ACE Awards

The ACE (arts, culture and education) Awards are presented annually by 40 North | 88 West to honor the work of artists, teachers, businesses, individuals, organizations, volunteers, community and government leaders. All seven ACE Awards highlight a different part of the cultural life of our community and celebrate those that, through hard work, dedication, and creative energy, cultivate the arts of Champaign County. This year has brought more challenges than we could have ever expected – this year’s awards hope to highlight and celebrate the remarkable people that stepped up and used their creativity and generosity to navigate unknown waters and be a vehicle for change, innovation, and advocacy.

The winners of the 2023 ACE Awards are

Advocate ACE Award – Jill Miller, for consistently acting as a beacon of light and a stalwart advisor to artists of varying levels, for consistently lending a helping hand to local artists including creating the initiative CU pARTners that encouraged artists to forge partnerships with local businesses at a time when our community was struggling to comprehend the helplessness and isolation set on by the pandemic, and for 17+ years, as a mentor and host, opening the doors to her home twice a year for shows featuring local artists.

Artist ACE Award – Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure, for her seemingly-endless talents including poetry, dance, fashion, jewelry, and mixed media sculpture, for her sincere support and genuine enthusiasm for other artists in this area, for recruiting and introducing young children to the art of dance, and for inspiring the community through her passion, positivity, dedication, and remarkable ability to transform recycled materials into provocative and thoughtful works of art.

Volunteer ACE Award – Gregory Stallmeyer, for his endless curiosity and magnetic energy, for his remarkable leadership and genuine encouragement of artists in this community, for his constant generosity, creativity, and selfless ability to shine a spotlight on other local artists, and for countless volunteer hours dedicated to bringing artists together and creating the ultimate successful collective experience.

Business ACE Award – Rose Bowl Tavern, for bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge as well as the heart and soul to diversify the scope of their programming, inviting a broader, more varied audience to their venue, for preserving the longstanding history of the Rose Bowl while revitalizing it as a destination for quality live music experiences, and for creating a safe plan to adjust their space to offer high quality, streaming and live performances that inspired audiences amd musicians in a time of need.

Teacher ACE Award – Abby Crull, for being a champion and a light for her students and bringing a love for music and the arts to each and every student she comes in contact with, for her compassion, inspiration, and outstanding commitment to the arts through collaboration with classroom, specials, and other area educators to create relevant and responsive curricula for our youth, and for being at the forefront of addressing the complex social-emotional needs of her students as they ventured into remote learning and grappled with racial inequalities.

Lifetime ACE Award – Carl Johnson, for countless years dedicated to teaching music and entertaining audiences all over Champaign-Urbana and beyond, for being a one-of-a-kind contributor to our community’s music scene through his capacity to engage and inspire people with his musicianship and outstanding character, for volunteering in the local high schools, providing countless clinics, concerts, sectionals and lessons to our students, and for his humble, devoted, and generous spirit that is an inspiration to all who know him.

The winners were chosen from over 65 public nominations by an independent panel of community-based judges.

The ACE Award categories are: Advocate, Artist, Volunteer, Business, Teacher, and Lifetime Achievement. Nominations are reviewed by an independent panel of community-based judges representing a broad cross-section of Champaign County. Anyone can submit a nomination for an ACE Award. You may nominate multiple candidates and self-nominations are accepted. Must be 14 years or older and a resident of Champaign County to be eligible to win an ACE Award. Previous nominees may be resubmitted.

Nomination Categories


Self nominations accepted. Must be 14 years or older and a resident of Champaign County to be eligible to win an ACE Award.

Nominees can be artists, students, faculty, non-profit administrative staff, business owners and employees, elected and appointed officials and any other individuals and organizations actively supporting our creative community.


  • Advocate ACE: This award will honor the individual, organization, or group that has advocated on behalf of the arts effectively and consistently, forged creative partnerships, or stimulated collaborations that result in broader awareness, accessibility and participation in the arts, culture and entertainment of Champaign County.
  • Artist ACE: This award recognizes an individual artist for their creations and contributions to the excellence of the arts of Champaign County.
  • Volunteer ACE: This award will be presented to an individual or group that, through their volunteer efforts and service, has made a significant impact on the art and culture of this community.
  • Business ACE: The award will celebrate the business that has demonstrated outstanding support of the arts. The winner will have cultivated opportunities and relationships that support local artists and/or organizations in Champaign County.
  • Teacher ACE: This award recognizes an individual, organization, school, educator, or group that has demonstrated a unique and creative approach to merging the arts and education. The winner will have, through outstanding commitment and dedicated service to arts education, been an inspiration to students, teachers, and the community.
  • Lifetime ACE: This award will honor the accumulated successes of an individual for continued, outstanding support of the arts in our community.