Shakespeare in the Streets by  Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, 2017 Arts Organization | The New World  by Nancy Bell, inspired by The Tempest | photo, ©J. David Levy


Since 1983, the Missouri Arts Council and the State of Missouri have been honoring our state’s arts heroes—the people who make the arts happen. The annual Missouri Arts Awards celebrate people, organizations, and communities that have made profound and lasting contributions to the cultural and artistic climate of the state. Honorees are selected by an independent panel in six categories: Arts Education, Arts Organization, Creative Community, Individual Artist, Leadership in the Arts, and Philanthropy.

The 2017 Missouri Arts Awards were presented in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City on February 8, 2017. Enjoy the remarks by the honorees as well as by Department of Economic Development Director Mike Downing in this  edited video.

Arts Education | Barbara Berner, St. Louis
Artistic director since 1999 of the six ensembles comprising The St. Louis Children’s Choirs and conductor of the Choirs’ premier touring group—providing in-depth performance opportunities and character education for 450 young singers ages 6-18 from 85 zip codes

Arts Organization | Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Year-round program of theatrical performances, education outreach, and community involvement stoked by the works of Shakespeare—“in the Schools” locally and on tour, “in the Streets” making grassroots connections, “in the Park” every summer under the stars

Creative Community | Village of Arrow Rock
A living time capsule in the Missouri heartland that plays host to 100,000 visitors each year to enjoy its 19th-century buildings, intimate ties with painter George Caleb Bingham, and myriad artistic events such as the Heritage Festival and performances at the Lyceum Theatre

Individual Artist | Jerry Ford, Cape Girardeau
Jazz trumpeter and band leader whose music with his Jerry Ford Orchestra, its spinoff ensembles, and the Cape Girardeau Municipal Band has been a mainstay of the region since 1957 at innumerable concerts, dances, parties, festivals, fundraisers, and special events

Leadership in the Arts | Gary R. Gaydos, Florissant
Dynamo of the cultural life of his north St. Louis community through four decades as manager of the Florissant Civic Center Theatre, advisor to the Florissant Fine Arts Council, board member of the Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies, and more

Philanthropy | C. Richard “Dick” Belger and Evelyn Craft Belger, Kansas City
Leaders of a century-old multi-state crane and hauling company who have a passion for building arts infrastructure: the Belger Arts Center spotlighting contemporary American art and the Belger Crane Yard Studios furnishing galleries and working spaces for 56 artists

Friends in the Garden by Annie Helmericks-Louder

Signature Image and Awards Artwork

Signature Image | Friends in the Garden, a pastel drawing on paper by Annie Helmericks-Louder of Warrensburg, is featured on the 2017 Missouri Arts Awards poster, the invitation to the awards ceremony, and the program for the ceremony.

Awards Artwork | Recipients of the Missouri Arts Awards (other than Creative Community, which receives special signage) receive a handcrafted artwork created by a Missouri artist working in glass. The artists of Astral Glass Studio in New Haven—Gary Rice, Judy Rice, and Lance Stroheker—made the awards artwork for the 2017 honorees.

Awards artwork by Astral Glass Studio


Arts Education | Barbara Berner, St. Louis

As artistic director and CEO of The St. Louis Children’s Choirs, Barbara Berner leads a multi-pronged program recognized not only as one of the largest in the U.S. but one of the finest in the world. “They are among the best children’s choirs I have found in my travels around the globe,” says David Robertson, music director of the St. Louis Symphony, for which the Choirs’ top ensembles are the official children’s singers.

Founded in 1978 with one ensemble and 14 singers, the Choirs now encompass six ensembles with 450 singers ages 6-18 from 200 schools and 85 zip codes. The Choirs’ faculty teaches music and imparts character education, from a beginning experience for first-graders to advanced ensembles that tour internationally. The repertory includes classical, contemporary, jazz, gospel, and folk music.

The Choirs reach more than 20,000 people through their seasonal concerts, tours, community outreach, and performances with partners as varied as the Ambassadors of Harmony and African Musical Arts. They offer an Audition Workshop and Master Class, Music Careers Workshop, Summer Music Camp, Vocal Jazz Camp, a four-day Music Teacher & Choral Conductors Workshop, and the Music Made Together and other programs for educators and students in under-resourced school districts.

Barbara Berner joined the Choirs’ artistic staff in 1996 and became artistic director in 1999. She directs the Concert Choir, the top treble-voiced touring ensemble. She exemplifies the last line of Choirs’ theme song,  We Gather Here Together: “that music made together may one day heal mankind.”

The St. Louis Children’s Choirs

Barbara Berner

Arts Organization | Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Throughout the year Shakespeare Festival St. Louis brings the community the timeless delights of Shakespeare and the transformative power of live theatre. The Festival produces Shakespeare “in the Schools, in the Streets, in the Park” in a raft of education programs and more than 250 public performances. In 2016, the Festival reached a milestone: the number of people who have benefited from its programs since it began in 2001 now total more than one million.

The Festival’s cornerstone is a month-long production every summer on an outdoor stage in the heart of the city’s Forest Park. The performances are accessible and inclusive—no gates, no tickets, no cost.

Beyond the park’s mainstage, the Festival produces the annual Shakespeare in the Streets. Every year a creative team works with residents of one neighborhood to tell their stories through reimagining a Shakespearean play. Another pathbreaker is SHAKE 38. During this free five-day event, artists from around the region perform and riff on Shakespeare’s 38 canonical plays. Performances take place in parks, coffeehouses, YMCAs, hookah bars and more. Partnerships with organizations and businesses from bookstores to breweries further inspire collaboration and conversations.

In schools in St. Louis and on tour, the Festival provides education and outreach including shows, workshops, summer camps, and intensive acting training.

“Our work is not just theatrical in scope—it’s civic in scope,” says Artistic and Executive Director Rick Dildine. “And Shakespeare is our partner in the shaping of our community.”

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Education Tour 2016 | Caroline Amos as Puck | photo, ©J. David Levy

Creative Community | Village of Arrow Rock

The Village of Arrow Rock in the Boonslick region of central Missouri flourishes as a unique fusion of history and the arts.

Though the village has only about 50 residents, “Arrow Rock has not only survived, it has thrived because of the integral role the arts play in the day-to-day life of the community,” says Kathy Borgman of the Friends of Arrow Rock.

The village was founded in 1829 atop a flint-bearing bluff that had been a landmark on the Missouri River for 12,000 years. Now Arrow Rock draws 100,000 visitors each year for an authentic experience of Midwestern life in the 19th century.

Renowned painter and politician George Caleb Bingham spent his youth and the formative years of his career in Arrow Rock. The house he built for his family is now part of the Arrow Rock State Historic Site.

In 1963 the entire village was named a National Historic Landmark for its ties to Bingham and the Santa Fe Trail, and for its scrupulously restored buildings. These include the Lyceum Theatre, which plays annually to 25,000 people.

The Village, State Historic Site, Friends of Arrow Rock, and other organizations produce many annual artistic events: the Spring Garden Show & George Caleb Bingham Art Festival, Children’s Craft Festival, Christmas Folk Sing, First Saturday Lecture Series, quilt camps, weaving seminars, walking tours, writing workshops, and the autumn Heritage Festival—one of the state’s oldest celebrations of historic crafts and music.

Village of Arrow Rock

Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre | Missouri Arts Awards honoree in the program’s inaugural year of 1983 | photo, Missouri Division of Tourism

Individual Artist | Jerry Ford, Cape Girardeau

Since 1957, trumpeter and band leader Jerry Ford has played a swinging soundtrack for the community life of southeast Missouri. “No matter what event, fundraiser, celebration, or altruistic activity the people of the region attend,” said Arts Council of Southeast Missouri members Wendy and Gary Rust, “they will find the live music of Jerry Ford filling the air.”

Mr. Ford first shared his talents in public when he was a high school sophomore and joined the Cape Girardeau Municipal Band. He still plays with the band and has also been its unofficial business manager for many years. In 1960, he started his big band Jerry Ford Orchestra. The orchestra not only plays as a full group but splits into a Jazz Combo, Patriotic Brass Band, German Band, and Dixieland Band. Mr. Ford leads his musicians from greeting steamboat passengers at dockside to playing for inaugural balls at the State Capitol.

Mr. Ford’s generosity is also exceptional. He and his groups often donate their musical services. He has volunteered with many organizations including, for more than 25 years, the Cape River Heritage Museum. He is a board member with the museum, the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, and the Music Academy at Southeast Missouri State University. He served for 16 years on the Board of Managers for the university’s River Campus.

Mr. Ford was honored in 2007 with the Arts Council’s Jeff McGuire Friend of the Arts Award and in 2015 with the Southeast Missourian Spirit of America Award.

The Jerry Ford Orchestra

Jerry Ford

Leadership in the Arts | Gary R. Gaydos, Florissant

Through four decades as a leader in both his profession and his volunteer activities, Gary R. Gaydos enriched the lives of countless people in his home town of Florissant, North St. Louis County, the St. Louis region, and beyond.

Mr. Gaydos became the manager of the Florissant Civic Center Theatre in 1978, six years after the theatre was built along with the J. Eagen Civic Center in Florissant, one of Missouri’s oldest settlements and its 12th largest city. Until he retired in 2016, he was the driving force of the theatre’s programming, long-range planning, and day-to-day operations. In his final year, more than 120,000 people attended performances by local community theatre companies, concert bands, dance studios, and schools as well as by national touring groups.

Moreover, for more than 30 years Mr. Gaydos was board advisor to the Florissant Fine Arts Council. For 28 years he directed the Junior League’s St. Louis Family Series for area schools. He spearheaded the Children’s Celebration of Performing Arts at the city’s annual Valley of the Flowers Festival. He served four terms on the board of the Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies including three years as president. He did other volunteer work on behalf of the St. Louis Symphony, Touhill Performing Arts Center, Webster University, and the Missouri Arts Council.

“Gary is a visionary,” said Larry March, president of the Hawthorne Players and director of the Northwinds Concert Band, “who has sought to bring the very best to his beloved city, seeing the need to embrace and encourage both diversity and excellence.”

Florissant Civic Center Theatre

Gary R. Gaydos

Philanthropy | C. Richard “Dick” Belger and Evelyn Craft Belger, Kansas City

A two-story arts center shares an industrial building with a century-old crane and hauling company. A mile east, four converted warehouses overlooking the company’s crane yard host studios, retail space, and galleries—plus the residential loft of the spouses responsible for the company, arts center, and studio complex: Dick Belger and Evelyn Craft Belger.

“Their work in refurbishing and repurposing structures to create artist creative and working spaces,” says Jeffrey J. Bentley, executive director of Kansas City Ballet, “has been truly heroic.”

Belger Cartage Service was begun in 1919 by Dick Belger’s grandfather and now comprises six locations in four states. Dick Belger led the company for 30 years until he stepped down in 2015 and Evelyn Belger became president and CEO. She is the director of the Belger Arts Center and Belger Crane Yard Studios.

Through docent-led tours, programming for children, and themed exhibitions, the Belger Arts Center showcases the family’s in-depth collection of mid- and late-century American art. The Belgers also buy work by students and emerging artists for their “encouragement collection.” The Center sends artworks on tour to museums around the country.

The Crane Yard Studios provide studios and kilns for more than 50 artists plus six artists-in-residence, as well as a ceramics supply business, lithography workshop, metal studio, classrooms, and galleries.

Furthermore, the Belgers focus substantial financial support and personal involvement on Kansas City Ballet, the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and the ceramics program of Kansas City Art Institute.

Belger Arts Center |  Belger Crane Yard Studios

Evelyn Craft Belger and Dick Belger | photo,  Alistair Tutton for  American Craft Magazine


Signature Image | Annie Helmericks-Louder, Warrensburg

Friends in the Garden is a scene from Annie Helmericks-Louder’s home. “Every spring my garden comes to blooming life,” she says. “A love of land forms my inner landscape; it is my geography of hope. An autographical storyteller, my work bears simple witness to the poignancy of everyday life.”

Annie Helmericks-Louder creates her art with many media. She uses quilting and needlepoint embroidery to make art textiles, draws with charcoal and pastel, and paints with oils, acrylic, and watercolor. She teaches art and design as an adjunct at the University of Central Missouri. Originally from Tuscon, Arizona, she holds a BFA in painting from the University of Arizona and an MFA in painting and fibers from the University of Missouri.

Ms. Helmericks-Louder’s work has appeared in nearly 90 solo and group exhibitions throughout the U.S., most recently in fall 2016 in her solo show at the Texas Quilt Museum, Animal Instincts. This exhibit showcased 11 of her large-scale quilts that through depicting animals and their worlds give voice to her concerns about the environment and humanity’s stewardship of the earth.

“I am a maker of things,” she says. “Call me anything you want, but that gets down to the nuts and bolts of it. My hands are never still. I don’t know how else to live.”

Annie Helmericks-Louder, Artist

Annie Helmericks-Louder

Awards Artwork | Astral Glass Studio, New Haven

Spouses Gary and Judy Rice along with Lance Stroheker are the partners of Astral Glass Studio. Located in an 1880s building in downtown New Haven on the Missouri River, Astral Glass is a vital player in the city’s growing artistic community.

Before moving to Missouri in 2003, Gary and Judy Rice lived in their native California, where they ran the glass studio he had started in 1974. In 2009, they brought Astral Glass to New Haven, and Illinois native Lance Stroheker joined the team.

Astral Glass makes art both for sale in the studio and for custom commissions. The artists use a variety of techniques: glass may be hand blown, fused, kiln formed, slumped, etched, or stained. They make jewelry, goblets, bowls, vases, ornaments, flowers, chess sets, perfume bottles, paperweights, light fixtures and much more.

The studio features not only the retail shop and glass-working areas, but a viewing area with rows of seating so visitors can watch the artists at work.

“Nearly every piece of our artwork is at some level a collaboration between the artists and the physical characteristics of the medium,” says Gary Rice. “Whether we are working in the warm studio with kiln formed glass, or the hot studio with off hand blowing, we make every effort to let the glass describe itself.”

Astral Glass Studio

Astral Glass Studio artists Judy Rice, Gary Rice, and Lance Stroheker


The Missouri Arts Awards honorees are selected by an independent panel of distinguished representatives of the arts community from throughout the state. These panelists selected the 2017 honorees:

Cynthia Cartwright, chair, Kansas City | vice chair of the Missouri Arts Council and Trust Board

Sharon Gray, St. Joseph | vocal arts teacher and arts volunteer

Kristi Kittleson, Springfield | program coordinator, Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies

Jack Lane, St. Louis | executive producer, STAGES St. Louis (2016 Arts Organization)

Diana Moxon, Columbia | executive director, Columbia Art League (2015 Arts Organization)

Jo Mueller, Joplin | retired executive director, George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (2016 Leadership in the Arts)

Peter Witte, Kansas City | dean, University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance (2014 Arts Organization)

Quilters from beginners to veterans gather every May in Arrow Rock, the 2017 Missouri Arts Awards Creative Community, for a week of classes, projects, and fun with nationally recognized quilt teachers at the  Arrow Rock Quilt Camp.


Governor Jeremiah (Jay) W. Nixon and First Lady Georganne Wheeler Nixon
Missouri Department of Economic Development
Missouri Office of Administration
Gateway Art Resources in Ste. Genevieve for their generous help with framing services