By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Every year the New England Carousel Museum honors individuals and organizations who have contributed to the arts, culture or entertainment in the greater Bristol community.
This Saturday, local performer Mary Lynn Gagnon and the Barnes Foundation, Inc. will be honored during the 2016 ACE Awards, which stand for Art, Culture and Entertainment. Held at the Carousel Museum, the event will take place from 6 to 10 p.m., and includes hors d’oeuvres, a buffet dinner, an awards ceremony, and a performance by Ken Ferris & Friends.
Louise DeMars, executive director of the Carousel Museum, said the impact that Gagnon and the foundation have made on Bristol is huge.
“Mary Lynn Gagnon has donated her time to just about anything musical that happens in this community, representing Bristol,” said DeMars. “The Barnes Foundation quietly, in the background, supports so many things to do with education in this community. Many cultural activities evolve out of that.”
Currently working as the executive director of the Bristol Hospital Development Foundation, Gagnon has been involved in the arts community for many years. Her arts career began in 1980 as a dance instructor for the Schulz Dance Academy under the direction of Connie Schulz. While teaching, she took the summers off to perform at theme parks as a dancer/singer.
Gagnon, who danced and took piano lessons growing up, said the ACE Award means everything to her.
“I can’t comprehend the fact that I’m winning an award for something that I love,” said Gagnon.
After graduating Central Connecticut State University in 1988 and beginning a career in marketing, Gagnon, who prides herself in having a good work/life balance, stayed involved in the arts. Since 1976 she has been involved in the Bristol Boys & Girls Club OM Show, which he has performed in 26 times. Gagnon also choreographed the OM show six times and has worked as director and choreographer 11 times. This past April, Gagnon and Ken Ferris co-directed the OM Show 75th Anniversary Show titled “Encore!”
“While I love to perform, I get even greater joy from watching others meet the challenge I bring them with choreography, and perform to their best potential on stage,” said Gagnon, who served as the children’s choir director at St. Joseph Church from 2003 to 2010. “The pride that comes with watching a number that you have in your head…and watching it come to life—that’s amazing to me.”
Gagnon’s performances go beyond the OM shows. She also has performed with Bristol Theater Arts in productions like “Annie” and “All Night Strut,” and choreographed productions, including “Gypsy and the “Wizard of Oz.”
A former Miss Bristol and Miss Connecticut USA, Gagnon brings her love of emceeing and performing to local events, such as the Forestville Carol Sing, the Forestville Memorial Day Parade and more.
“My dream is to inspire everybody in our community, to bring song and dance into their life,” said Gagnon, encouraging others to join the OM show or a church choir. “Music is therapy.”
Like Gagnon, the Barnes Foundation also made its mark on the Bristol community in a variety of ways.
Founded in 1945 by Fuller and Myrtle Barnes of Bristol, the foundation primarily awards grants to educational programs for students in PreK-12 and teacher training programs statewide.
Tim O’Connor, executive director of the Barnes Foundation, who is the great grandson of Fuller and Myrtle Barnes, said the ACE Award means a great deal to his family.
“The Barnes Foundation is a family foundation—every member of the Board of Directors is a direct descendant of Fuller and Myrtle Barnes,” said O’Connor. “We are proud to be a part of such a vibrant community of teachers, parents and administrators who are dedicated to improving the lives of all children in Bristol.”
Other programs that the foundation has supported include the Bristol Board of Ed Bookmobile, a mobile summer reading experience for local youth, as well as the PUSH/PUT program at South Side School, which provides themed educational backpacks and technology that students can bring home. The foundation also supports the Imagine Nation Museum’s preschool and recently funded programs for the Bristol Early Childhood Alliance (BECA) to promote literacy, combat summer learning loss and improve school attendance.
In 2014, the foundation started the Bristol Connecticut Education Initiative, making the schools, teachers, and organizations in Bristol a major focus area. Special grants were made to Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut, and to the Museum of Fire History at the Carousel Museum to hire additional staff for tours and programs.
That same year, the foundation began supporting Connecticut Storytelling at Hubbell School and Ivy Drive School. This uses storytelling as a way to improve and incorporate literacy into classrooms every day while connecting the use of arts to teach the Common Core standards.
“I am most proud that we are returning to our ‘roots,’ so to speak and have returned our focus to giving in the city of Bristol,” said O’Connor. “I have seen the amazing resident artists in the schools teaching the importance of storytelling. I hear wonderful stories from the successful bookmobile project that runs every summer to…encourage literacy and a love of reading.”
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.