By EMILIE CRAVENS
For the Daily News
On Nov. 6, the Starkville Area Arts Council hosted their annual fund-raising gala which proved to be a big success.
Over 200 guests attended the gala and enjoyed an evening of high caliber entertainment, wonderful food, and a silent auction chalked full of great items to bid on.
The Hats Off to the Arts Gala kicked off the night by greeting guests with an array of items to bid on in the silent auction. Items included a large selection of fine art items, trips for hunting and family fun, fine jewelry, and nights on the town.
The silent auction raised over $12,000 for the SAAC’s grants, scholarships, and support for arts programming. After dinner, guests were treated to an outstanding vocal performance by Mary Kathryn Sanford, a Starkville native and recent graduate of The University of Mississippi. Mary Kathryn wowed the crowd, performing three musical theatre selections from her senior voice recital. During her performance, Mary Kathryn was beautifully accompanied by Carole Sorenson, and James Nail.
The Hats Off to the Arts Gala also included the awarding of SAAC’s highest honor, The Award of Excellence in the Arts, posthumously to Dr. Dominic Cunetto whose tireless work supporting the arts made the Starkville Area Arts Council organization possible. Dr. Cunetto’s wife, Ida Cunetto, attended the gala and accepted the award in his honor along with member of his family. Dr. Cunetto’s illustrious career in Starkville began when he was hired in 1963 as director of theatre to begin the program in the Department of Communication. He retired in 1991 after having positively influenced hundreds of students through a very strong program. Over that time he taught courses in theatre and directed over 80 plays. In addition, he provided valued input to the building of McComas Hall (with the theatre) which was completed near the time of his retirement. Much of this major building project can be attributed to his hard work and coordination with others the need for a true academic theatre on campus.
Dominic Cunetto remained very involved with the department even after his retirement. He contributed his time, expertise, and care of the program during numerous theatre and departmental events over the years.
Cunetto was also the founder of the first Statewide High School Drama Festival in 1963 and remained involved in the North Mississippi High School Drama Festival until last year. He was a long-time member of the Mississippi Theatre Association and served as treasurer, secretary, vice president, president, and regional representative for the state. He was also one of the original organizers of the Starkville Area Arts Council and served as its first president in 1996. Cunetto was an active member of the Starkville Community Theatre where he directed several productions, taught workshops, served as a directing mentor, and also worked as vice president.
He received theatre awards from Washington University, the University of Florida, and Mississippi State University. In 1988 he was awarded the Cowboy Maloney Award for his outstanding contributions to the Mississippi Theatre Association. Upon his retirement, the M.T.A. honored him by naming the winner of the State High School Drama Festival the The Dominic Cunetto Award for Best Production. He also received the Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award in 1985-1986.
Gala attendees finished the evening by dancing the night away to the sounds of Swing Shift.