Norristown's council and community leaders have been touting the arts as a way to help revitalize Norristown for years now and one council member in particular has put her money where her mouth is.
Earlier this year, Councilwoman Dr. Mary "Mimi" DeSouza gave up the $4000 annual stipend that each council member receives to offset travel and expenses and earmarked it for four local groups who's funding was in jeopardy as a result of Norristown's budget woes.
"When we came around to the budget process for 2012, I saw a lot of community groups who did one or two activities or were trying to get off the ground and we literally could not fund them even a few hundred dollars," said DeSouza.
DeSouza realized that while the stipend she received didn't exactly represent a significant sum given the amount of time and effort she put into her duties as a council member, that money coud mean the world to some of those small organizations struggling in this economy.
"I said 'I don't want you giving me a paycheck in 2012,'" DeSouza explained.
Instead she earmarked the funds to go to four local nonprofits – groups who were organizing events that DeSouza said would bring people into Norristown and let people see our town in a new light. The four organizations – the Norristown Arts Council with their annual Arts Hill Festival, Project Twenty1 with its film festivals and mission to help artists and filmmakers turn their passion into a career, the Norristown Hispanic Business Association's International Festival, and the Unity Day Festival – each received funding from DeSouza for their events.
"I'm fortunate enough that the stipend that Norristown provides to elected officials is not something that's going to make or break me," said DeSouza. "The value to these organizations is so much more significant."
DeSouza's generosity, particularly to some of Norristown's struggling artistic endeavors, inspired Amy Grebe, Artistic Director for the ACPPA Community Art Center, to single DeSouza out as hero to all local arts groups striving to make Norristown a home for creativity and culture. Grebe has named DeSouza as the recipient of the ACPPA's first ever "Luminary Award" – an honor they'll bestow upon DeSouza at the center's spring fundraiser this weekend.
"We wanted to honor someone who recognized the relevance of the arts in the revitalization of a community," said Grebe. "Especially a community such as this that has a deep history of this diverse culture. It's really great to have someone invested in what's already here and bringing that to light."
DeSouza's efforts to draw attention to and support these artistic endeavors is what Grebe said makes her the perfect inaugural candidate for the "Luminary Award."
DeSouza will receive her award on Saturday, April 28, at the ACPPA Community Art Center's annual spring fundraiser. The ACPPA will also be paying tribute to board member Emily Morris, who passed recently in a tragic car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
This theme of this year's fundraiser is "Our Big Fat Greek Gala," and a limited number of seats are still available. Tickets are $35 each and include dinner, drinks, entertainment, free childcare for parents and a silent auction. For tickets and more information, call 610-277-2270 or go to www.acppa.net.