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'The Awakening' helps push the arts in Chesterfield

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 6, 2009 - For now, he sleeps in the park, covered from the rain and fall chill by parachutes.

They're the only things big enough. But on Saturday, Oct. 10, the covers come off, and the giant wakes up in Chesterfield. And with the unveiling of "The Awakening," some in the West County city are hoping that Chesterfield's potential to be a hub for the arts will awaken, too.

"I think Chesterfield feels like the farthest, most western suburb and out of most people's purview," says Ron Gibbs, managing director with Stages St. Louis. "But clearly with the interstate highway, particularly once it opens east of I-170, it has a lot to offer."

He's A Brick House

The giant, as he's called informally, has some impressive measurements.

  • 70 feet -- how long he is.
  • 17 feet -- how tall from his highest spot.
  • 4,700 pounds -- how much he weights.

Another number, five, adds something more to his stats -- that's the number of pieces his body is split into as it claws its way out of the ground.



This is the second casting of Seward Johnson's "The Awakening." The first now lives in Prince George's County, Md., But it was in Washington, D.C., that Louis Sachs first saw the piece years ago. Sachs, owner of Sachs Properties, donated the sculpture, which is worth about $1 million, along with Sachs Foundation.

"It's a super popular piece in Maryland," says Janessa Toro, director of programming and marketing with Chesterfield Arts. "And so we're very excited about having it here in Chesterfield."

This isn't the first public art installation for Chesterfield. About 35 pieces already call the West County city home, with more to come.

But it will be the biggest and maybe the best known.

"I think it has the potential to be something really special," Toro says.

"It has a huge wow factor."

City With A Plan

In the coming months, the city council in Chesterfield will vote on whether or not to approve an arts master plan.

It won't offer funding, says Libbey Malberg, assistant city administrator for community services and economic development. That will still be up to Chesterfield Arts and donors, but the plan will commit the city to working in partnership with Chesterfield Arts, the group that's brought nearly all the pieces to the city.

And there's definitely something in it for the city, Malberg says.

"We know that art also is a driver of economic development."

The hope being that people come to see the giant, or the future sculpture park that's part of the master plan, or any other piece, and then they stick around a little to shop, eat out, see what more Chesterfield has.

Plus, Malberg says, art adds to the quality of life for residents, too.

"We want people to think they don't have to go anywhere to experience art. They can find it here in Chesterfield."

And it's not just visual arts they'll find, but performing arts as well.


Stages St. Louis currently has its administrative offices and academy in Chesterfield, where it moved from Kirkwood four years ago. Performances still take place in Kirkwood, but the organization is raising money for an 80,000-square-foot performance space. Thanks to the economy, that plan may be scaled back, but it would still offer people another place to see musical theater, says Gibbs.

He hopes ground will be broken next year.

Gibbs, who lives in the city, can't wait to see "The Awakening," and he sees some parallels between the piece and the push for art in Chesterfield.

"I think it signals an awakening not only in the city or the downtown Chesterfield, but in arts in Chesterfield as well."

The goal, Toro says, is to create a space where art can be appreciated by all ages, with opportunities for education and interaction, and to have that space unify Chesterfield with their downtown area.

"The Awakening's pretty much the beginning of that."

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