Each January, the Arts and Education Council (A&E) offers more than 600 attendees an escape from the dark, dreary depths of winter to gather together for an illuminating, exciting and inspiring evening at the St. Louis Arts Awards.

Since 1992, A&E has presented this premier social event of the season to honor the artists, educators, philanthropists, corporate citizens and arts organizations whose outstanding talent, creativity, ingenuity and sincere dedication to the arts and arts education make our region such an exceptional place in which to live, learn, work and play. The evening is filled with amazing performances, extraordinary impact stories, laughter, applause and the opportunity to connect around a shared loved of the arts.

The contributions of the 2018 honorees individually are remarkable, but when taken as a whole, these artists, educators, leaders and organizations represent so much worth celebrating in our region. They are prime examples of how when the arts thrive, our kids, our community, our economy and our region thrive.

Among the honorees are educators Johnetta Haley, Lifetime Achievement in the Arts recipient, and Keith Tyrone Williams, Art Educator of the Year. Haley was one of four African-American teachers hired by the Kirkwood School District to desegregate the schools in 1955 following the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision in Brown v Board of Education (1954). She taught students of all ages from early childhood through graduate level in her fifty-year career and inspired the lives and careers of many, including former students Michael Hamilton, co-founder of STAGES St. Louis, and Dr. Stan Ford, internationally renowned pianist and professor at the Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria.

Williams studied under the legendary dancer and social activist Katherine Dunham and is now one of few in the world certified to teach the Dunham Technique. He teaches musical theatre, acting and dance at the Grand Center Arts Academy following a successful career on Broadway. As Williams puts it, though, he is teaching much more than acting, dance and musical theatre; he teaches the whole individual as he "guides young people to think outside their box."

While educators like Haley and Williams use the arts to inspire our children, the arts are also a source of inspiration for civic pride, as is the case with honorees Dennis M. Reagan, Gene Dobbs Bradford and Art on the Square.

One of the most lauded cultural gems in St. Louis is The Muny, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary season in 2018. Lifetime Achievement in the Arts honoree, Dennis M. Reagan, has led The Muny as President and CEO the last 26 of those seasons. In fact, 2018 will mark Reagan's 50th anniversary at The Muny, where he started as a trash picker as a teenager.

More than 372,000 attendees from across St. Louis and the country attended a Muny production during the 2017 season, but under Reagan's leadership, The Muny is about more than sheer numbers. It has become a cornerstone of multi-generational family traditions and a place where everyone on stage, behind stage and in the audience truly matter, instilling a sense of community pride among all involved.

That community pride is also apparent in Excellence in the Arts honoree Gene Dobbs Bradford. As President and CEO of Jazz St. Louis since 1999, Bradford has spearheaded the organization's efforts to preserve the legacy of one of St. Louis' most cherished art forms - jazz. Under Bradford's leadership, Jazz St. Louis' education programs have blossomed, as has their physical space in the Grand Center Arts District with the opening of the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz in 2015. Jazz St. Louis' performance series at Jazz at the Bistro is now recognized among the top in the country, signaling to the greater arts community that St. Louis is proud of its rich cultural heritage - and for good reason.

Likewise, Art on the Square began in 2002 as a free art fair in Belleville, Ill. aimed at driving foot traffic to the Metro East town. Over the course of the last 16 years, though, the Arts Collaboration honoree has done much more than attract tens of thousands of arts supporters to downtown Belleville each year. Through a variety of community partnerships with schools, civic organizations and corporations, Art on the Square has inspired a lasting and meaningful sense of civic pride for Belleville, bolstered by the #1 national rankings and millions of dollars in economic impact.

And finally, Saint Louis Fashion Fund (SLFF) and World Wide Technology, Inc. (WWT), the 2018 honorees for Arts Startup of the Year and Corporate support of the arts, respectively, are prime examples of how when the arts thrive, our economy thrives. While drastically different in size and focus, both SLFF and WWT are investing in creativity and innovation in our economy.

In January 2017, SLFF launched their signature program, the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator, with six designers recruited from around the country interested in relocating their businesses to St. Louis. Now three of those designers are looking at staying in St. Louis beyond the two-year residency program. Through parternships with retailers, seamstresses, textile designers and other creative industries, SLFF and its Incubator are creating a ripple effect in the economy beyond bringing fashion designers back to the Washington Avenue garment district.

At the other end of the economic spectrum in terms of size is World Wide Technology, Inc. The multi-billion dollar corporation headquartered in Maryland Heights regularly demonstrates its support for the arts through generous sponsorships, led by co-founder and chairman David Steward. Beyond its corporate philanthropy, though, is a commitment to fostering a creative workforce and economy in St. Louis. Creative thinking increasingly drives business and WWT understands that, which is why they have created an environment among their employees and clients in their Advanced Technology Center, Hackathons and new Global Headquarters that invites creative thinking every day.

The Arts and Education Council is proud to celebrate these outstanding honorees at the 2018 St. Louis Arts Awards and how they emobdy A&E's central tenet that when the arts thrive, our city and region thrive.

For more information about the 2018 St. Louis Arts Awards and tickets, visit KeepArtHappening.org/2018ArtsAwards