Carrie Houk

Carrie Houk of the Tennessee Williams Festival.

Chris Hansen with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and Carrie Houk of the Tennessee Williams Festival were among the arts aficionados accepting awards at the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards on Jan. 21 at the Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta Hotel.

Houk accepted an award on behalf of the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, which is being recognized as the Arts Startup of the Year. Hansen, who serves as the executive director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, received the accolade of Arts Innovator of the Year.

The Big Muddy Dance Company performed in honor of Hansen and his contributions to the St. Louis arts scene. Also performing was the newly-formed City of Music All-Star Chorus, with a special appearance from “Mad Men” actor Bryan Batt.

Additional evening entertainment included classical pianist Jerry Chang, an 11-year-old student phenom of Zena Ilyashov at the Community Music School of Webster University.

Chris Hansen, Kranzberg Arts Foundation

Chris Hansen with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. | photo by Diana Linsley

Arts Innovator Hansen

“Our foundation is all about building arts venues, which means we can be involved in developing art galleries, theatres, retrofitting buildings for performance, even circus tents,” said Hansen. “We are all about serving the needs of arts partons, from the time they park at a venue to when they leave.”

Hansen said that in 2017 and 2018, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation has been involved in more than 600 events promoting dance and theatre, and more than 1,500 events annually in all arts disciplines. Hansen said it’s an amazing time to be in St. Louis because the arts are flourishing. He cited the Grand Arts Center developments and many “arts hubs” throughout the region.

“We are ‘culturally dense,’ which means we have so many arts venues for a city our size, as Nancy Kranzberg likes to say,” explained Hansen. “It’s all because St. Louis has an arts history, an arts legacy, institutions of higher learning, an arts infrastructure and a wonderful arts district.

“I was shocked when I found out about the award, because I thought it took years for this kind of recognition,” said Hansen. “I am accepting it on behalf of my team, which includes gallery directors, marketing professionals, administrators, technicians, support staff – about 50 employees.”

Hansen is a Webster Groves resident with four children enrolled in the school district. When he is not promoting the arts, he is out on local ball fields helping out with youth baseball.

Playwright’s Festival

The Tennessee Williams Festival debuted in 2016 at various venues within the Grand Center and Forest Park areas of St. Louis. In 2018, the festival included a parade, panel discussions, a “Stella Shouting Contest” and performances of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

“The festival is a dream come true for me,” said Houk. “I was enchanted by the poetry of Tennessee Williams’ plays early in my life. In my youth, I read plays, not novels. Mr. Williams’ work always stood out to me for his understanding of the fragility of the human condition.”

Williams’ education on the human condition began in 1919 when his family moved to St. Louis when the boy was 8. The family lived in the Central West End and University City.

A bust of Williams’ likeness, created by renowned sculptor Harry Weber, was installed at the corner of Euclid and McPherson avenues in the Central West End in 2007.

“I have long agreed with a widely held view that he is America’s greatest playwright,” Houk said. “St. Louis is, by his own frequent testimony, the place that had the greatest influence on his work. At last, Tennessee Williams is being properly appreciated here.”

Since the annual festival’s inception, Houk said she has hired dozens of Webster University faculty, students, and alums in functions as various as director, designers, stage manager, actors and crews for the festival.

Houk is an alumna of the Webster University Conservatory and has served as an adjunct professor of casting and acting at Webster for almost 20 years. She said there is nothing like being able to tell students what it’s like right now in the real world of the theatre business.

“I am so proud of the high quality of the festival’s work, of the praise we are receiving from critics, and of the way the audiences have embraced it,” Houk said. “Being recognized by the Arts and Education Council with the award helps ensure that the festival takes a place as one of the premier artistic enterprises in St. Louis and as the nation’s first stop for all things Tennessee Williams.”

Additional Arts Honorees

Additional Arts Honorees for 2019 include: Noémi and Michael Neidorff, Excellence in Philanthropy; Ken Page, Lifetime Achievement in the Arts; Brent Benjamin, Saint Louis Art Museum, Excellence in the Arts; Sue Greenberg, Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, Champion for the Arts; and Amy Freet, Ferguson-Florissant School District, Art Educator of the Year.

Nominations for the St. Louis Arts Awards come from the community every spring. The Arts and Education Council convenes a selection panel made of past honorees, arts patrons, artists and more to review the nominations and select the honorees. Since 1992, A&E has recognized more than 175 artists, educators, philanthropists, corporate citizens and arts groups at the St. Louis Arts Awards.