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The Western New York cultural advocacy group Arts Services Initiative will announce the winners of its inaugural “Spark” Cultural Awards this morning.

Molly Bethel, who co-founded the Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes in 1960 before retiring in 2012, will receive a lifetime achievement award for her efforts in building and sustaining a nationally respected arts education program for the region’s underserved youth.

The award for top advocate for the cultural sector will go to former Erie County Legislature Democratic Chairman Lynn Marinelli, now an official with Empire State Development. Awards will also be given to a sculpture program run by Karen Sirgey at Niagara Wheatfield High School, the Infinity Visual and Performing Arts Center in Jamestown and a consortium of local foundations known as the Fund for the Arts.

Dick and Carmen Gilman, a couple who sponsors concerts in Fredonia’s historic Opera House, will receive the “Unsung Hero” award.

The range of honorees from across Western New York represents ASI’s goal to advocate for the arts not only in the cultural epicenter of Buffalo and Erie County, but to foster support and

“Highlighting the work of these incredible individuals and organizations is a great way to meet our mission,” ASI director Tod A. Kniazuk said in a press release. “The event reimagines the old Arts Council’s ‘Arts Awards’ into an awards party that properly honors the winners while showcasing the best in our cultural community.”

The event, which doubles as a fundraiser for ASI, is slated for 5:30 p.m. June 25 in the Hotel @ The Lafeyette. Winners for the artist and cultural organization of the year will be announced at the event. Tickets are $50, with more information at asiwny.org or 362-8389.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com