NEXTies 2016: What We Love, But Better
by Julia Sinn
On April 8th, the NEXTies awards show returns to the Rio Theatre to honor the business leaders, athletes, educators, and creatives contributing to the vibrance of Santa Cruz’s culture and community—with a few changes, more honorees, and a little more glitz.
While the NEXTies were always committed to recognizing inspirational Santa Cruz County leaders, this year’s awards will reach more toward diversity and impact; brewers, mole-makers, artists, an elementary school principal, and a high school freshman will stand alongside one another this year.
When Matthew Swinnerton took over the annual awards gala in 2014 (as invited by Santa Cruz NEXT) and the NEXTies became an arm of the Event Santa Cruz brand, he wanted to pump up the awards show aspect of NEXTies. His brand has always been community, and he wanted to even more enthusiastically recognize the many dedicated, daring people and groups who were relentlessly improving Santa Cruz County.
“My vision for what I wanted the NEXTies to be is finally coming together,” Swinnerton says. “There are so many amazing people in our community and it was so hard in years past, I feel, to just award four people.”
So this year, he increased the honoree number from four to 14, each in designated categories, like “Innovative Business” and “Foodie” and “Mentor” of the year. In a way, Swinnerton’s move to more honorees and firmer nomination categories expands the idea of what excellence means in Santa Cruz, and is a push toward inclusivity.
When NEXTies was launched in 2010, Santa Cruz NEXT was a nonprofit defining itself bringing people ages 25 to 45 into the debate on local community issues. Always focused on “next-generation” builders, by 2011 Santa Cruz NEXT called itself “a community organization aimed at creating access to cultural, social and political opportunities for Santa Cruzans between college age and mid life.”
Certainly, the NEXTies always sought to honor leaders who shaped Santa Cruz in a positive way. Swinnerton saw an opportunity to recognize people and businesses who are really getting stuff done in the County—not only those who are having success, but those who are impacting their neighbors. In other words: who’s really changing Santa Cruz County for the better?
“Now that we have 14 categories,” Swinnerton says, “it gives us a chance to shine a light on even more inspiring people. The NEXTies is really just a celebration of the people that make up the Santa Cruz County.”
An eight-person committee reviewed over 400 public submissions to determine which of the nominees exemplified the NEXTies spirit of innovation, boldness, and impact. The committee included some past NEXTies winners—like Greg Pepping of the San Lorenzo River Alliance and Monica Martinez of Encompass Community Services—and some long-standing community-builders and business owners.
Sean Venus, founder-distiller of Venus Spirits, who will be honored Foodie of the Year, admires and is inspired by the the well-roundedness of this year’s awards. “We are at a pivot point here in Santa Cruz,” says Venus,” with lots of energy building around not only food and drink entrepreneurs, but makers of all kinds. This year’s NEXTies can certainly attest to the amazing talent we have right here in our own backyard.”
The event itself, too, on April 8, will be even more multi-faceted. Swinnerton continues to strive to make the gala even more like a headliner awards show—but without the over-drawn, boring parts—adding cameos, performances, and surprises. The award-giving portion will only be about an hour long and a new after-party addition starts directly after the final bow. Emcee extraordinaire Kim Luke and beloved comedian DNA will host the event this year on, letting Swinnerton shift even more firmly into his directorial role. Up-and-coming Humble Sea Brewing will be pouring their craft beers and the Coffee Zombie Collective (honored as NEXTies in 2015) will start the afterparty directly following the awards ceremony. With 14 categories, a diverse nomination committee, new hosts, even more live music (think: a big party that just got bigger), this feels like one electoral event we can all get behind.
“To have your idea embraced and accepted by this incredible community,” says 2016 honoree Annie Pautsch (who will be recognized in the New Business of the Year category for Brew Cruz), “to be in the mix of talented, conscientious, and bold innovators and dreamers, has been the greatest reward. I’m humbled and extremely grateful to have been recognized by a community I respect deeply.”
In essence, the 2016 NEXTies steps with more vigor into embodying its founding principles of mutual respect, real-world action, and the ever-stronger support of a vibrant community of doers and builders.
This years honorees:
Entrepreneur of the Year – Cesario Ruiz, My Mom’s Mole
Musician of the Year – Nick Gallant
Band of the Year – Marty O’Reilly and The Old School Orchestra
Artist of the Year – Jaime Sanchez, Artist
Give Back Person of the Year – David Dennis, Ventana Surfboards & Supplies/David Dennis Photos
Foodie of the Year – Sean Venus, Venus Spirits
New Business of the Year – Brew Cruz, Owned by Annie Pautsch
Athlete of the Year – Kyle Thiermann, Surfing for Change
Under 18 of the Year – Shadja Correia, Subjects to Change
Nonprofit Organization of the Year – Teen Kitchen
Mentor of the Year – (Tie) Keith Holtaway and Leta B. Jussila
Innovative Business of the Year – One Whee
Innovator of the Year – Keri Waters, Calliope Waterworks, Inc.
WildCard of the Year – Michael Berman, Principal at H.A. Hyde Elementary
Hosted by Kim Luke and DNA (Yeah that’s right!)
Beer for purchase from Humble Sea Brewery .
Live music from Nick Gallant and more TBA soon.
After Party show right after by Coffee Zombie Collective!
Tickets available here!
Julia Sinn is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and photographer, and directs the events program at a local indie business you know and love. Find her at www.juliarosesinn.com and all over downtown Santa Cruz, or running on West Cliff.