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PHOTO: kc kratt

Best friend of the arts 

Sam Savarino

The CEO of Savarino Companies has tackled the creative adaptive reuse of numerous industrial buildings, including a large chunk of the Cobblestone District. With the help of his daughter and company vice president, Julia Spitz, Savarino has turned to the region’s artists to add distinctive elements to these buildings. And in no small way. He enlisted Art Services Initiative of WNY to organize a panel to review submissions for an exterior work of art for the mixed business and residential building at 95 Perry Street. The result was Go, the five story mural by artists Bruce Adams and Augustina Droze that quickly became a Cobblestone District landmark. Then, Shasti O’Leary Soudant was commissioned to create a large-scale sculpture titled Weeping Wall that now dominates the interior of 500 Seneca Street. Savarino Companies has incorporated other local art into its buildings, and has plans to do more. Sam Savarino is also a member of the Board of Advisors for the University  at Buffalo's Center for the Arts. 


Best actor (Musical)

John Profeta

Joe Hill’s Last Will, Subversive Theatre Company

Walking into a jail cell set and knowing the play about to begin will recount the last ninety minutes of a condemned man’s life is likely going to put audiences on guard: don’t get too attached, we know how this story ends. But John Profeta, with his crooked smile, easy physicality, tender voice tinged with purpose, subtle gestures of intimacy, and captivating singing made that a fruitless endeavor—whether or not Joe Hill committed the murders he was sentenced for.


Best actor (Play)

Peter Palmisano

All my sons, ICTC

Peter Palmisano has been gradually making himself indispensable on the Buffalo theater scene as the go-to leading man of a certain age. In past seasons, he’s dotted high-profile shows from Kavinoky’s Proof (Robert) to Shakespeare in the Park’s Romeo and Juliet (Lord Capulet). This year alone, he expanded his reach to play Sid in Compulsion or the House Behind at Jewish Repertory and a formidable Joe Keller in Irish Classical Theatre’s All My Sons—powerhouse roles both. With flair and commitment, Palmisano inhabited them both, but it was Joe Keller who earns him this title.


Best actress  (Musical)

Jenn Stafford

Desiree, A Little Night Music, Irish Classical Theatre Company

In a show that teeters on the edge of melodramatic farce (albeit one fueled by Sondheim), Jenn Stafford’s Desiree Armfeldt delivered the genuine emotion that kept it from careening over. As a fading actress yearning for romantic what-might-have-been, Stafford’s unspoken regrets were heartbreaking, and, for anyone who’s wearied of the endless renditions of “Send in the Clowns,” Stafford’s sublime performance of this tired classic was enough to renew appreciation for what it was always meant to be.


Best actress (Play)

Kristen Tripp Kelley

Hester, City of Conversation, Kavinoky Theatre

Kavinoky has been good to Kristen Tripp Kelley, who—after repeated nominations—won her first Artie Award for playing Sarah in the company’s 2012 production of Time Stands Still. If possible, her turn as Washington hostess Hester represents an even more noteworthy achievement, that called upon Kelley to put forth an even greater range: unabashed frivolity, biting sarcasm, unrepentant morality bordering on martyrdom, tender inclinations, painful resignation. She hit every note.


Best character performance 

Michael Walline

Miss Texas, Pageant, MusicalFare Theatre

With the fifth revival of the 1991 Pageant at MusicalFare, some of the humor is dated, but you know what could never get old? Michael Walline’s in-the-moment, disagreeable Miss Texas. In a rare stage performance, Walline made everyone wonder why we don’t see him in the spotlight more often; his steely Southern glare and trademark upside-down smile had the audience aroar from the moment Miss Texas was introduced. No matter what else was happening on stage, it was worth sneaking a look at the southern sourpuss to see in what jealous, competitive, hilarious way Walline was having her react. And his tap dance number? Comedic perfection. Even at performances where Miss Texas didn’t take home the tiara, Walline was still a winner.


Best columnist 

Bruce Jackson

The Public

Raconteur and provocateur Bruce Jackson is a SUNY Distinguished Professor, documentary filmmaker, author, and photographer. Jackson also writes occasional columns for Buffalo alternative weekly The Public; his topics include local political lunacy, national politics, death row inmates, the Attica Correctional Facility riots of 1971, education, race relations, terrorism and more. His style is precise, intense, and—rare for academics—crystal clear. 


Best reporter (Broadcast)

Eileen Buckley

Focus on Education/senior reporter, WBFO

Buckley started out at WBFO as an intern in 1984. With her signature husky voice (she consciously worked to lower it as a cub reporter starting out in a male-dominated field) and ear for the news, she reported more than 1,500 stories in 2015. A multiple award-winner, she brings humanity and as much thoroughness as time will permit to her tales, whether she’s telling us about the arts, education, or a Rolling Stone sighting in North Buffalo.


Best reporter (Print) 

Matt Spina


Spina, an investigative reporter, last year took on a project of depressingly enormous proportion: sex abuse and misconduct by police officers. He doggedly compiled a database of over 700 cases nationwide. When his starkly written story was published the Sunday before Thanksgiving, it added to the national conversation; the Associated Press had just published its own deeply researched story on the topic just a couple of weeks earlier.




Best curator 

Rachel Adams

University at Buffalo Art Gallery

It may seem early to anoint this UB associate curator, who’s only been in her position since March 2015, but she came here with impressive experience under her belt as an independent curator who had worked all over the United States. And it didn’t take long for her to make her mark locally with two stunning exhibitions. Splitting Light  started with a large installation at the Anderson Gallery by fabric artist Amanda Browder, who is now conducting a public art extravaganza, which will drape three prominent WNY buildings in fabric. Another of Adams’ projects, The Visitors, is getting a Spree Best Exhibition nod for 2016. Not bad for a year’s worth of curating.



Best arts administrator


The Dreamland Collective

387 Franklin St., Buffalo; dreamlandarts.org

In its relatively short existence, this tiny space on the edge of downtown has done everything from attention-grabbing exhibitions to queer film series to dance parties to Buffy-themed club nights. Programming and other affairs are handled by the team of Dana McKnight, Michael Berdine, Seth Girod, Pierce McCleary, and Amanda Roney, and with every bold move they make, they leave us wondering: What will they come up with next?

Anthony Conte

As Conte steps down from the position of president and CEO of Shea's Performing Arts Center that he’s held for fourteen years, he has many accomplishments to be proud of. We can point to at least three major milestones. Under Conte’s leadership, Shea’s completed a comprehensive exterior and interior restoration, from a new marquee to a sparkling renewal of the ornate decorations that cover the walls and ceilings of the lobby, stairwells, and auditorium. Conte has also eliminated $5.2 million debt he inherited; the theater is now earning a profit, thanks to savvy programming and marketing. Finally, Conte helped save Studio Arena from demolition and reinvent it as  710 Main, which hosts traveling shows and serves local theatres as an alternative venue for bigger productions.


Best power couple

Bill and Kathy Hochul

These two are equally interesting on two entirely separate fronts. Lieutenant governor and former congresswoman Kathy Hochul travels almost constantly but makes it back to Buffalo often to tout the improvements that she has helped New York State make possible and to speak on behalf of various state initiatives, always in her signature forthright style. On the other hand, US Attorney William Hochul Jr. seems to spend most of his time putting away bad guys, including (most recently) the ringleader of a gang that tormented a comic book collector who lost his collection and, eventually, his life.  Despite their high profiles—rarely  a week goes by that either or both aren't featured in local media—together the two are a down-to-earth, understated pair who treasure the limited time they have to relax and celebrate family events.


Best local music act 



This sextet refers to itself as “hip-hop jazz.” (The name comes from sounds made by character/rock monster Schnitzel from the cartoon show Chowder.) Radarada emerged on the local club scene in 2013 and grew in popularity thanks to tight sets and dance-inducing compositions that meld word-whipping hip-hop and smooth grooves. As bass player Colin Brydalski says, “We never promote, so it’s mystifying that we have a following.” But followers they do have; their closing set at the second annual Elmwood Village 20 Block Bash last September is local music legend.


Best blogger (Independent) 

Buffablog writers


Updated daily? Check. Provides useful information? Check. Engagingly written? Check, though enthusiasm is often favored over grammatical purity. We’re fine with that. Spree is also grateful to Buffaloblog as a resource that made the May 2016 music issue possible.


Best blogger (Professional)

Andrew Galarneau

Increasingly, there is only enough time to read the facts that you need. That’s what Andrew Galarneau gives Buffalo News readers in his regular "Restaurant Notes" posts. It may not even be considered a blog by the News, but, judging by the publication times (3 a.m., 8 p.m.) this column of updates and news is posted online when the news is hot. Therefore, this is probably the first place you learned that Bourbon and Butter was closing, that The Place was reopening, and that longtime food blog (and previous Spree awardee) Buffalo Eats was shutting down.



Best Tweeter 

Mark Poloncarz

This Twitter account is really a public service, so it may seem superfluous to reward a public servant for doing his job, but we like the way Polancarz tweets. The County Executive doesn’t hand the job off to an underling and isn’t above engaging in some political chatter while he’s at it. It humanizes the office and gives us a better sense of the man. 


Best Facebooker 

Ron Ehmke

writer/performer/curator/editor/media artist

Ehmke (1776 Facebook friends as of April 26) has a delightfully skewed intelligent worldview, a singular aesthetic, and a belief in sharing both. His posts—which range from photos with LOL lists of hashtags, Song of the Moment/Album of the Night selections, promotions for his or other’s upcoming performances, or a full-on rants, which can range well into 600 words—are sometimes sweet, sometimes snarky, and often, to quote from his recent Beyonce critique, “epic, just epic.”


Most outspoken WNYer 

Alan Bedenko

This election year might have been created for Buffalo Pundit Alan Bedenko. You’d think that the Trump/Cruz/Clinton/Sanders craziness would be enough to keep him busy, and, to some degree, it is. Here’s Bedenko on Trump: "I listened to a small portion of the speech and found it to be quite possibly the most vapid, Kardashian-esque, stream-of-consciousness nonsense I’ve heard since the last time I watched a Survivor tribal council or Big Brother head of household nomination ceremony." But Bedenko also has plenty of punditry to spare for local comment board posters ("thanks, Buffalo’s AM talk radio enthusiasts for your predictably shameless overt racism, and thanks to the powers that be at WBEN and the Entercom corporation for allowing your social media accounts to become bulletin boards for nihilist, eliminationist racism"), WNY Democratic and Republican party apparatchicks, school district budget fights, and much more. Follow him on Twitter @buffalopundit or in his columns for The Public.


Best activist group 

Investigative Post


IP is technically a group of journalists, but its topics are carefully chosen, including, most recently, lead poisoning, local water pollution, and toxic landfills. Clearly, the writers for the Post are interested in drawing public attention to issues that could work against the public good and prompting activism around those issues. They’re more than just gadflies; they want to provoke positive change.


Best college sports game (2015–2016) 

St. Bonaventure 98/St. Joseph’s 90

What were you watching on March 3, 2016? If you’re a self-respecting sports fan, the answer should be St. Bonaventure’s 98-90 victory over St. Joseph’s. The Buffalo News called the game an “instant classic,” and indeed it was. Consider Marcus Posley’s forty-seven-point performance, certainly one of the finest individual efforts in Bonaventure history. Think back to how the Bonnies battled back after falling behind in the second half. And remember the clutch performances from the likes of Dion Wright and Denzel Gregg. In final analysis, there was no competition. St. Bonaventure’s epic win could not be topped. The fun did not last, as the Bonnies were cruelly and foolishly denied an NCAA Tournament bid. But the team and its fans deserve to hold their heads high. March 3 was one for the ages. 


Best player (Sabres) 

Jack Eichel 

No, the 2015–16 Buffalo Sabres did not make the playoffs. But they weren’t completely removed from the conversation, which makes 2014–15 seem like a lifetime ago. Those were the pre-Jack Eichel days, and they were grim. Was it worth it? Just try finding a Sabres fan who would say, “No.” In his rookie season, young Eichel electrified the team like very few rookies in Sabres’ history. And while the team’s rise in the standings was modest, his offensive output and ability to make hulking defensemen look foolish made him an instant star. Eichel also came across as humble, wise, and very, very Buffalo. Oh yeah, he’s still a teenager, too. Jack Eichel will be WNY sports royalty for years to come. Let’s enjoy it. 


Best player (Bills)

Sammy Watkins 

How will we remember the 2015-16 Buffalo Bills player? It’s difficult to say. It was the year of Rex Ryan’s defensive failures, the rise of Tyrod Taylor, and a rock-solid group of running backs. But more than that, it was the year in which wide receiver Sammy Watkins fully lived up to the hype that led the Bills to trade a first round pick the following year for the chance to draft him. It wasn’t so much the statistics—although his stats were solid—that stand out, but the way Watkins was able to dominate the game. One game in particular ranks among the most unforgettable of recent seasons: week 17, against the New York Jets. With Gang Green’s season on the line, Watkins positively embarrassed Jet Darrelle Revis. It was a performance for the ages, and gave Bills fans something missing all year long: a game to be proud of. When it comes to last season’s Bills, Tyrod Taylor was fun, but Sammy Watkins was the best.  




Best local scandal (2015) 

Scary Lucy 

(A Sculpture—in Celoron, NY—with a questionable resemblance to Lucille Ball) 

All it took was one surprisingly small statue, one surprisingly large Facebook campaign, and a whole lot of international attention, and before anyone knew what hit them, the tiny Southern Tier town of Celoron had hit the big time as the birthplace of a comedy meme.


Best local politician 

Brian Higgins

Democrat Brian Higgins has been serving as representative for the 26th Congressional District since 2005. A proud South Buffalonian, Higgins is known as one of the key players behind the move toward greater accessibility to Buffalo’s waterfront, including ultra-popular Canalside. He’s also advocated for the Niagara Falls Air Force Base and the current improvements to Niagara Falls State Park, which include the partial removel of the Robert Moses Parkway. Its common to see the approachable Higgins not only at Democratic Party events but at local festivals and fundraisers, especially for Olmsted and other natural gems.


Best At A Glance


Best looking historic building Martin House Complex Darwinmartinhouse.org

Best looking new building Delaware North Global Corporate Headquarters delawarenorth.com/venues/global-corporate-headquarters

Best makeover of an existing building 500 Seneca 500seneca.com

Best sight you won’t see anywhere but here View from Marriott Harborcenter hotel lounge over Canalside and Lake Erie

Best new construction (2015) University at Buffalo Jacob’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences medicine.buffalo.edu

Best preservation project (2015) Phoenix Brewery Apartments sinatraandcompany.com

Best use of taxpayer dollars Canalside canalsidebuffalo.com

Best nature preserve Beaver Meadow Audubon Center buffaloaudubon.org

Most sustainable project Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s waterway remediation efforts bnriverkeeper.org

Best wildlife habitat project Urban Habitat Project

Best nature walk Sargeant  Mark A. Rademacher Memorial Park/Hunters Creek 


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