Before 1992, when Theatre Mu was formed, Asian-American performing artists found welcome but not much community in the Twin Cities. Playwright David Mura had to import Asian-American actors from Chicago for a reading of his work, for example.

Times have changed, thanks in part to the efforts of the company now called Mu Performing Arts.

On Wednesday, Rick Shiomi, the Japanese-Canadian theater artist who co-founded Mu, was honored for his vision and tenacity with a Sally Award.

The 15th annual Sally Awards, handed out at a luncheon at St. Paul's Ordway Center, are designed to recognize outstanding contributions in the arts in the categories of vision, commitment, initiative and education. Each award comes with $2,500.

"This is a recognition from the rest of the community of the work we've done -- that's affirming," said Shiomi. "It's nice to know that people have been keeping track of the work we've done, both in theater and in taiko [drumming]."

Shiomi's fellow honorees are Al Milgrom, who founded the University Film Society in 1962 and has been called the godfather of Twin Cities cinema. He was honored for commitment. Michael Burgraff, who built up the Fairmont Opera House in rural Fairmont, Minn., was honored for initiative.

And the education award went to Project Success, a program founded in 1992 by Adrienne Diercks to match Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools with theaters. There are now nine schools that serve over 7,000 students with discounted access to shows.

"As a product of the Minneapolis Public Schools, I had dreams of what I wanted to do but I wasn't sure of how to get there," said Diercks, daughter of well-known Twin Cities actor Shirley Venard. "We started Project Success to basically help kids see a path to their dreams. This award tells us we're pushing in the right direction."

At Wednesday's event, former St. Paul mayor George Latimer also presented a special tribute to arts benefactor Sally Ordway Irvine, for whom the awards are named.

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390