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Kevin Feige recalls spending a long evening on the set of Sony’s Spider-Man 2 (a film on which he served as executive producer) in the Majestic Downtown venue in Los Angeles, where Peter Parker stopped Doctor Octopus from robbing a large bank vault. And now, fifteen years later, he is being honored by the Ryman Arts foundation in the same space, as the first recipient of the Marty and Leah Sklar Creative Visionary Award.

Feige has famously spearheaded the unprecedented shared-world series of feature films called the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past ten years, under the bannerhead of Marvel Studios. And having earned so many accolades (and raked in so much cash) for current owner Disney, he has become the very first person to qualify for this new honor. And last week I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the Majestic Downtown to see him receive the award.

Ryman Arts was founded by (among others) legendary Walt Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar and his wife Leah, who named the organization after colleague and friend Herbert Ryman, the draftsman who was credited with much of Disneyland’s early conceptual artwork. According to its website, Ryman Arts offers “intensive out-of-school studio art instruction, college and career guidance, art supplies, and support services—all at no cost to the student.” After Sklar’s passing last year, the foundation’s board of directors concocted the Marty and Leah Skylar Creative Luminary Award, which recognizes excellence in the field of arts and entertainment.

“The Ryman Arts Board established the Marty & Leah Sklar Creative Visionary Award to honor Marty’s memory and to celebrate the legacy of two amazing founders of our organization,” said Phil Hettema, Ryman Arts Board president and president and creative executive of the Hettema Group. “We are thrilled that the first recipient of the award, Kevin Feige, embodies the aspiration of the award so completely. Kevin has reimagined an entire universe of storytelling and introduced us to thrilling new worlds through his creative leadership and vision.”

Upon arrival of the Majestic Downtown last Wednesday evening, I immediately spotted illustrious Imagineers Joe Rohde and Tom Morris and animatronics pioneer Garner Holt milling about, and I prepared myself for an evening that would represent the who’s who of theme park design, not to mention the bustling superhero film industry. Indeed, WDI president Bob Weis wound up being among the presenters during the luminary-studded ceremony.

My ticket to this Ryman Arts event granted me access to an exclusive VIP reception and a seat for a panel discussion about Marvel Studios’ Black Panther featuring the hit movie’s cinematographer Rachel Morrison, visual effects supervisor Geoffrey Baumann, and moderator Scott Mantz of Access Hollywood. The trio discuss what it was like putting together such a large-scale action spectacle, and how the two speakers’ departments collaborated with each other on bringing Wakanda to life.

After the panel, a buffet dinner and drinks were served, and guests had the opportunity to browse and bid on a silent auction featuring items like a tour of Imagineering, a Walt Disney World vacation, a SpaceX launch experience, and even tickets to the upcoming world premiere of Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson. There was also a Black Panther exhibit and a display of paintings by Ryman Arts students inspired by the MCU. On the other side of the lobby, two models posed in generic superhero costumes in front of a group of furiously scrawling sketch artists.

Having spent some time mingling with the other attendees, eventually we came to the evening’s main attraction: the ceremony honoring Feige. Weis, Leah Sklar, and other Ryman Arts administrators walked us through the reasons for the award’s existence and that evening’s event, raised some more money via a live auction and other direct donations, and then it was time to meet Mr. Feige himself, but not before a touching and hilarious introduction by his friend and collaborator Peyton Reed, director of Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and its 2018 follow-up Ant-Man and The Wasp (not to mention portions of the “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” attraction at Disney Parks).

Once Kevin Feige finally took the stage, he gave a warm and sincere thank-you speech, citing his lifelong fascination with theme park design and specifically Walt Disney Imagineering as one of his work’s chief inspirations. At the end of the night, it had been a long but very entertaining evening celebrating a very laudable beneficiary, and in the end all the money went to a wonderful cause. For more information on Ryman Arts, be sure to visit the organization’s official website.

 

Mike has been fascinated by theme parks and Disney all his life. He has worked in the entertainment journalism field since 2015, after spending a decade as a film projectionist at one of Hollywood’s most prestigious movie theaters. He resides in Burbank, California with his wife and cat.

 

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