Bruce Casteel

Bruce Casteel (November 5, 2013)

The three recipients of Howie Awards are only called upon to make brief speeches expressing their thanks when the Howard County Arts Council presents its 17th annual "Celebration of the Arts in Howard County" on Saturday, March 29, from 6 to 10 p.m., at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

However, one of those recipients also plans to perform at the opening reception.

"I volunteered to play that night prior to the ceremony," said guitarist and teacher Bruce Casteel. "Playing is in my blood. I can't put the guitar down."

"He's an amazing artist with a reputation that exceeds the Mid-Atlantic," said Barbara Lawson, chairman of the Howie Committee, which selected Casteel as Outstanding Artist.

The other two recipients are Toba Dobkin Barth, an arts advocate and administrator, as Outstanding Community Supporter of the Arts; and Raissa Howera, a visual art teacher at Oakland Mills Middle School, as Outstanding Arts Educator.

Their thank you speeches are but one part of the arts council's upcoming fund-raising event. Much of the evening will be given over to performances by 10 finalists in a Rising Star Competition who are going for a professional development award of $5,000. The Rising Star winner will be chosen by audience vote.

This festive evening also includes a silent auction featuring artwork by local artists, and a pre-show reception with food from an assortment of local restaurants.

The live entertainment during that food-and-conversation-filled reception includes guitarist Casteel, 65, who certainly has earned his Howie through his 49 years as a performer and teacher.

As a guitarist, the classically trained Casteel is also versatile in jazz, folk, klezmer, Irish and more. He even played the sitar for 11 years at the Bombay Peacock Grill.

He's played at seemingly every venue in Howard County, Washington and Baltimore. On the local scene, he recently played a St. Patrick's Day gig at Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills.

And he's played at many political events over the years, ranging from a reception for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton in Washington to a recent retirement-related event for Howard County Del. Liz Bobo in Columbia.

And the impressive stats extend to his teaching, which he does both privately and as an adjunct faculty member at Howard Community College.

"The legacy is that a lot of my students are taking over the jobs I used to have," Casteel said with a laugh. "I just love teaching and I love people and I love learning things. It's just been a joy. I still have endless energy."

An energetic personality also characterizes Toba Dobkin Barth. She has been an enthusiastic supporter of the arts since the early years of Columbia. Her community volunteering included running the Candlelight Concert Society's children's series, and serving as volunteer coordinator at the Columbia Festival of the Arts. She also had a paid position handling audience development for the youth theater program at Toby's Dinner Theatre.

Although Barth is retired from the above-mentioned activities, the Fulton resident remains active on the Howard County arts scene.

"Toba has always been a terrific advocate for the arts and supporting youth in the arts," Barbara Lawson remarked.

"My deepest involvement was in teaching young children," Barth noted, adding that this involvement coincided with the two children she and her husband, broadcaster Andy Barth, were raising at the time.

"I understand the importance of the audience of the future," Barth continued. "I hope I have made my contribution to help secure the future not of the performers, but of the audience. I never wanted to be on the stage myself, but I always wanted to develop the audience."

Also working intensively with children is Raissa Howera, 39, a visual art teacher at Oakland Mills Middle School. Many of her students' art projects involve social engagment, such as when her students made and donated bowls as part of an anti-hunger campaign known as Empty Bowls.

"We pick teachers who go above and beyond what they're paid for and who say let's do something bigger than this classroom," explained Howie Committee chairman Barbara Lawson.

For Columbia resident Howera, it is crucial that her students feel like they belong to a community both inside and outside of the classroom.

"Art can be an intimidating subject for some students. Middle schoolers are especially self-conscious about how others view them, which can keep them from trying to do well in art. If something is badly drawn, you look a whole lot better if you can say that you didn't really try," Howera said.

"Because of this, I try to create a community atmosphere in my classroom, to show students that I care and to give them definitive steps that will help them succeed."

"The Celebration of the Arts in Howard County" is Saturday, March 29, from 6 to 10 p.m., at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $100 for the reception and live performance in Smith Theatre, $50 for the reception and simulcast in the adjacent Studio Theatre. Call 410-313-2787 or go to http://www.hocoarts.org.

This story has been updated.