Each January, the Arts and Education Council (A&E) presents the St. Louis Arts Awards, an inspiring evening honoring the artists, educators, philanthropists, corporate citizens and arts organizations whose outstanding contributions to our cultural community make St. Louis such a vibrant place to live, learn, work and play. Since 1992, the St. Louis Arts Awards has celebrated more than 170 honorees and raised more than $7.2 million to benefit A&E's annual campaign, which supports nearly 100 arts organizations in the bi-state region. This year's sold-out St. Louis Arts Awards will honor seven extraordinary individuals and organizations, including Art on the Square for Arts Collaboration.

Former special education teacher and Belleville native, Patty Gregory, founded Art on the Square in 2002 with the goal of creating a top ranked art show that would let the region know “what our town is all about.” Sixteen years and six #1 rankings from the nation’s Art Fair Source Book (thanks to more than $1 million in artwork sales annually), it is fair to say that Gregory and her 40 subcommittees and 600 volunteers have accomplished that goal — and then some.

Art on the Square has grown beyond the annual fair held each May in the heart of Belleville to include school programs and public art partnerships with the public and private sectors. And when you ask Gregory how she managed to shepherd the organization to become the source of community pride that it is today, she says it takes a village.

“From the very beginning, I knew we had to have emotional buy-in of the whole community. It’s a massive collaboration that we have done and that’s what brings the emotional buy-in. That buy-in is easy to see when you ask just about anyone in Belleville their thoughts on Art on the Square. Everyone from local artists to the Mayor to school classrooms cite the organization as one of the Metro East community’s greatest assets.

Each May, 100 artists, selected from over 1,000 submissions nationwide, exhibit their work in the fair that involves the cooperation and participation of volunteers, the city of Belleville, local merchants and vendors, corporate sponsors and local and regional musical talent.

“Art on the Square has brought life back into downtown,” said Mayor Mark Eckert, who has been a supporter and key collaborator of Art on the Square from the start. “It has created an atmosphere that people want to come downtown, bringing 80,000 people who might otherwise not be here. Art on the Square is Belleville at its best.”

“Art on the Square is more than an art show,” added Belleville native and artist Gary Karosek, who has exhibited in the annual fair and created the first sculpture Art on the Square installed along public trails. “It’s really about what art can do for a community.”

Gregory adds that the community collaboration and volunteer spirit that is so representative of Belleville is really what makes Art on the Square tick and vice versa.

“It’s amazing how the arts can keep a community going,” she said. “Sometimes I think, ‘Is this an art show that is driving a community or is this a community driving an art show?’ And really, it’s all together.”

To make a tribute gift honoring Art on the Square, click here. For more information about the 2018 St. Louis Arts Awards, click here.