Celebrating Local Excellence

January 4, 2008

For the first time in its 17-year history, the St. Louis Arts Awards, presented by the Arts and Education Council, will bestow its Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award to an architect: world-renowned architect Gyo Obata. The ceremony on Monday, Jan. 28, will take place at the Chase Park Plaza. “Architecture is an art form, and what Gyo Obata has done in architecture over the years is significant,” says Arts and Education Council president Jim Weidman. “Not only has Gyo lived in the city for a long time and designed many of the buildings across town, he has also done it successfully worldwide.”

Obata co-founded St. Louis-based architectural firm HOK in 1955, along with George Hellmuth and George Kassabaum. Over the years, he has left his artistic mark on local landmarks such as the James S. McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science Center, the Children’s Zoo and the Living World at the Saint Louis Zoo, and the Metropolitan Square building downtown. He has also worked on international high-profile structures, including Saudi Arabia International Airport in Riyadh and Taipei World Trade Center.

Joining Obata in the spotlight on the 28th will be six other honorees who are integral to the success of our arts community. The recipient of the Excellence in Philanthropy award is Mary Ann Lee, who is known for her steadfast support of the arts. “Mary Ann has been very generous to the arts and her contributions have been significant,” Weidman says. “One of the earliest projects she undertook was to work with the Saint Louis Art Museum in the lighting of the Louis IX statue in front of the museum. She also worked to include fountains in the basin in front of the museum, and she helps bring the symphony to Forest Park in the summer. She has served on several arts boards over the years, including those of The Sheldon, Forest Park Forever, and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.”

Honored this year with an Excellence in the Arts award will be Ivor David Balding, founder and artistic director of Circus Flora. “David’s contribution is truly unique, as he uses the circus as an art form,” Weidman says. “It’s because of David that we have Circus Flora—making us one of only several cities in the U.S. to have a circus.” Other Excellence in the Arts honorees are essayist and American culture critic Gerald Early, the Merle Kling professor of Modern Letters at Washington University, and Stages St. Louis, the professional musical theater company founded in 1987. This year’s Corporate Support of the Arts recipient is the law firm Thompson Coburn, honored for its longtime support of the arts through volunteerism and philanthropy.

For its Art Educator of the Year recipient, the Council is recognizing art teacher Linda Packard, who has taught at Reed Elementary in the Ladue School District for more than 30 years. “She has a passion for teaching art and has done so in innovative ways,” Weidman says. “We get many nominees for educators every year, but she stood out not only in terms of the length of time she’s been doing this, but also for the letters of support we received from parents and colleagues.”

Weidman says this year’s honorees are especially representative of the diversity and variety of the arts throughout St. Louis. The 17th Annual St. Louis Arts Awards will be held Monday, Jan. 28 in the Khorassan Ballroom at the Chase Park Plaza. Event chairs are Bill Donius, chairman and CEO of Pulaski Bank and Cary Hobbs, senior VP-Strategy and Business Implementation at Centene Corporation.