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March/April 2020

The Saint Louis Visionary Awards is an organization that celebrates the numerous contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in the greater St. Louis region.

The Visionary Awards were relaunched in 2015 by an independent committee of women to celebrate the numerous contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in St. Louis. From established working arts professionals and arts educators to emerging artists and community impact artists, each year’s honorees are truly “visionary.”

The 2020 honorees are: Pacia Elaine Anderson, Ellie Balk, Kathryn Bentley, Haniny Hillberg, Linda Lee and Lisa Melandri.

About the Artists

Pacia Elaine Anderson – Community Impact Artist
Like her poetic work, Pacia Elaine Anderson’s commitment to community care has its roots in the church. Guided by deeply spiritual elder women who ministered in jails, volunteered as hospice caregivers, ran headlong into natural disasters, and fostered children, Pacia Elaine learned early that a purposeful life is one that is lived creatively, communally, and in the humble service of others. As an adult, this self-described Word Artist’s work meets at the intersection of arts-learning and community development, with a focus on youth advocacy and the reclamation of the cultural traditions, and customs of the African Diaspora. Pacia collaborates as a teaching artist, creative consultant, and community development and engagement strategist with numerous organizations and institutions, both locally and nationally. Her current community practice seeks to uplift the work of grassroots, neighborhood, youth-based initiatives such as Cherokee Street Reach, Good Journey Development Foundation, URB Arts, and Freedom Arts Education Center.

Ellie Balk – Emerging Artist
Ellie Balk is a public artist and her work centers on mathematics and data visualization. Through color and abstraction, she creates systems to tell information. She is inspired by data as a means to ignite conversation and investigation.  The interactive nature of the large scale work allows people to experience a connection to space and to each other. In the studio, Ellie has been using data to document space, time and sound by creating work that allows for interactive visual play through painting, printmaking, stained glass and sculpture. She is based in St. Louis and works internationally.   Her murals can be experienced throughout Brooklyn, New York, St. Louis, Missouri and in Buenos Aries, Argentina, Mae Rim, Thailand and Kassak Sud in Senegal, West Africa. Ellie holds a MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York and a BFA from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. 

Kathryn Bentley – Outstanding Working Artist
Kathryn Bentley (Director) is a community artist and an Associate Professor of Theater at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) as well as the Director of the Black Studies program. She has been the Artistic Director of SIUE’s Black Theatre Workshop since 2006.  She has performed and directed with numerous theater companies regionally and nationally, most recently directing the 2019 Shakespeare in the Streets production Love at the River’s Edge with Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.  In 2018, she joined Bread & Roses Missouri as Artistic Director for the Workers’ Theater Project and directed the company’s first full-length production Jailbird (about Eugene V. Debs) in 2019.  In 2000, she was instrumental in developing the CHIPS In Motion program at CHIPS Health and Wellness Center in North St. Louis. This program continues to utilize performance to teach the community about pertinent health and wellness issues. Kathryn commits herself to community-engaged arts collaborations, striving to create compassionate artistic experiences, using theater to lift social consciousness. 

Haniny Hillberg – Lifetime Achievement
Haniny Nisttahuz Riveros Hillberg is an immigrant from Bolivia who became a leader in the Hispanic and St. Louis community.  Haniny has been actively involved for over 40 years in several organizations and non-profits, including the Hispanic Festival, Inc., which has raised the awareness of thousands of Hispanic artisans, locally and nationally.  Over the last 25 years and with her leadership, the Hispanic Festival, Inc. has impacted 1 million people in the St. Louis area. She also works closely with the St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, Federal government agencies and local schools to bring and highlight Hispanic culture.  Haniny is retired from the federal government after 30 years. Presently, she devotes her time to the Hispanic Festival, Inc. and the Hispanic community. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, vacationing and volunteering at church.

Linda Lee – Major Contributor to the Arts
Volunteerism is what Linda Lee believes in and what she takes part in nearly every day.  It may range from dressing students in uniform clothing through Assistance League of St. Louis’s Operation School Bell program to serving on the grants committee for the Arts & Education Council. It has been her goal this past year to bring the arts to the students while they wait to receive their new clothes.  The St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association, Opera Theatre, storytellers and individuals presenting music have enriched the lives of these young people. Linda wears her fundraising hat for the Bach Society as well as developing efforts to reach new audiences. Knowing that the Community Music School of Webster University can make a huge difference in young people’s lives, she finds great satisfaction in knowing that they are receiving a fabulous musical education. Music, theatre and other arts are part of Linda’s life and she can’t imagine it without them!

Lisa Melandri – Outstanding Arts Professional
Lisa Melandri, Executive Director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, leads the region’s premier contemporary, non-collecting art institution. Since joining CAM in 2012, Lisa has brought both emerging and established artists from around the globe to St. Louis, presenting art that is always stimulating, provocative, and relevant. During her tenure, CAM has shown fifteen exhibitions per year, including dynamic solo exhibitions and thought-provoking group shows. Lisa has expanded the Museum’s reach into the community through innovative education programs. Learning and engagement initiatives are central to CAM’s mission, providing programs to better serve St. Louis Public School students and teachers, as well as offering art opportunities to CAM’s immediate neighbors. As curator, Lisa has organized such outstanding exhibitions as Mickalene Thomas: Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities; Salvatore Scarpitta: Racing Cars; Sanford Biggers; Amy Sherald, and Christine Corday: RELATIVE POINTS. In 2013, Lisa made CAM a free museum, removing all barriers to contemporary art.
The 2020 Saint Louis Visionary Awards celebration was scheduled to take place on Monday, April 27th but has been postponed due to the COVID-19 emergency. For updates, visit:

Photo credit for all honoree head shots: Diane Anderson

Lucy Knapp is the editor of the St. Louis / St. Charles Women's Journal.


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