Arts Achievement Awards

The Arts Achievement Awards originated in 1975 and has been a long standing Presidential level ceremony to celebrate the outstanding career achievements of Wayne State University alumni and former students from the programs that comprise the College of Fine Performing and Communication Arts. Exceptional career achievement appropriate for recognition includes research, creative work, performance, publication, advocacy, composition, exhibition, education, discovery, management and /or leadership in their profession or artistic practice.

We are very fortunate to have distinguished alumni who through their accomplishments bring great notoriety and honor to the College and to Wayne State. We believe it is important to acknowledge these achievements and hold them up as models for our current and prospective students. Actor and producer James Lipton, film, stage and television actress S. Epatha Merkerson, artists Ellen Phelan and John Egner, renowned tenor George Shirley, Detroit jazz legend Yusef Lateef, Pulitzer prize winner and Poet Laureate Philip Levine, and former Howard University President Sidney Ribeau, among many other distinguished artists and professionals have been past recipients of the Arts Achievement Award.

Join us as we celebrate 43 years of history and this year's 2022 Arts Achievement Award winners.

Career Achievement Award in Communication

  • David Roberts

    A native of Detroit, Roberts earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communications from Wayne State University in his hometown. In November 2020, leadership of ESPN’s cross-platform production unit was added to his portfolio. He now also oversees Jalen & Jacoby, all ESPN Audio content, including podcasts and events, as well as production of digital studio shows and YouTube.

    Roberts’ leadership across ESPN has been highly recognized. Roberts’ work with ESPN’s signature news and information show SportsCenter led to an Emmy Award win for the Daily Studio Show category in 2021. In 2020, he was named to the Cablefax Diversity List, recognizing the most influential diverse executives in the industry. Before that, Roberts was senior coordinating producer, studio production for ESPNEWS and joined ESPN in 2004 as a coordinating producer.

    Roberts came to ESPN after more than 25 years in local news experience. In 1987, he became news director at WDTN-TV in Dayton, Ohio, where he was the first African-American news director in the state’s history. In 1991, he moved to WBAL-TV in Baltimore as news director and in 1996 he joined WXIA-TV in Atlanta in the same position. Once again, he was the state’s first African-American news director.

    Roberts received his Bachelors in Mass Communication at Wayne State University in 1978 and began his career as a reporter for WGPR in Detroit. In 1980 he joined WFMY-TV in Greensboro, N.C., as a reporter. In 1982, he returned to his hometown of Detroit as an assignment editor for WJBK-TV. In 1984 he moved to KFSN-TV in Fresno, Calif., as executive producer. A year later he assumed that same role for WGHP-TV in High Point, N.C.

Career Achievement Award in Theatre and Dance

  • David Cowan

    David Cowan is the Chief Public Spaces Officer for the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP).  He planned and launched the opening of Beacon Park, Detroit’s newest and most contemporary public space and plans over 1,600 events and programs annually for Downtown Detroit’s internationally recognized and award-winning public space portfolio, including: Campus Martius Park, Beacon Park, Capitol Park, Cadillac Square, Grand Circus Park, and The Woodward Esplanade.  

    David was named a Crain’s Detroit Business 20 in their 20’s honoree, was the winner of the 2020 International Downtown Association Award for Place Management, and is an advocate for placemaking, the arts, and urban planning in American cities. In both 2021 and 2022, Campus Martius Park was named top public square by USA Today.  

    David works to create lasting memories and one-of-a-kind experiences for Downtown’s wide-ranging demographics, hosting over four million visitors annually. His dedicated and incredible staff designs experiences and venues that are flexible and versatile, much like a theatrical set, enabling over 250+ community partners and 500+ artists to present and produce programming free to the public.    

    In addition to public spaces, David also oversees DDP’s public space earned revenue activity, events, marketing, and corporate partnerships, which includes oversight of the markets at Cadillac Square, an annual fleet of 75 food trucks, two award winning restaurants, the Rink at Campus Martius Park, temporary public art program, major international festivals, headline concerts, and more.   

    He also collaborates with Visit Detroit to attract large scale experiences to Detroit, like the NFL Draft coming in 2024. Above all else, David is a proud father and husband.  He earned his BFA from Wayne State University in Detroit, where he met his wife Megan, and went on to American University in Washington D.C where he earned his MA in Arts Management.

Career Achievement Award in Art and Art History

  • Allison Glenn

    Allison Glenn is a curator and writer deeply invested in working closely with artists to develop ideas, artworks, and exhibitions that respond to and transform our understanding of the world. Glenn’s curatorial work focuses on the intersection of art and publics, through public art, biennials, special projects, and major new commissions by leading contemporary artists.

    In her more than 15 year professional career — since graduating from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Fine Art Photography with a co-major in Urban Studies in 2005 — Glenn has lived and worked in cities across the country, including Detroit; Chicago; Houston; Los Angeles; Bentonville, Arkansas; and New Orleans.

    She currently lives and works in New York City, where she is Senior Curator at Public Art Fund, a 45 year old public art organization that commissions and exhibits artworks across New York City. Glenn is also one of the co-curators of Counterpublic 2023, a St. Louis-based triennial, where she is working with Matthew Angelo Harrison, Maya Stovall, Mendi + Keith Obadike, and Sir David Adjaye.

    Glenn recently garnered critical and community acclaim for Promise, Witness, Remembrance at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY, an exhibition she curated in early 2021,  that reflected on the life of Breonna Taylor, centered on her portrait painted by Amy Sherald. The New York Times selected the exhibition as one of the “Best Art Exhibitions of 2021”, and it was covered by Artforum, Art in America, Financial Times, ArtNews, Observer Arts, The Art Newspaper, Culture Type, and more. MTV Documentary Films released Bree Way, a short documentary about the exhibition in mid-2021, directed by Dawn Porter.

    This year, Glenn was listed as one of the 2022 ArtNews Deciders and on the 2021 Observer Arts Power 50 List.

Career Achievement Award in Music

  • Mark Nilan Jr.

    Mark Nilan Jr. is a Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum selling executive music producer.

    Mark attended Wayne State University from 2001-2004. Studying under Matt Michaels, he received his BFA in Jazz Studies in 2004. After graduating Wayne State, Mark moved to Los Angeles where he spent the next two years at California Institute of the Arts working on his MFA in Jazz Studies.

    Since then, Mark has gone on to work extensively with many of today’s top recording artists. One of his early collaborators was Lady Gaga. Together they crafted a Grammy Award-winning song called "Joanne (Where Are You Going)." 

    Soon after, in 2018, A Star Is Born was released. Mark’s role as Album Music Producer helped the soundtrack go on to become #1 on Billboard, go 6x platinum, as well as earn him a Grammy for Best Soundtrack.

    Thanks to this success, Mark has developed close relationships with many of the major movie producing companies in the industry. Serving as one of their go-to music producers for movie projects.  

    Feature Films that contain Marks music:

    • My Little Pony the Movie (Lionsgate)
    • A Star Is Born (Warner Bros.)
    • Scoob! (Universal Pictures)
    • The Honey Girls (Sony & Build-A-Bear)
    • Puss In Boots 2 (Universal)
    • Fast & Furious 10 (Universal)

    Mark's music has also been heavily featured in TV shows for many years now.  He created the theme song for Boss Baby on Netflix and is currently working with songwriting legend Diane Warren on an upcoming show for Apple+ called Jane.

    In addition to his Film and Tv work, Mark still works closely with many of todays top artists. He co-wrote and produced the current hit song "Victoria’s Secret" by Jax (Atlantic). During the 2022 summer, it was number one on iTunes, number one most added to Top 40 radio, and is climbing the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

CFPCA Dean's Art Advocacy Award

  • George N'Namdi

    George N’Namdi has been collecting art since he was an undergraduate at Ohio State University in the late 1960s. After receiving a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan, N’Namdi left a successful practice to open Jazzonia, his first gallery in Detroit’s Harmonie Park in 1981.

    The gallery’s name, derived from the Langston Hughes poem of the same name, captures insight into the influences which inspire the collection and interests of N’Namdi. A recent appointee to the State of Michigan Arts and Cultural Council, N’Namdi supports an agenda of cultural enrichment through education and community involvement. This dedication is integral to his network of art galleries operating in Detroit, Chicago and New York.

    Some of his recent projects include the $45 million redevelopment of the Sugar Hill Arts District which is to be part of the new Detroit Creative Corridor stretching from Grand Boulevard to the Detroit River. He has said that he has “always felt a need to help the community, and that, in turn, helps artists. As a dealer, my goal is to help people collect art because it is an action that enriches the community.”

    Among N’Namdi’s clientele are some of the nation’s most established museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. In parallel, his discerning connoisseurship has amassed a seminal art collection by artists with significant oeuvres and long-established resumes.