When Erin Budde was asked to become executive director of stl250—the nonprofit created to celebrate St. Louis’ 250th birthday in 2014—the native St. Louisan knew it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. “The next time an opportunity like this will come up in St. Louis, I’ll be in my 90s, so I won’t be doing it then!” she says. “I love St. Louis and I have no intent of finding a home somewhere else. If I want to contribute to this amazing initiative—this region-wide, very positive-oriented effort that is a look at where we’ve been, the momentum we have going on today and how to sustain that momentum into the future—this is the time to do it.”
Having previously headed the nationwide community affairs team for Wells Fargo Advisors and served as president of Gateway Center for Giving, Budde is definitely up to the task. Her main goal for the celebration year is that it be inclusive. “We want it to be informed by folks throughout the region and have a big tent. We are, from neighborhood to neighborhood and from community to community, extremely diverse. Everyone will have a different way they want to approach the celebration.” She hopes this inclusive approach will help people discover new organizations and learn more about the region, as well as connect to their identity as St. Louisans.
Given this approach, Budde says the celebration will be twofold: First, through four signature events, including Fair St. Louis, a Birthday Bash on Valentine’s Day weekend, and bookended by First Night celebrations in Grand Center; and secondly, through events done in conjunction with celebration partners. “We want everybody to help figure out how to celebrate within their groups and share it with us,” she says. “This will make it so creative because you’re not going to have just one group thinking of things—you’ll have thousands of people throughout the region thinking about it.”
One way they’re getting the wider community involved is though the Cake Walk project, which will see 250 giant cakes decorated by artists and placed at important institutions and historical points of interest throughout the St. Louis region, Budde says. The locations will be unveiled at a City Hall event on Feb. 15, as part of the Birthday Bash weekend celebration. Each cake will reflect the location it represents, which will be chosen by stl250’s history committee with input from the public, as well. People can explore the sites through a smart phone application, which will provide information about each cake they find, and allow them to take part in a sweepstakes. “What I love the most about this is it gives us the opportunity to program and build activities around those locations,” Budde says, adding that maps will be created for school groups, family outings and more in different parts of town.
More than just a celebration, Budde hopes stl250 will help St. Louisans appreciate the region’s past and start a conversation about where it’s going. “We want them to feel like it’s theirs, that they belong here and they have a role in helping us realize all of our possibilities.”