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Milwaukee Recreation honors young creatives & teaching artists


Sanaa Thomas from Milwaukee Film

On Tuesday, May 16, Milwaukee Recreation hosted the Partnership for the Arts & Humanities Showcase at the historic Turner Hall, celebrating the incredible work of our young people and community arts partners from throughout the 2022-23 year.

Milwaukee Recreation also recognized the finalists and honorees for two awards: the Outstanding Young Creative of the Year and the Teaching Artist of the Year.

Outstanding Young Creative of the Year

  • Jackson Knox, Radio Milwaukee's Grace Weber's Music Lab
  • Marli Swan-Zawadi, Arts@Large and Signature Dance Company
  • Sanaa Thomas, Milwaukee Film
  • Alexandria Woods, Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Winner: Sanaa Thomas, Milwaukee Film

Sanaa Thomas from Milwaukee Film

Sanaa Thomas, a student at Milwaukee High School of the Arts and pictured here with Milwaukee Recreation director Lynn Greb, has been a stellar participant in Milwaukee Film’s Teen Screen and Take 1: Teen Filmmaking Lab programs throughout high school. She is known as an insightful and curious film viewer, and a thoughtful collaborator and listener, while still demonstrating leadership skills from the beginning.

Her excellence in creating cinematic experiences, as a programmer and filmmaker, has grown immensely. During the 2023 Milwaukee Film Festival, Sanaa co-led selections for Milwaukee Film’s Teen Screen program and wrote this year’s Teen Screen program philosophy for the film guide. She screened her film Pretty Boys, a profound documentary about masculinity and mental health, in the Milwaukee Youth Show, and she facilitated a Q&A session with director Bomani J. Story (The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster) She also successfully programmed an Education Screening for her peers – students loved their viewing experience and the film selection yielded a fantastic curriculum resource that blew the film team away.

Sanaa constantly strives to further her expertise and understanding of all facets of media arts and film and its social, civic, and cultural potential. Sanaa is incredibly intentional, investigating layers of meaning and impact in films, and is talented at imparting those messages in captivating and purposeful ways.

“I have found I thoroughly enjoy using [film] to shape true stories of underrepresented or just untold voices,” Thomas said. “Milwaukee Film has put in me in places with like and different minded teens who have forced me to explore other ways of thinking. This in turn, I believe, influenced me into a better creative by helping me be more accepting and welcoming of all stories.”

Teaching Artist of the Year

  • Rén Ayala, Casa Romero Renewal Center
  • Coltyn Giltner, First Stage
  • Ijoister Harris, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra
  • Dionna Hayden, ArtWorks for Milwaukee
  • Jake Horstmeier, Milwaukee Repertory Theater
  • Sarah Gail Luther, TransCenter for Youth - Escuela Verde's Newline Community Cafe
  • Marco Romantini, Artists Working in Education
  • Letasha Smith, Arts@Large
  • Zakia Wells, Artists Working in Education
Winner: Sarah Gail Luther, TransCenter for Youth - Escuela Verde's Newline Community Cafe

Sarah Luther from the TransCenter for Youth

Sarah Luther, pictured here holding the award alongside Milwaukee Recreation director Lynn Greb, exemplifies what it means to be a teaching artist with her commitment to Escuela Verde’s Community Café. While she is an incredible working artist, she always made time to build some arts education to share her love of the craft.

However, when her neighborhood coffeeshop closed during the pandemic, she took a leap demonstrating a greater commitment to both her community and her commitment to art education. She approached the non-profit TransCenter for Youth, which helps manage the adjacent school, Escuela Verde, and proposed a joint effort to work to reopen the café. She proposed designing programming, with the students providing arts education and opportunities for them to lead programs for each other and the community.

As a project-based school, this seemed too good to be true, yet two years later Sarah has leveraged resources and gathered community to bring this vision to life. Not only has she taught a wide variety of art classes herself, but she has brought in dozens of working artists to share their craft, and empowered students to lead workshops and showcase their art with the community through intergenerational events, all while building a safe space where people can gather to vision and create together.

Congratulations to each of our finalists and honorees! Click here to see more about the 2022-23 Partnership for the Arts & Humanities Showcase, including a highlight video, photo galleries, and words from a few of our partners.

© Milwaukee Public Schools 2022
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