2023 Sachs Fund Prize honorees Carolyn Mazloomi and Norman Johns.

What do a nationally renowned quilt artist and longtime assistant principal cellist for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra have in common? Both use their artistic voices to advocate for change, and both have made significant contributions to the Cincinnati region's cultural landscape. That’s why ArtsWave is honoring Carolyn Mazloomi and Norman Johns with the 2023 Rosa F. and Samuel B. Sachs Fund Prize.

Carolyn Mazloomi, founder of the African American Quilt Guild and the Women of Color Quilters Network, sees her work as a reflection of her experiences. "My roles as an African American wife, mother and grandmother, born in the Jim Crow-segregated south, have formed just about everything that I’ve done. So, I create exhibitions both as a curator and an artist that deal with social justice issues and the status of women," she says.

She is drawn to quilt-making for its unique ability to express comfort while tackling contentious topics. "They can be very disarming," she explains, "because every human being has a lifelong relationship with cloth. Textiles can reflect warmth, hearth and home. So, it’s an effective way to talk about difficult subjects when you can visualize them in a quilt."

Norman Johns grew up in West Philadelphia, where he learned first-hand what it takes to succeed as a member of an underrepresented population. His college cello teacher, Elsa Hilgers, shared that knowledge — she was the first woman to play in a major orchestra. While teaching him to be an excellent performer, she also encouraged "lifting as we climb," the principle of creating platforms for those who need them as you succeed — which served as an inspiration for ArtsWave's "Liftings as We Learn" DEIA plan.

When he joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Johns acted on that principle. "I focused on teaching kids of color," he explains. "The CSO put aside blocks of tickets for me so my students could come and see what the orchestra was like." In 1995, he took it a step further, working with the Orchestra to create the Norman E. Johns Chair Award, a full-tuition scholarship for young African American, Latine, and Native American students to the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra. Johns recalls, "The first year, there was one award because there was only one applicant! Now, we give out multiple awards each year. It warms my heart."

Mazloomi and Johns join a prestigious list of honorees whose artistic contributions have profoundly affected the region. Previous recipients include Zaha Hadid, Leah Stewart, Phyllis Weston, Stephen Sondheim, Shepard Fairey, James Conlon, Kathy Y. Wilson, Patty Beggs, Victoria Morgan and Annie Ruth Napier.

The Sachs Fund Prize was established by a generous bequest nearly 100 years ago. Find out how you can make an arts-vibrant Cincy part of your legacy at artswave.org/legacy.