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Four distinguished alumni to be honored with Arents Awards Oct. 15

September 07, 2010

Jaime Winne Alvarez
(315) 443-3784

Four distinguished Syracuse University alumni representing excellence in the areas of the arts and entertainment, social activism and disability rights, literacy advocacy and video art will be honored with George Arents Awards during the University’s Orange Central celebration.

At the Reunion Gala Luncheon on Friday, Oct. 15, Suzanne de Passe ’68, Brian McLane ’69, Bill Viola ’73 and Karen B. Winnick ’68 will receive Arents Awards for their outstanding personal and professional accomplishments.

Named for George Arents, a successful manufacturer who served on the SU Board of Trustees from 1930 until his death in 1960, Arents Awards are the University’s highest alumni honor. They are presented annually to alumni who have made outstanding contributions to their chosen fields. The awards highlight the depth and breadth of alumni and their initiative in making a difference in their communities, across the nation and around the world.

This year’s Arents recipients reflect the University’s strong heritage in inclusive education and rights for those with disabilities, social activism and the use of arts and entertainment as educational tools and bridges to local communities.

The Reunion Gala Luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. Reservations are required; visit For questions or more information, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 1-800-SUALUMS (782-5867) or e-mail

brewerSU alumna Contessa Brewer ’96, MSNBC anchor and host of the network’s primetime series “Caught on Camera,” will be master of ceremonies for the event. Brewer, who served as an Orange Central 2009 co-chair, is a Remembrance Scholar and graduate of the Honors Program. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from SU’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and studied politics in Strasbourg, France.

Orange Central 2010 takes place Oct. 14-17 on the SU campus. Celebrations include class reunions, special group reunions and homecoming all rolled into one exciting weekend.

Suzanne de Passe ’68
George Arents Award for Excellence in Entertainment

depasseDe Passe, CEO of de Passe Entertainment Group LLC and co-chair of de Passe Jones Entertainment, is a music, television and film executive and one of the most successful women in her field.

Early in her career, after attending SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, de Passe joined Detroit’s Motown Records label as a creative assistant to the legendary Berry Gordy, and would go on to promote the solo careers of Lionel Ritchie, Rick James and other talented young musical artists and groups. Most notably, de Passe is credited with discovering the Jackson Five and coaching the five singing brothers on a path from Gary, Ind., to meteoric success on an international stage.

Rising through the ranks at Motown, de Passe was involved in virtually every facet of the company’s expanding empire. In 1972, she shared screenwriter credits for the Billie Holiday biopic “Lady Sings the Blues,” starring Diana Ross. The screenplay won a nomination for an Academy Award. In 1981, she was named president of Motown Productions and headed the company’s expansion into the production of television shows. Among the variety specials she produced are “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,” and “Motown Returns to the Apollo,” both of which were Emmy and NAACP Image award winners. After Gordy sold Motown, de Passe entered into a producing partnership with him and brought to screen the 1989 Emmy-nominated CBS western “Lonesome Dove.” Adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry, the program led to several sequels, “Return to Lonesome Dove” (1993); “Larry McMurtry’s Street’s of Laredo” (1995); and a syndicated series “Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years/ Lonesome Dove: The Early Years” (1994-96).

As president and founder of de Passe Entertainment, she continued to build a reputation as one of television’s most notable female producers. Listed among her productions are “Sister, Sister;” “Smart Guy;” and the NAACP Image Award-winning miniseries “The Temptations.” For the production “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” she had the unusual opportunity to cast an actress to play herself, choosing another former SU student, Vanessa Williams.

From 2002-08, she served as executive producer of “Showtime at the Apollo,” a weekly variety program nationally syndicated by Warner Brothers/Telepictures. In 2005 and 2006, she co-created, wrote and executive produced the Black Movie Awards for TNT. And in 2009, she was an executive producer for President Barack Obama’s 2009 Commander in Chief Inaugural Ball. Currently, she is producing (along with Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks) the first authorized biopic and definitive film on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Her honors include the American Women in Radio and Television Silver Satellite Award, the Essence Business Award, the Women in Film Crystal Award and being inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

In 1986, de Passe received a Chancellor’s Citation at SU’s Coming Back Together reunion, awarded in recognition of significant civic or career achievements of alumni age 40 or younger. Today, as an advisor to SU’s LA Semester, de Passe generously shares her time and expertise to help SU students prepare for successful careers in the entertainment field.

Brian McLane ’69
George Arents Award for Excellence in Social Activism and Disability Rights

mclaneBorn with cerebral palsy, McLane learned at an early age not to accept limits on his abilities. He was the first wheelchair-bound student to graduate from his high school and went on to graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in broadcast journalism. Under his leadership, a six-member service fraternity with a poor campus image turned into a leading advocacy organization for making SU and other campuses nationwide more accessible to people with disabilities.

McLane went on to earn a master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University. He worked for a time in television and coached a semi-professional basketball team that recorded 132 wins against 37 losses over six seasons. He is the former director of public and membership relations for the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce and served as executive assistant to state assemblyman Mel Zimmer for five years. He was also director of parks and recreation for the Town of Cicero for four years, building a highly successful program.

McLane served in the administration of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo as assistant commissioner in the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for six years before assuming the position of assistant commissioner of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities.

McLane is known as a champion for the rights of individuals with disabilities, including lobbying for and consulting on the design of facilities for the physically disabled in the Carrier Dome and other major public venues. His advocacy efforts have been recognized by his induction into the National Hall of Fame for People with Disabilities in 2000, the receipt of the Caritas Medal from Niagara University, the Community Leadership award from Hudson Valley Community College and numerous other awards and recognitions.

A devoted SU alumnus, McLane serves as a member of the National Alumni Board and has a fund established in his name for support services for students with disabilities, as well as a fellowship in his name at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. In 2003, he was named fan of the year for his devotion to SU Athletics, and in 2004 was recognized by the University as a Letter Winner of Distinction. He also serves as a member of the University’s Athletic Policy Board.

McLane currently serves as president and founder of Paradigm Solutions, a strategic alliance company that specializes in helping individuals in the area of creative problem solving, community and government relations, and networking. The company also works in the area of federal and state legislative advocacy, working with clients to move beyond compliance and helping them recognize market opportunities for their companies.

In January 2006, McLane became executive director of SU’s Burton Blatt Institute. In this capacity, he works with BBI chairman Peter Blanck to provide strategic direction that will enable the institute to establish centers on innovation in meeting the unique needs of persons with disabilities.

Bill Viola ’73
George Arents Award for Excellence in Video Art

violaA pioneer in establishing video as a vital form of contemporary art, Viola’s interest in electronic media began at the age of nine, when he became captain of his school’s TV Squad during the fifth grade. He continued to follow his passion during his college career by taking courses in what was then an experimental “new media” program at SU, studying visual art with Jack Nelson and electronic music with Franklin Morris.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in experimental studios from SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, Viola went on to become one of the world’s most noted and lauded video artists. For more than 35 years, he has created video installations that wrap the viewer in image and sound, using the latest technology to express a deeply spiritual view of the world. His videotapes, architectural video installations, sound environments, electronic music performances, flat panel video pieces and works for television broadcast employ state-of-the-art technologies and are distinguished by their precision and direct simplicity.

Viola uses video to explore the phenomenon of sense perception as an avenue to self-knowledge and his work focuses on universal human experiences such as birth, death and the unfolding of consciousness. Using the inner language of subjective thoughts and collective memories, his videos communicate to a wide audience, allowing viewers to experience the work directly and in their own personal way. His work has been seen at venues throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America, including exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.

Music has also been an integral part of Viola’s life and work. He performed with avant garde composer David Tudor as a member of his Rainforest ensemble, later known as Composers Inside Electronics, and has created videos to accompany a wide variety of music compositions. His work with music ranges from a three-song video suite for the rock group Nine Inch Nails to a new production of Wagner’s opera, “Tristan und Isolde.”

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1989 and most recently the Catalonia International Prize in 2009, Viola was recently named by the French government as a commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. He is also a recipient of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been awarded honorary doctorates from his alma mater, as well as the School of Art Institute of Chicago, the California Institute of the Arts and the Royal College of Art in London, among others.

Viola shares his time and talent with SU students, most recently working with students in the LA Semester, opening his studio to them and allowing them to assist in the production of some of his upcoming videos.

Karen B. Winnick ’68
George Arents Award for Excellence in the Arts and Literacy Advocacy

winnickWinnick is an author, artist, playwright and philanthropist who has devoted her life to young people and service in the public arena. Her award-winning words and illustrations have delighted children all over the world, inspiring them to enjoy reading.

She is the author of numerous historical fiction children’s books, including “Lucy’s Cave”, “Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers,” “Sybil’s Night Ride,” “A Year Goes Round,” “Barn Sneeze,” “The Night of the Fireflies,” “Cassie’s Sweet Berry Pie,” “Sandro’s Dolphin” and “Patch & The Strings.” Winnick’s work brings the past alive and allows young readers to discover the dramatic experiences of children in days gone by.

In 2001, Bank Street College of Education recognized “Sybil’s Night Ride” as Book of the Year. Winnick often presents her work at elementary schools in the Los Angeles area, reading to young children to encourage literacy and cultivate the art of storytelling.

Winnick’s paintings have been exhibited in local galleries, and her poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies. She has also produced a play, “Kindertransport,” about Jewish children sent to England from Nazi Germany during World War II.

In addition to her creative endeavors, Winnick serves as a volunteer to numerous organizations, including serving as chair of the Board of Commissioners of the Los Angeles Zoo; as a member of the Board of Governors of Hillel at SU; on the Board of Trustees Emeritus at Brown University; and on the boards of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the Jewish Museum and the Tufts University Library Board.

With her husband, Gary, she established the Winnick Family Foundation, which has made gifts and grants to a wide range of recipients, including major naming gifts to the Winnick Hillel Center for Jewish Life and the Karen B. Winnick Literacy Initiative, both at SU; the Winnick Family Clinical Research Institute at Cedars Sinai Hospital; and the Winnick Children’s Zoo in Los Angeles.

Winnick received a bachelor of fine arts degree from SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. She has also studied in Florence, Italy, and at New York University, the School of Visual Arts and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Orange Central 2010
For more information on Orange Central and an up-to-the-minute schedule of events and activities, visit For questions, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 1-800-SUALUMS (782-5867) or e-mail

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