St. Louis Arts Awards recognizes artistic achievements and supporters

    By Christina Chastain

    Monday evening was a gathering of artful celebration in St. Louis through the Arts and Education Council’s (A&E) Arts Awards.

    Seven awards were given to those who enhance, encourage, and support the rich arts scene in St. Louis and an all-star line up of performances accompanied.

    “The St. Louis Arts Awards casts a wide net across the region to ensure art is celebrated,” said Pat Smith Thurman, co-owner of the 10th Street Gallery with her husband, Solomon Thurman, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award Monday evening.

    “The St. Louis Arts Awards is one of the premiere events in St. Louis,” said Chris Hansen, Executive Director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and winner of the 2019 Arts Innovator Award. “It’s well produced, it brings dynamic individuals together to recognize the distinguished to the up-and-coming, and it’s by far my favorite event of the year.”

    To kick off the evening, the internationally acclaimed a cappella group, Ambassadors of Harmony, performed with heart and gusto only a group of more than 130 barbershop style voices can achieve.

    The Ambassadors of Harmony was recognized for Excellence in the Arts, as the group strives for musical excellence while being connected to their community.

    “We want to be relevant to our community. We want to be relevant musically,” said Jim Henry, co-director of the Ambassadors of Harmony. “We want to be relevant to young people and try to help them find a path that’s beautiful, like music is beautiful.”

    Next, the Art Educator of the Year was awarded to Dr. Nikki Spotts. Although Spotts did not take up the entire stage the way the Ambassadors of Harmony, her passion for her students surely did.

    After dancing with a variety of companies around the nation, Dr. Spotts returned to her roots and has had a long career at Shaw Visual and Performing Arts Elementary, where she also attended elementary school.

    Her classroom is nurturing and welcoming, but also has high expectations for discipline, hard work, and professionalism. She strives to see her students grow up to achieve incredible accomplishments, just like she did.

    Following Dr. Spotts, Champion for the Arts was awarded to the Employees Community Fund of Boeing, Excellence in the Arts was awarded to the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, and Arts Collaborator was awarded to musician and composer Adam Maness.

    “We knew Adam was talented when he was just 9-years-old,” said Les Maness, Adam’s father.

    “The thing about Adam is, everyone loves Adam,” said Deb Maness, Adam’s mother. “He’s not just extremely talented, but he’s just so nice and so humble. We love that the St. Louis Arts Awards recognizes that.”

    Maness began playing piano at the age of ten, and by age 16, he was performing professionally with some of St. Louis’ most celebrated jazz musicians, including Willie Akins and Freddie Washington.

    He is the leader of the Adam Maness Trio, featuring Bob DeBoo and Montez Coleman, and is the co-founder and composer for the genre defying chamber ensemble, The 442s, which gave a spectacular performance Monday evening, alongside Brian Owens.

    Watch The 442s, here.

    Still riding the high from the performance by The 442s, the audience honored Solomon Thurman, Jr. for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

    Thurman is an artist, researcher, teacher, and co-owner of the 10th Street Gallery. Among his significant body of work is “Black Americans in Flight”, a 51-foot-long mural located at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

    Learn more about Solomon Thurman, Jr. here.

    The last award of the night was given to Jack Lane and Michael Hamilton, co-founders of STAGES St. Louis, also for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

    Since Lane and Hamilton founded STAGES 33 years ago, the theater company has grown to become one of the top regional musical theaters in the nation.

    The Broadway quality of STAGES’ productions is matched in caliber by the STAGES Performing Arts Academy’s education and outreach programming. Now in its 15th year, the Academy educates thousands of students each year.

    To end the evening, Beth Leavel, a Tony Award winning Broadway actress who has performed in “42nd Street” and “Showboat”, and Caitlin Kinnunen, a Tony nominated Broadway actress who has performed in “The Prom” and “The Bridges of Madison County”, treated the audience to a magnificent performance.

    Nominations for A&E’s St. Louis Arts Awards are open to the public every spring. After nominations, A&E convenes a selection panel comprised of past honorees, arts patrons, artists, and arts administrators to review the nominations and select the honorees. Since 1992, A&E has recognized more than 175 artists, educators, philanthropists, corporate citizens, and arts organizations at the St. Louis Arts Awards for their exceptional contributions in making our region more vibrant.

    Nominations for the Arts and Education Council’s 2021 St. Louis Arts Awards will open this spring at

    To meet all the awards winners, click here.

    Images by Suzy Gorman.