Each January, the Arts and Education Council presents the St. Louis Arts Awards where we gather to celebrate the individuals and organizations whose contributions to our artistic community make the bi-state region more vibrant.

Proceeds from the St. Louis Arts Awards help A&E invest in the people and organizations that create diverse performances, exhibitions, workshops, art education programs and so much more for 1.6 million adults and children in our community each year.

At the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards, we’ll celebrate seven honorees, including Arts Innovator Chris Hansen, who encourage our kids to be more creative thinkers, build bridges among cultures, energize our communities, foster our economy and enrich lives.

When Nancy and Ken Kranzberg were looking for someone to spearhead their foundation aimed at bringing life back to the Grand Center Arts District, there was a catch. The new leader would have to ensure the venues housing nonprofit arts organizations could support themselves financially.

Enter, musician and businessman Chris Hansen.

With Hansen at the helm since 2013, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation now welcomes over 200,000 people each year to more than 1,600 events in their venues across the district, including the .ZACK performing arts incubator, historic Grandel Theatre, the Marcelle and the Dark Room on Grand (now in the Grandel Theatre).

Hansen has strategically ensured the venues offer both the amenities that artists and arts organizations need and those that audiences want to enjoy, which is why KAF venues boast restaurants, bars and shops, in addition to well-maintained performance spaces. A portion from those for-profit entities then go back to support the nonprofit programming and incubation services, helping the arts organizations thrive.

While the business model of KAF has been innovative, so is the way Hansen has approached the business by gathering together the artists, businesses and civic leaders to participate in the conversation of how to move the community forward.

“It starts with listening,” Hansen explained. “It also starts with trust and being able to galvanize your community.”

Some say that belief in the sum of all parts stems from Hansen’s background as a musician. Others say it’s just how he approaches life.

“Chris is a dreamer. He has really big visions for what he wants to see for the arts community here in St. Louis, but he also finds solutions and logistical steps to make those dreams happen,” said Erin Warner Prange, executive director of The Big Muddy Dance Company, a resident in KAF’s Marcelle.

Whatever the root, his innovative approach to changing the way the arts do business in St. Louis seems to be working. In 2019, KAF will expand yet again, opening High Low, a literary center on the eastern edge of Grand Center.

The Arts Innovator Award is sponsored by Nancy & Ken Kranzberg.

Tickets for the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards start at $300 and are on sale through Saturday, January 19 at 6:00 p.m. Learn more about the event here.

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