top of page
  • Writer's pictureTeresa Nguyen

Rock County Arts Hall of Fame

23 Years of Celebrating Local Involvement in the Arts!

Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen

January, 2024

The Janesville Performing Arts Center - Photo by Teresa Nguyen

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

This quote reflects what is true not only for a painter, but also for one who creates a musical composition, a dance, an original story or the interpretation of a character from a stage. Even if you are not an artist, I’m sure you appreciate how the arts create depth and value to our community and our lives.

Started in 1996, the United Arts Alliance was a non-profit organization which supported excellence in the performing and fine arts. The UAA provided opportunities for citizens in the Rock County area to become active with, or an advocate of, the arts. Devoted to linking artists and the community, the UAA hosted annual events such as the UAA Arts Hall of Fame, Arts Fest, the Summer Acoustic Series, the UAA Scholarship for area students and the Janesville Area Creativity Awards, recognizing creative talents in Rock County.

Mick and Jane Blain Gilbertson

The first UAA Arts Hall of Fame award ceremony was held in 2001 and the first recipients were Thelma Wilcox and Mary Lou G. Williams. Mary Lou was an Arts Educator, as was Thelma. Thelma was also the founder of the Golden Strings group of performing musicians and led the Trinity Episcopal Choir for many years.

Since then, the awards have been given to those involved in a variety of art forms like dance, fine arts, theater and those who have greatly supported the arts with their philanthropy.

At the 2024 Rock County Arts Hall of Fame Celebration, the Janesville Performing Arts Director, Nathan Burkart, opened the evening and the recipients, Tanya Dubinski and Craig Bergum gave inspiring speeches upon accepting their awards.

In brief interviews, Janesville Area Stories writer, Teresa Nguyen, asked a few special questions to gain each of their perspectives on the award, their careers and on the future of the arts in our community.

Nathan Burkart, Executive Director at JPAC

Nathan Burkart

Executive Director of the Janesville Performing Arts Center

The first year the Janesville Performing Arts Center took over the awards was in 2019. The UAA gave us their blessing to do it. I know it was important to them to continue giving these awards and to see it live on.

The awards go to people in the visual arts, performing arts, theater, dancing, etc.

The way it works is that we ask the community for nominations. A lot of the nominations come from the resident groups. Those who are nominated enter a finalist pool, with the resident groups all voting. They are ranked then, first, second, third and it is all tallied up. We’ve tried to find a great way to do this.

What’s neat is that we have the Janesville Art League, so the visual arts are represented and we have the dance groups, so they’re represented and so on. And we have awards go to philanthropists who support the arts such as Joyce & William Wartmann in 2004, we had Mick and Jane Blain Gilbertson in 2011, Oakleigh and Tobin Ryan in 2021, just to name a few of the arts supporter recipients. Last year, we had Jim Thorp as a recipient, who is not only a philanthropist, but also a lawyer. He was instrumental in getting our performing arts center up and running, so that was well-deserved.

Nathan welcoming attendees to the Hall of Fame ceremony

I’m excited for tonight! I’m always excited for this. Part of our mission is to celebrate the people, too, and this is a good opportunity to do that. As we continue to grow with this, my hope is that we really open our minds as to what art is, because there are a lot of deserving people out there, who could be considered for this award!

Tanya Dubinski

Dance Instructor

Life Dance Academy Owner

2024 Rock County Arts Hall of Fame Recipient

Tanya is both admired and loved throughout the dance world and elsewhere in our community. Her speech focused less on her accomplishments as a dancer, instructor and a studio owner and more on what dance meant to her when she was young. Throughout her youth, Tanya faced incredible hardship and challenges and dance was her safe haven, her escape from an otherwise painful world. It was a way for her to find structure and a kind of personal freedom at the same time. It was her everything and she devoted every spare minute to dance.

Amber Barnes and Taylor Manney introduced award recipient, Tanya Dubinski

At this ceremony, Tanya’s speech brough the audience to tears and to their feet when it was over. More than a dance instructor, Tanya is a quality human being who has touched the lives of so many through her work and her generous volunteerism in our community. Here is what she had to say about this special night.

I was 13 when I started actually working in the arts with dance. I had a great mentor; you might say a “Craig Bergum” in my life. She would volunteer me and say, “Tanya can do it!”

I was often terrified by that, wondering, “What do you mean, ‘Tanya’s going to do it’?”

She pushed me in so many directions. She believed in me. She’d say, “It’s a good experience for you, whether you fail or succeed. It is something that will grow you and you’re going to learn from it.”

The late Cheryl Schmidt

This was Cheryl Schmidt. She was inducted to this same Rock County Arts Hall of Fame in 2020 posthumously. I was honored to speak at that event.

Throughout life, I often heard, “When are you going to get a real job?”

I would say to that, “This IS my real job”.

I have the opportunity to change all these lives, because of all the experiences I have had with the arts!

Owning A Studio

My studio is a place where a child can come to express every emotion, just as I had when I was young. As a studio owner I have a chance to create a safe haven for other kids, a place where there is no prejudice. It’s a place where kids can just leave the stress of the day at the door, if they choose to, and just dance!

My studio has been used as an event space to host numerous events. It is home to the No Limits program, an all-inclusive dance program for kids and adults with special needs. I love that we can be a part of our community in so many different ways.

It is amazing to me that I’m now teaching the children of students that I had years ago. It makes me feel very old, as well! I’ve met so many wonderful students, families and other artists on this journey.

There’s nothing that makes me happier than a student who tells me how much they love dance, or a student who, years later, tells me how dance gave them the skills they needed to reach their dreams. I’ve done my job when I hear those words. There’s no better feeling than seeing those smiles in the classroom, or hearing the cheers erupt when a dance is performed and they totally nailed it.

Tanya and her students at a national dance competition in Branson, MO, in 2021

Artists, leaders and educators have come out of the dance studio. With dance, our kids become independent, accountable and more aware of their feelings. They learn how to work together with other people to accomplish a shared goal.

Life Dance is in the business of cultivating great humans just as much as we’re in the business of creating beautiful dancers and artists.

Tanya surrounded by dance students

The Direction of the Arts

I think it’s really important that people understand what the arts can do for you. The arts gets the shorthand of everything. A lot of people don’t understand that the people who are immersed in it, are in it on such a deep, emotional, healing level.

I feel our community is embracing the arts more than they have ever in my life. Still, I feel that Janesville is more sports based than the arts based. Many people hesitate to buy tickets until the last minute, in case something else comes up. I feel it could be embraced a lot more.

We’re doing what we can to promote the arts and one of the things we’re working on is to provide community events to bring the arts to the forefront.

National dance competition in Florida 2023 - Tanya gives a pep talk to her dancers

On Receiving the Award

Tanya and her husband Bill

This award means more to me than I could ever express. It means that I have made a difference in my students lives, in the arts and in our community.

Thank you for seeing me, thank you for hearing me and thank you for appreciating what I have to offer.


Craig Bergum

Retired Educator

Theater Director

2024 Rock County Arts Hall of Fame Recipient

Craig Bergum is well loved throughout the theater world and in our community. He is not only an educator, but an accomplished musician, a seasoned theater director and one of the warmest human beings in our community. Craig is one who genuinely cares about his family, his friends, his students, even the stranger, everyone he comes to know. Craig also has a humble nature and terrific sense of humor. So, when it came time for a speech, he spoke more about his students and crazy, often hilarious incidents in shows than he did about himself.

Former student, Callie Schouten, introduced "Mr. Bergum"

He also brought with him a bag of props, in true theatrical style, to help dramatize his entertaining stories. It was great to catch him on the side to get a few serious words about his years in theater, his outlook on the arts and what this award means to him.

I started at Parker High School as a tech person the first year, around 28 years ago! The next year I co-directed a show, after the previous director left. It was fun! The show was Twelve Angry Men. The next year, I was in charge. So, I started directing in my third year.

Later, I switched to Edison and was there longer than I was at Parker.

There was a big change at that time with the theater at Parker and there was no musical theater that next year. So, all the high school kids came to Edison and we did Oliver. Coincidentally enough, that was my last show I did!

Currently, I’m more in the role of supporting local theater.

Craig's speech has the audience laughing

The Direction of the Arts

The arts have been growing for years and years. We’ve brought out a lot of actors who have gone from doing shows in high school to go on to study musical theater! That is attributed to people who have been a part of the arts for years and years, encouraging these students.

In Janesville I think we still have pockets to fill, that there are still a lot of people in our community who are unaware of what’s out there, what they can find and go see when it comes to theater and the arts. The schools are doing a great job and their productions are amazing. The kids get a lot of excitement from that, and JPAC is doing great things with their youth programs. There are also community-based programs growing.

I haven’t seen it become stagnant, it’s not leveling off, it’s still moving forward on an uphill climb. That’s exciting! I believe we’ll see an additional growth in the arts.

Craig acting & directing Spirits in the Night at the Rock County Historical Society in 2016 and 2017

Advice for Those Trying Theater

I would encourage the people who are trying theater to realize that you can get involved in theater in many ways. It’s not about being a star.

The lead of a show does have a purpose, but they’re not the whole story, they’re just a part of the picture. The picture itself has its focus points, but what makes it wonderful is everything behind it. That includes all the movement that’s happening on the stage as well as what happens back stage and in the booth and on the catwalks.

I’d say that if you’re shy, get out there! You’ll find your way to where you belong.

There are students who don’t know how capable they are until they are just given that opportunity. The emotion that comes from it is so amazing.

So, don’t let your kids walk away from trying something. Encourage them to continue, because something’s going to happen, some magic is going to be there!

Craig Bergum surrounded by former students at the Arts Hall of Fame event

Also, trust your directors, trust your choreographers and remember that they’re not going to bring in somebody that they don’t trust.

On Receiving the Award

I have to thank the people involved in Theatre Unlimited, people like David Bitter, who played music with me early on, then who joined me in theater productions, as well as his wife, Kathy, who he actually met on stage. Kathy has been the costumer for many, many years! I’m also thankful to my friend, Karen Brown, who has been so involved, and to this entire group of individuals who are a part of TUI.

Craig Bergum and David Bitter

It’s not about what “I did”, because we’re a team, so it’s everyone around me. When you’re directing and involved in theater, remember that these people are a part of everything you do. So, it’s not about you personally, but about those you are going to walk with. Each one of these individuals you’ll fall in love with…they are the people you surround yourself with.

In my own world, my two children were both involved in the things we did, and my wife would bring food to the stage. They were all a part of it!

Reflecting on it all, I’d say it is all about the kids. If you remember that, your temperament is better and you learn so much from them. I probably learned more from all the students I taught than from anything I could have given them as their teacher or director. My students are what made it special.

Craig and his wife, Mary

Above all, love your kids, no matter what.

I have loved every moment of it, and my wife and kids know that. I’ve had wonderful opportunities to work with both kids and adults in theater.

I am deeply honored to receive this award.


Click on a photo in the gallery to enlarge.


bottom of page