Wonder Women

 In Culture, Feature

A group of volunteers revives the Saint Louis Visionary Awards to honor women in the arts.


When the Saint Louis Visionary Awards, an annual event recognizing women in the city’s art scene, was discontinued last year, Sara Burke knew that there were still stories that needed to be told. And so, in their free time, she, Kim Eberlein and a small group of dedicated women have been working to revive the awards ceremony, which will take place this year on April 27 at the Centene Center for Arts and Education.

“We want it to be a platform where women are really lauded for the work they’re doing and not laboring in obscurity,” says Burke.

Andrea Purnell is one of the women working to bring back the awards, and, like Burke and Eberlein, was an award recipient herself (class of ’13) for her work using theater as a medium for mental health education. The impact it had on her as a professional was immense. “Once you’re recognized among peers and mentors, it makes you want to do more,” Purnell says. “You remember so vividly what it was like to stand on the stage and receive the award and have them salute the work you’re doing. It means so much. You can’t help but leave and say, ‘Hey, I gotta go do more.'”

Purnell, one of the youngest members of the group, sees herself as the voice for the younger artists in St. Louis, and “loves and respects” that the group is listening to the new generation. But the respect goes the other way, too: “It was fun just coming together for a meeting because you know you’re going to walk away with some piece of knowledge they’re going to drop on you,” Purnell says.

One group consensus from the meetings this year was that the 2015 Visionary Awards would encapsulate a new spirit in St. Louis.

“It’s not just the same voices,” Purnell says. “There’s a new spirit of how we’re going to re-imagine it, which will yield a tremendous amount of diversity in race, age and style.”

One change this year is the addition of the Community Impact Award, which stems from the artistic response to Ferguson. The new award will spotlight an artist who uses her field to “break down barriers and stimulate the community to be more than it is and be all it can be.”

“Art has always been a way that this country has been able to deal with our problems,” says Burke. “We can understand each other because we can speak through the art, which becomes a nonthreatening way to understand people. I believe that this is a way we can hear our city.”


6077_1878.jpg2013 Visionary Award winner Andrea Purnell (center) with Sara Burke (L) and Cheryl Polk (R). Photo courtesy of the St. Louis’ Visionary Awards.


Photo credit: Courtesy of the Saint Louis Visionary Awards

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