12390141472?profile=RESIZE_584xThe National Society of Arts and Letters’ Florida Chapter’s annual Star Maker Awards will honor Yaacov Heller with the Lifetime Achievement Award and raise money for scholarships, competitions and mentoring programs for performing and visual artists. The event is 6 p.m. March 26 at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club. Tickets are $375. ABOVE: (l-r) Co-Chairwomen Shari Upbin, Alyce Erickson (seated), Arlene Herson and Sue Heller with Yaacov. Photo provided

By Amy Woods

This year’s Star Maker Awards, the big benefit for the National Society of Arts and Letters’ Florida chapter, will celebrate musical theater by showcasing the talents of young artists on the rise.

The annual extravaganza includes the presentation of scholarships to those whose performances win first, second and third places in the competition, with the No. 1 winner earning a spot at the society’s national contest in May.

“It’s wonderful to be able to present these young artists,” event Co-Chairwoman Alyce Erickson said. “They come, and they are presented, and that’s how they grow.”

The gala is set for March 26 at Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, where guests will gather for the black-tie-optional evening of cocktails, cuisine and stage numbers.

“It’s a matter of giving back to the community and helping younger people,” event Co-Chairwoman Shari Upbin said. “I think our main goal, of course, is to present the scholarship winners artistically — it’s almost mind-boggling when you hear them — and to bring in funds.”

The 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is internationally renowned, Boca Raton-based artist Yaacov Heller. Heller’s accomplishments as a sculptor and a silversmith convey messages of acceptance, hope, love and peace, and throughout his 60-year career he has been commissioned to create historically significant works for presidents, kings and queens, heads of state and other dignitaries.

“He’s really excited,” said Kirsten Stephenson, president of the Florida chapter. “It’s nice to have someone who is really honored to be honored.”

The National Society of Arts and Letters’ mission focuses on finding talented amateurs at the beginning of their careers and providing a combination of money and opportunity for them to advance in their disciplines.

“I really feel like we all need to collaborate on the arts right now,” Stephenson said. “When we find a kid who wants to play violin, I think they need a lot more help than the kid who wants to become an engineer. When you’re dealing with kids in the arts, it’s almost an uphill battle.”

Founded in 1944, the society has 15 chapters across the country. The Florida chapter’s membership is 60 and counting.

“We’ve taken off on membership,” Stephenson said. “We’ve got a waiting list for the board. We’re in a really good place right now. But we’re not in a good place financially. We are struggling a bit because we give our money straight to the kids. We depend on the gala, so it’s very important that we do this well.”

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