Tanya Harper Awarded USITT's Wally Russell Professional Mentoring Award

A University of Kentucky longtime artist and designer was awarded high honors at the 2021 United States Institute for Theatre Technology Inc. (USITT) Conference and Stage Expo, held virtually March 8–12. 

Singletary Center for the Arts (SCFA) production designer Tanya Harper received the Wally Russell Professional Mentoring Award, presented by USITT in partnership with the Wally Russell Foundation to honor someone who embodies the guiding hand that Wally Russell provided to many young professionals. 

“I have been following the journey of the Wally Russell Professional Mentoring Award since it came into the USITT management tent,” said College of Fine Arts Dean Mark Shanda, longtime member of USITT (though he was not involved in Tanya’s nomination). “Each year I have been greatly impressed by the selected winner and thought deeply about their lasting impact on the industry given the many individuals that they had worked with in their career. I couldn't think of anyone more deserving than Tanya. Since my arrival on the UK campus as the dean of the College of Fine Arts, I have been consistently impressed with her passion for live performance, her solid mentoring of so many student employees, her own artistry as a lighting designer, and her steadfast demand for professional excellence of one and all. Tanya has impacted many by the example that she sets each day and the care that she shows in developing the next generation of production artists and technicians.” 

“It is a great honor to be recognized by USITT and to be nominated by a few current and former student employees," Tanya said. "I love working with our students and try to create the most professional, yet fun, environment I can for both the employees and our clients. I'm so proud of all they are accomplishing as young professionals, from New York to California and points between. I'm also proud that even those who chose not to go into the arts learned valuable life skills from working at SCFA. Here's hoping we get to return to live performances soon so we can continue our work!” The United States Institute for Theatre Technology Inc. connects performing arts design and technology communities to ensure a vibrant dialog among practitioners, educators and students. 


Many of Harper's past student employees reached out via social media to celebrate the honor. 

“Anytime I have worked with you has been a wonderful experience. You are a wonderfully steady, knowledgeable creative force and it is a joy to work on a show with you. Hopefully we get to work together again one of these days.” - Megan de Araujo

"You taught me that it is okay to take care of yourself, especially when things are really hard. You were a supportive listening ear when I had one of the harder years of my life as an undergrad. Your concern for my well-being, even as I was leaving Singletary, has stuck with me to this day. Thank you for being you.” - Mel An Collie

Article originally published in UKNow March 18, 2021.