Perego stood on the Grind Gastropub & Kona Tiki Bar stage in the courtyard of the restaurant Tuesday night, Jan. 16, with his hand over his heart. Before he accepted a Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award, he recited his Art Army pledge, enlisting everyone in attendance into his nonprofit’s movement, which he calls his “global family of conscious creators.”
“This is crazy,” he said. “My brother Sid told me, ‘You know, a lot of artists are not recognized like this while they’re alive’.”
Local artist Perego was nominated for the award by fellow recipient civil rights activist and world lecturer Dr. Khalilah Camacho-Ali for his lifetime commitment to volunteer service and his dedication to changing the world through art. He had the choice to attend a ceremony at the White House with the president, but chose to be in Ormond Beach with his family and friends.
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, right,” Perego said. “I want to thank you very, very much for being a part of that. You are the Art Army — you’re the one that makes it great. This is for everyone that believes in art — the oneness. You are the one. We are the art.”
Perego fondly calls Camacho-Ali, “Mama Ali.” They met after her failed attempts to have an artist from her community create a portrait of her family — her adult children and their father, boxing legend Muhammad Ali. She only had portraits with them as kids.
“Something just wasn’t right until I met this man (Perego) and our souls met,” she said. “It wasn’t about the color of his skin, but the feeling I had. It was a God-sent feeling. This man did that and I was so taken by his artistic abilities.”
In March 2023, Camacho-Ali was nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award. She said President Joe Biden called her and said he appreciated what she and her former husband Muhammad Ali had done for people throughout the world. Biden asked her who she thought should be the recipient of the next award.
She nominated Perego.
“I could not be more proud to nominate Mr. Artist Perego — if he was a Muslim, I would have married him,” she said.
During the ceremony, she awarded him with a letter, a certificate and a medal from the president. Afterward, she gave Perego a congratulatory kiss.
It’s almost like kissing Picasso. This man is going to go down in history. He has done so much for our youth and, honey, that Art Army is a message from heaven. Thank you, Mr. Perego, for your dedication to America and to the children around the world. - Dr. Khalilah Camacho-Ali
“It’s almost like kissing Picasso,” she said. “This man is going to go down in history. He has done so much for our youth and, honey, that Art Army is a message from heaven. Thank you, Mr. Perego, for your dedication to America and to the children around the world.”
Leading an art movement
The Art Army manifesto, complete with a preamble and 13 articles, was conceived when Perego was hired to create the Pioneers and Parceland Hotel mural in DeLand in 1996. As he anticipated it would be 30 feet tall and 70 feet long, Perego knew he would need help and contacted his friend Christopher Hansen, who did not consider himself an artist but jumped at the chance. According to the Art Army website, Hansen ended up covered in green paint and exclaimed he felt like he was in the army — the Art Army.
“Meeting Perego and realizing he was an artist, I wished I was an artist,” Hansen said. “I didn’t realize I was an artist. Whatever we do in this world is our gift, is our creation and our art. When you hear, you are the art, it means we are all part of the art. We create this world through our visions, through our desires and who we are. That is what the Art Army is all about. Perego is spearheading this whole movement.”
Perego said that even though the Art Army is currently in over 110 cities worldwide, he considers the nonprofit to be underground. He and his crew of artists are just getting started. He was surprised to get the award because most artists usually achieve the accolades close to the end of their lives.
“It’s like winning an Academy Award and I wasn’t even in a movie,” he said. “I’m still speechless. The Art Army is not really above ground and we keep it like that. Here this happens and you can’t get more above ground than that. It’s a big deal—pretty awesome.”
Article 2 of the Art Army manifesto articulates that everyone is creative and everyone is an artist. That concept of there, being a brotherhood and sisterhood of creators based on a creative and spiritual link, has evolved over time.
“It’s about while you’re being creative, are you consciously being creative?” Perego said. “Are you aware that you are being the creator? We are all creating all the time but it’s usually unconsciously. It’s really about tapping into being conscious of the creator aspect of ourselves.”
Perego continues to lead the Art Army in its mission to inspire everyone to join the art revolution. He said they have recently created an NFT platform for artists, have four television shows, a full-length documentary and a world tour in the works.
A family of risk-takers
Born in Albany, New York, Perego said he is a reincarnation of his grandfather who was an actor and taught theater. He lived and breathed art.
Raised in an artistic environment and creative culture, his children — 28-year-old Marcella Kirakossian, 26-year-old Thoren Perego and 19-year-old Phoenix Perego — have carried on the tradition in their own style.
At the age of 19 years old, Kirakossian was named on the Zagat list of 30-under-30 top culinary stars in New York City as a retail manager at Dominique Ansel Bakery. She was the youngest to win the accolade, at the time. After Thoren Perego graduated from college, he volunteered to work for Biden. He is currently a special assistant to the deputy chief of staff for Strategy, Policy and Strategic Engagement at the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2006, Perego’s youngest daughter Phoenix broke the Guinness World Record for being the youngest professional artist. Her gallery was displayed at The Casements, with two of her pieces being auctioned. Perego said she could paint before she walked.
Phoenix Perego is currently a nanny in Orlando and plans to move to Asheville to assist her sister with her culinary business. She said her dad has always been a factor regarding her ability to attempt different challenges. He has always told her that if she wants to do something, she should do it — she will be successful.
“I think a lot of people are scared to take things on but my dad has always said, ‘Don’t be scared to take risks,’” she said. “Growing up in the arts environment, nothing is stable. One day you might have $1,000 — one day you might have $2. That teaches you that no matter what, you will be ok and you will get through it. It’s not about the money, if you are doing good and putting good into the world, it’s going to work out. Take those risks because God will provide a way.”
Perego will be demonstrating his performance art expertise at the upcoming Art Battle Ormond Beach at 31 Supper Club on Sunday, Feb. 4.