bAm because ARTS matter: Celebrating the Power of Arts Education


Each year we are thrilled to honor the educators and teaching artists we collaborate with at our bAm! (because ARTS matter) event and we present awards to the most outstanding among us. This year, nearly 150 artists, educators, donors, and community members gathered in our auditorium to celebrate arts education and to honor Rebecca Dempsey and Lester Morris.


The Lighton Prize for Teaching Artist Excellence recognizes excellence by KCYA teaching artists who provide interactive arts education programs to students. Lighton Prize winners provide programs that exhibit high artistic quality and a strong connection to school curriculum. 


Rebecca Dempsey has been a bright spot on KCYA’s roster for 15 years as a solo artist and as part of the Kansas Settlers Band and the Aesop’s Players. Rebecca always brings her considerable acting and musical talents to everything she does. Her dedication to high quality artistic endeavors and a love for children’s education make her this year’s Lighton Prize winner.


“One of my favorite moments in our Kansas Cultural History program is when we ask the students what they learned from our show. It is so cool to see the connections they make. Making connections is an important part of critical thinking, and I believe we are going to need that from our students to solve complex problems in our society. Providing an opportunity for students to flex those connections muscles is a vital educational task.”- Rebecca Dempsey


The Distinguished Educator Award honors educators who understand the importance of integrating the arts into classroom curriculum. This dedicated individual works to ensure arts programs (and funding for them) are available to the students and teachers they serve.


Lester Morris is this year’s Distinguished Educator. Lester has been a music educator for 24 years, most of which have been spent in the Kansas City Public Schools. Lester is a passionate advocate for his students, working hard to make sure each one has as many arts experiences as possible. We appreciate Lester’s efforts to bring the arts and success in education to his students.


“Arts really do matter. They matter in the lives of our children. I have seen the lasting impact that music has made in the lives of my students time and time again; a cello student of mine is now working as a professional musician; a boy I hadn’t seen for years told me that his first experience with a clarinet in my classroom “gave me my love of music”;  and I witnessed a struggling child develop a new sense of pride and focus in the classroom after a string quartet performance. Music ministers to the emotional and spiritual needs of children." – Lester Morris


Emcee & teaching artist Jim Cosgrove (aka Mr. Stinky Feet) entertained,  inspired, and helped welcome many other performers: one of the KCYA Garage Bands & an Improv troupe performed, and many teaching artists took the stage during the post-party “bAm JAM” including Jay & Leslie Cady, Jane Christianson, Chris Hudson, and Kevin Dolan. It was a night to remember.


Educators and Teaching Artist are the backbone of our organization. We couldn’t do what we do without them. This event gives us the opportunity to recognize the critical role they play in fulfilling our mission to engage all youth in the arts, promote creativity, and inspire success in education… because ARTS matter!