Childsplay founder David Saar, who has developed a national and international reputation for transforming the world of theatre for young audiences, will receive the 2016 Shelley Award at the 35th annual Governor’s Arts Awards, March 23, at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel.

The award, named in honor of former Arizona Commission on the Arts Executive Director Shelley Cohn, is presented to an individual who has advanced the arts through strategic and innovative work in creating or supporting public policy beneficial to the arts in Arizona.

Saar, who will retire from Childsplay this year, founded the professional theater company for children in 1977 and has been artistic director ever since. Its genesis began during Saar’s MFA studies when he realized that children could reap great benefits from experiences with professional theatre. After graduating, he gathered classmates in a 1967 Chevy Impala, and with basic sets and costumes, began performing in local classrooms.

Today, performing in schools remains a core Childsplay activity with three annual touring productions that visit hundreds of schools throughout Arizona. It is estimated that one in five Arizona K-6 students will see a Childsplay production at their school. More than half of this audience lives at or below the poverty level.

Among Saar’s most important and well-known work is The Yellow Boat, a dramatization of the life of Saar’s son, Benjamin, who was born with congenital hemophilia and died at age 8 in 1987 of AIDS-related complications. Hailed as the most important children’s play of the 90s by Time Magazine, it has been performed all over the world and transformed the way we look at theatre for our young audiences.

“David Saar’s name has become synonymous with the belief that children deserve to experience the highest quality of performing arts, “ said Catherine “Rusty” Foley, executive director, Arizona Citizens for the Arts. “And while it may be hard to capture the full magnitude of his influence, not only on children and adults in Arizona, but across the country, we can be assured that his work has helped shaped thousands of lives and has created life-long lovers of theater. That is an incredible legacy.”

Among the many productions Saar has directed for Childsplay are Still Life with Iris, A Year with Frog and Toad, Pero or the Mystery of the Night, Afternoon of the Elves and Cyrano. Saar also directed The Origins of Happiness in Latin for Arizona Theatre Company, Charlotte’s Web, The Yellow Boat and Tomas and the Library Lady for Seattle Children’s Theatre, and The BFG for the Chicago Theatre for Young Audiences.

“David’s work to support the arts in Arizona goes beyond his work as an artist. He understands that when young people experience the arts in their childhood, they grow up to be patrons, supporters and advocates,” said Steve Martin, Childsplay’s managing director.

Saar received the 1989 Governor’s Arts Award.  Among other accolades are the national Winifred Ward Dare to Dream Fellowship (1991), the Phoenix Futures Forum’s Dream Weavers Vision Award (1993), the first Notable Achievement Award from the Herberger College of Fine Arts at Arizona State University (2002) and the prestigious Thomas DeGaetani Award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) (2007). In 2009, he was recognized for outstanding contributions to theatre in Arizona by the National Society of Arts and Letters, and in 2010, he received the prestigious Medallion Award from the Children’s Theatre Foundation to honor artistic excellence and Childsplay’s national influence during its 33-year history.

Saar joins previous honorees that include Cohn, the Papp Family, Kathryn “Sam” Campana, Dennis Kavanaugh, Gerry Murphy, Shirley Chann, Carolyn Allen, Bill Sheppard, Darryl Dobras. Jim Ballinger and John and Helen Schaefer.

The 35th annual Governor’s Arts Awards will recognize individuals and organizations in categories that include: Artist, Arts in Education – Organization, Small and Large Businesses, Community, Individual and Arts in Education – Individual.