Students and their instructor Debra Austin pose with a giant replica of the Medal of Arts award

2021 Raleigh Medal of Arts Awards

Raleigh Arts

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Watch the Virtual Ceremony About the Awardees

The City of Raleigh Arts Commission selected five individuals and one organization for extraordinary achievement in the practice or support of local arts in 2020. The Raleigh Medal of Arts awards were celebrated virtually.

Watch the Virtual Ceremony

In addition to celebrating the awardees, the virtual awards ceremony includes performances by local music favorites The Raleigh Boychoir, the North Carolina Master Chorale, and Jacqueline Saed Wolborsky from the North Carolina Symphony. Watch the ceremony below.

2021 Raleigh Medal of Arts Awards

About the Awardees

Individual Awardees

headshot of debra austin

Debra Austin

The Ballet Master and Founding Member of Carolina Ballet received a scholarship to the School of American Ballet when she was 12 years old. Four years later, George Balanchine personally invited her to join New York City Ballet. Praised by The New York Times for her ability to “levitate…and remain suspended in the air,” Ms. Austin danced many principal roles with New York City Ballet in works choreographed by Balanchine, including Symphony in C, Divertimento #15, and Ballo della Regina, in which Balanchine created a solo for her.

She also danced lead roles for Jerome Robbins in The Four Seasons, Interplay, and Chansons Madécasses, which he created on her.

She later joined the Zurich Ballet in Switzerland, where she danced principal roles (many with Rudolf Nureyev) in works by all of the major choreographers, including Myrtha in Heinz Spoerli’s Giselle. While there, she toured throughout Europe. After her return to the United States, she joined Pennsylvania Ballet as a principal dancer under Artistic Director Robert Weiss and danced roles in Swan Lake, Coppélia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Giselle, and La Sylphide.

Since 1997, she's been passing on her knowledge as a founding member and ballet master at Carolina Ballet, a company led by her former director at PAB, Robert "Ricky" Weiss. Her love of the art form and her love of teaching brought her to accept Weiss’ invitation to be a ballet master at the newly formed Carolina Ballet in Raleigh.

headshot of Betsy Buford

Betsy Buford

In the ’70s Betsy Buford assisted her late friend, Betsy Watson Brennan, with exhibitions at Artspace, then the new downtown home to artists’ studios and galleries.  Terry Sanford recruited Buford to assist with the move of the American Dance Festival to North Carolina, and their new home at Duke in 1976.  She was so successful in that role that she was asked to be the second President of the ADF Association, which was committed to raising funds to produce the Festival.

In the ’80s Buford served on the board of Creative Exchange, which evolved into United Arts.  In that role, she chaired fundraising and lobbied business and civic leaders for their support of the arts in Raleigh and Wake County

She also served as deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources from 1993 to 2002 (she also lured Larry Wheeler back from Cleveland in 1994).  In that role, Buford secured funds from the City of Raleigh, Wake County and the North Carolina legislature for the expansion of Memorial Auditorium and the creation of a new performing arts center.  In addition, she raised funds from private citizens for Meymandi Hall – the current home of the NC Symphony.

In 2001, Buford received the Bowers Raleigh Medal of Arts for her support of programs at Arts NC State including Thompson Theatre and The Visual Arts Center, which evolved into The Gregg.  She served as director of the N.C. Museum of History and director of the Division of State History Museums from 2002 to 2007.

Buford has served on nearly 50 boards.  Her leadership roles also include terms as chairwoman of the Advancement Council of The University of North Carolina Press and president of the N.C. Literary and Historical Association. 

Grant Llewellyn conducting an orchestra

Grant Llewellyn

Grant Llewellyn has made a tremendous impact on the Raleigh arts community and the entire state of North Carolina over the past 16 years.  His tenure is marked by growth in the symphony’s education program, outstanding performances, and an orchestra which is performing at an extraordinarily high level.

Llewellyn has been the Music Director of the NC Symphony since 2004 and will become Music Director Laureate in the 2020 – 21 season.  Over his tenure, Llewellyn’s work with the Symphony has reached four million adults and students in North Carolina.

According to Al Sturgis, Music Director of the NC Master Chorale, “Grant Llewellyn has truly elevated the level and stature of the NC Symphony during his 16-years here.  I am continually impressed by the talent that is drawn here to be part of this ensemble.”  A collaborative artistic partner to many North Carolina institutions, Llewellyn has led the Symphony’s joint productions with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Playmakers Repertory Company, and North Carolina Museum of National Sciences.

Deeply committed and passionate about engaging young people with music, Llewellyn enthusiastically participates in education activities with the Symphony.  In 2019, he conducted the North Carolina Symphony’s first Sensory-Friendly Concert, serving nearly 1,400 North Carolinians with autism and other sensory sensitivities and disabilities, and their families.

Freddie Lee Heath, Director of Arts Education for Wake County Public Schools commented, “Music has the power to change lives!  Never is this more evident than when you see Maestro Llewellyn in front of an audience of fourth graders!  When he turns around and speaks to these young people, that is a time when you see his artistry, passion and energy come to life!”

Head shot of Eleanor Oakley

Eleanor Oakley

Eleanor Oakley has been a part of Raleigh’s arts community since becoming the Managing Director of Raleigh Little Theatre in 1991.  Her decade of professional arts management saw an expanse in staff and performances, along with a growth in membership, artistic offerings, and community impact.  In 2002, Eleanor was selected as the new President of United Arts of Raleigh and Wake County, which demanded a myriad of skills and the steep hill of fundraising for the arts in a growing city with increasingly competitive demands for resources.

Eleanor’s accomplishments in her 18-year tenure are numerous, far-reaching, and impactful.  One contribution especially stands out.  While the City of Raleigh embraced the economic value of the arts, critical funding was not part of the County budget.  Eleanor’s revolutionary and often lonely advocacy for the arts for all and arts as a part of the economic fabric of the Raleigh community was a hard sell and required the collection of data to support the claim as well as visionary leadership from a coalition of citizens, corporate leaders, and elected officials.  Eleanor Oakley was the critical messenger and strategist behind this initiative.

In addition to her advocacy efforts, Eleanor’s accomplishments have shaped Wake County’s commitment to arts education in many creative ways.  

Some examples:

  • United Arts expanded its Artist in Schools program from 108 schools to 154 schools, now reaching 130,000 children.
  • Launched master classes for high school arts departments.
  • Created the Wheels on the Bus fund in 2016, providing transportation to 15,000 children in the program’s first three years.
  • Launched the Wake Municipal Murals program that financially assists Wake municipalities in having murals created in their communities.
  • Established an annual fundraiser “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner?” that has raised more than $1.3 million to support the Artists in Schools program.
headshot of Jeremy Tucker

Jeremy Tucker

Jeremy Tucker is a native of North Carolina and currently the Director of Arts Education for Durham Public Schools.  He is an educator who is genuinely able to light up a room and transform a group of performers.  He is also the Artistic Director for the Raleigh Boy Choir, where he has advanced an innovative, inclusive artistic vision within a strategically planned framework.  He has also designed metrics to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of programming and community/audience impact.

He has worked together with the Executive Board to increase participation numbers by over 100% and added a changed voice ensemble for high school boys, which is growing year after year.  Mr. Tucker found that boys needed a safe place to continue singing, and not “graduate” once their voices changed.  He envisioned a place where boys could gain the qualities to be leaders in their communities through their singing and as citizens.  This all makes the Boy Choir more accessible to any boy in the city.

He holds a B.M. and M.M. in Music Education and an additional degree in Drama from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  He is a Nationally Board-Certified Teacher, a winner of the North Carolina Schools Regional Teacher of the Year, as well as the NC Symphony’s Maxine Swalin Outstanding Educator Award.

Raleigh Medal of Arts “Arts Hero” Award

headshots of Beltline to Broadway staff

Beltline to Broadway (formerly RDU On Stage)

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused theatres everywhere to close their physical doors, Beltline to Broadway stepped up immediately to use its communication technology to connect theatre artists with each other and with the rest of the community.  Through podcasts, interviews, panel discussions, and “open door” Zoom meetings, they have kept the theatre doors open for everyone, allowing arts and artists to be recognized and even discovered, resources to be shared, etc.  In January, the Beltline to Broadway website was launched to expand coverage of the Triangle theater community.  The website has done more that bring us news – it has become a virtual home where individuals of any race, identity, or background can meet, drop by, talk, share, learn and receive sources of help.

Examples of pandemic and unrest activities:

  • Podcast Ep.63: Can our Gig Economy Survive a Pandemic?
  • Podcast Ep. 64: The High Costs of a Pandemic
  • Live Chat with ARTS-NC Nate McGaha
  • Panel on Straight Talk about Anxiety and Depression
  • 1 on 1 Patrick Torres interviews Phillip Bernard Smith – giving focus to the African American perspective
  • 1 on 1: Areon Mobasher interviews Lachlan Watson focusing on gender identity perspective



Belva Parker
Arts Program Director 

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