, there were so many talented people,” says Baglio. “At the same time, the Governor's Awards have been given out since the 1980s and this is something that I get to take part in and to leave a bit of a legacy for myself along with so many other talented people that have come through this program,” he adds. “The Governor's Award celebrates excellence in artistic ability and the impact art has on our lives. That's something I didn't even think about until I won the award.”

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It is not surprising that he is a big fan of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live (SNL),” which he grew up watching with his parents. His favorite comedic actors are “SNL” alum Bill Hader and Amy Poehler, and his favorite shows of all time are “The Office and “Parks and Recreation.”

Baglio will take up a dual major in film and television and political science when he attends Boston University next fall. “The dream is to become a storyteller and to impact the world in positive ways with the stories that I create and the things that I produce,” he says.

This year, the annual Governor’s Awards ceremony will be held as the culminating event of the inaugural Arts Ed NJ Day June 2 and will be live streamed via YouTube, Facebook, and the Governor’s Awards website at This event is free and open to the public. It is a partnership of Arts Ed NJ, the Department of Education, the Art Pride New Jersey Foundation, the Department of State, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Nominated by the Board of Arts Ed NJ, Dr. Penelope Lattimer, Ph.D., will receive the prestigious Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Arts Education award. A retired educator, Lattimer held such leadership positions Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, New Brunswick Board of Education; Chief of Staff (Lucille Davy administration), NJ State Department of Education; Assistant Commission (William Librera administration), NJ State Department of Education; Director of Rutgers Institute for Improving Student Achievement, Rutgers University Graduate School of Education; and Executive Director, NJ School Development Council.

“Dr. Lattimer is a trailblazer, nationally known author, national speaker and thought leader on education,” said Ann Marie Miller, Chair of the Arts Ed NJ Board, in a released statement. “She was a member of the Literacy in the Arts Task Force established in 1987 to create a comprehensive plan for the development of arts education in the elementary and secondary schools of the state. It launched New Jersey as a national model for ensuring all students throughout the state have access to a sequential multicultural curriculum that includes all artistic disciplines.”

Also nominated by Arts Ed NJ is scholarship awardee Madison Sales, a visual artist and senior at High Point Regional High School. “Words cannot describe how honored and grateful I feel to receive this award,” she says. “I am the second recipient for High Point to be receiving this award. I am also the National Art Honor Society president for High Point. When I was younger, I started to get into just random doodling, and then that progressed into different illustrations over the past four years working alongside my graphics design teacher Jeremy Dearolf and my AP photography and crafts teacher Kelly Shenise. I am a digital artist by trade, but I also tend to work with mixed media,” she adds.

Sales will attend Kean University this fall, majoring in art education. “I want to be a teacher. I want to be able to be a vessel of truth and beauty,” she says. “Art is an expression of who you are. I believe that if you are an artist, whether it be fine arts, photography, illustration, even musical theater and dance, it's an expression of who you are and your character. And I think that that's a very beautiful thing.”

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Arts Ed NJ Day also will feature the first-ever Gathering Ground Arts Education Call to Collaboration (C2C), networking opportunities, award-winning performances on various stages, an interactive photo booth, alumni guest speakers, pop-up advocacy activities, Live Red Carpet Countdown to the Awards, and a statewide student visual arts exhibit. The C2C will bring together over 250 educators, nonprofits leaders, artists, teaching artists, school board members, parents, students, businesspeople and legislators. The central question put forth for the Call to Collaboration: “How do we work together to ensure an equitable arts education sector that celebrates diverse lived experiences, increases demand and resources, and builds a more just and creative NJ?”

About the author: Carolyn M. Brown is an investigative journalist, editor, author, playwright, multimedia content producer and an entrepreneur. She has produced content spanning across a portfolio of platforms, including print, digital media, broadcast, theater arts, and custom events. Her publication credits include Essence, Forbes, Inc., and Diversity Woman magazines. She is a founding board member of the Paterson Performing Arts Development Council, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing together diverse communities through the performing arts and cultural events and to creating pathways for new and established artists.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.



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