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Women in the arts call for change at STL's Visionary Awards

Left to right. Thelma Steward, Freida Wheaton, Amy Kaiser, Ilene Berman, Shualee Cook, Cecilia Nadal, Kelly Pollack
Nancy Fowler

St. Louis women honored by the St. Louis Visionary Awards took home trophies Monday night but not before announcing visions of their own.

This was the first year for the revived awards, which skipped 2014 after Grand Center Inc. withdrew its sponsorship. At the Sun Theater ceremony, many of the seven awardees took the podium to not only say “thanks” but to tell the crowd of more than 300 about their passions.

Remarks ranged from living-lessons in cultural diversity to quests to help erode the Delmar Divide.

  • Outstanding Arts Educator Ilene Berman called for “a First Night stage north of Delmar” and a “permanent home for the Black Repertory Theatre.”
  • Emerging Artist Shualee Cook urged people to leave their computers and TVs for a night of theater: “It’s a very brave thing to turn that light off and sit in the dark with strangers.”
  • Community Impact Artist Cecilia Nadal used her clothing to make a point about cross-cultural connections. An Afro-Latina, Nadal wore an outfit associated with another culture. “Some of you may be asking, ‘Why is that black woman wearing a sari?’ The answer is, 'Because I can.”

Local spoken word performer Cheeraz Gormon performed for the crowd.

St. Louis singer Denise Thimes and Sara Shepherd, understudy on Broadway for the lead role in the Carole King story, “Beautiful,” also sang a duet of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”

The 2015 Visionary Awards was organized by former award-winners, and spearheaded by Sara Burke and Kim Eberlein. Here's the full list of Visionary Award Winners:

  • Kelly Pollock, executive director of COCA (Outstanding Arts Professional)
  • Amy Kaiser, chorus director of St. Louis Symphony (Successful Working Artist)
  • Thelma Steward, community volunteer (Major Contributor to the Arts)
  • Ilene Berman, public art advocate (Community Arts Educator)
  • Shualee Cook, playwright (Emerging Artist)
  • Cecilia Nadal, cross-cultural leader (Community Impact Artist)
  • Freida Wheaton, arts activist (Community Impact Artist).

You can read more about each award-winner at the Visionary Awards website.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.