Meet the 2016 St. Louis Visionary Award Honorees

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

The St. Louis Visionary Awards committee has announced its 2016 group of honorees: six women who lead the arts in St. Louis forward with their meaningful contributions of artistic ability, education, activism, community engagement and philanthropy.

The awards were successfully relaunched last year by a small, independent committee of prominent St. Louis women involved in the arts, including co-chairs Sara Burke and Kim Eberlein, as well as Adrienne Davis, Alison Ferring, Renee Franklin, Melissa Howe, Cynthia Prost, Marilyn Sheperd and Donna Wilkinson.

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

2016 Visionaries Denise Thimes, De Andrea Nichols, Phoebe Dent Weil, Priscilla Block, Sabina England and Stacy West | photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

And this year’s 2016 Visionaries are…

De Andrea Nichols | Community Impact Artist

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Artist-activist De Andrea Nichols puts arts and design to use motivating and engaging St. Louis through social entrepreneurship. “As an artist-activist, De uses her art to challenge our region to create a more welcoming environment by fostering inclusion and diversity through design and the arts,” says Visionary Awards co-chair Sara Burke. “De knows implicitly that tapping individual creativity can ignite sparks for personal and social change.

Nichols is the founder and creative director of social design organization Civic Creatives (formerly Catalysts by Design). One of the programs she’s launched is FoodSpark, a monthly potluck dinner (now run independently) bringing together creative St. Louisans over a meal where they not only share dishes but ideas for the city. She’s also the creator of Design Serves (D*Serve), a Clinton Global Initiative project that teaches K-12 students design skills and civic engagement, and “helps them identify and actualize social change ideas in their neighborhood,” according to her website.

“It is beyond an honor to be supported and recognized amongst such a dynamic group of creative women leaders through the Visionary Awards,” says Nichols, who is also a voice of the young artists’ movement catalyzed as a response to Ferguson. “Each one of us uniquely inspires and impacts the lives of people locally and globally through the arts, and the affinity we share will undoubtedly unlock the possibilities of even more to come. I am filled with excitement to engage these women throughout my creative journey.”


Phoebe Dent Weil | Major Contributor to the Arts

2015 Visionaries by ProPhotoSTL--12

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

“Phoebe’s commitment to the arts is varied and deep,” says Burke. “She gives of her talent, her expertise and her personal resources to impact the cultural life of St. Louis. Phoebe is passionate and knowledgeable and is always forward-looking in her advocacy of the arts.”

Weil is a patron and supporter of many arts organizations around St. Louis, and she’s active in philanthropy, including underwriting new commissioned works for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Weil says that, for her, being named one of 2016’s Visionaries underscores her belief that the arts have a huge power to “define and enhance community.”

“St. Louis is blessed with superb arts organizations and institutions that together form the “soul of the city” and have consistently demonstrated their importance as a powerful resource for healing [and] for stimulating constructive community dialogue, as well as offering the priceless intangibles of beauty, wonder, and imagination that make St. Louis and the world a better place,” says Weil.

Denise Thimes | Outstanding Working Artist

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

“Denise Thimes is the heart and soul and voice of St. Louis,” says Burke, who also awards her with the title of the region’s best jazz vocalist. Queen Elizabeth II might agree: Her Majesty picked Thimes to perform at a dinner party in front of then-president George W. Bush and prominent guests.

“I’m extremely proud to be given this award,” says Thimes. “The history of this award has honored women who, so to speak, are women of vision, and so that means a lot to me, because I think that having vision is what has made life for me, if you will, as successful as it has been, and therefore it’s almost like their celebrating the visions that God has given us in our careers to do the things that we do, that to us are like the fourth layers of skin.”

For her, that means also using her voice for good, contributing her talent to philanthropic and nonprofit events—including her own event aimed at curing pancreatic cancer at the Sheldon each year.

“It means a lot to be celebrated and honored for the vision that we have been given in life and to use our gifts to make those visions come into existence, so to speak,” Thimes adds. “And so I’m very honored. This is not an award that says you’re the best singer; you’re the best artist; you’re the best dancer, so to speak. It’s an award that speaks to me, for me, my spirituality, and so with that being said, I’m grateful and I’m honored.”

“Not only is her voice magnificent, but she is a community treasure,” says Burke.

Thimes dedicates her award to her two children, Jabril and Simone.


Sabina England | Emerging Artist

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

“Sabina is a young and emerging artist who has transcended adversity through her art,” says Burke. “Not only is she a voice for the deaf, she is a voice for everyone who cares about the conditions of the world.”

England uses art—specifically playwriting and film, as in “Deaf Brown Gurl” below—as a tool to build bridges and reduce barriers, turning what many in society perceive as a “difference” into a road to understanding.

“I am very honored to be recognized in a group full of amazing, talented women who have accomplished a lot in their lives,” says England. “This award means a lot to me because it encourages me to keep going in my career and to never stop creating. I will continue to use my voice to speak out against racism and violence and to promote peace, love and understanding on Mother Earth.”

Priscilla Block | Outstanding Arts Professional

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Priscilla Block has served St. Louis ArtWorks, which provides job training in the arts to under-resourced STL youth through apprenticeships, as executive director for 14 years. During that time, she’s grown the organization to serve more than 200 teens each year through creative programming and partnerships—and this year the organization will get their own building thanks to Block’s hard work, says Burke.

“I am thrilled to receive a 2016 Visionary Award for Outstanding Art Professional. It is an honor to join those who have come before me,” says Block. “I share this award with my board members and the community of St. Louis who support ArtWorks—recognizing new opportunities for under-served teens is crucial so that creative talent is encouraged in all our youth. My career has been an exciting journey where my background in the arts provides me a fulfilling way to help others develop their creative skills. What fun now to meet even more interesting women in the St. Louis arts world!”


Stacy West | Outstanding Teaching Artist

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Photo by Peter Wochniak, courtesy of

Stacy West has been a part of the St. Louis arts community since 1988 and has been a guest of the Visionary Awards many times—but this year, it’s her turn to shine. “It’s truly an honor to be in the company of the dynamic and inspiring women who have won the award,” she says.

West started as a dancer with MADCO (Modern American Dance Company) in ’88 and became artistic director in ’94. “Stacy turned MADCO around, and today it is our premiere modern dance company and a force in our arts community,” says Burke.

In 2007, Stacy launched MADCO’s Books in Motion dance residency, which encourages reading and literacy in young people while instilling a love for dance at the same time. This year, she took MADCO’s poignant “Liquid Roads” on tour, a production inspired by the history and blues of St. Louis.

“Stacy values diversity and inclusion, and it shows,” says Burke.

To date, 75 women have been recognized as Visionaries. Last year’s honorees included: Thelma Steward, community volunteer, Major Contributor to the Arts; Kelly Pollock, executive director of COCA, Outstanding Arts Professional; Amy Kaiser, St. Louis Symphony chorus director, Successful Working Artist; Ilene Berman, public art advocate, Community Arts Educator; Shualee Cook, playwright, Emerging Artist; Cecilia Nadal, cross-cultural leader, Community Impact Artist; and Freida Wheaton, arts activist, Community Impact Artist.

The 2016 awards ceremony will take place April 25, 2016, from 6-8pm at the Sun Theater in Grand Center. For more info and tickets, visit

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