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Walter Gunn (June’69) has been both an artist and a veteran of administration and management in the
Visual and performing arts and has enriched the cultural life of St. Louis in a way that will be felt for many generations yet to come.
The Sheldon concert hall in midtown St. Louis, nationally known for it’s remarkable acoustics, was built in 1912 and was the home of the Ethical Society of St. Louis until it was sold in 1974. The building was unused until 1984 when Walter Gunn was contracted to oversee a $1.2 million restoration.
When the Sheldon opened in 1986 Gunn was appointed general manager and artistic director. Under his leadership it hosted the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Chamber Music Series, St. Louis’ Premier Performances Series, the Holy Roman Repertory Company, the Black Repertory Company of St. Louis, Dance St. Louis, Metro Theatre Circus, Synchronia, Quartet Seraphine and many others totaling more than 700 performances.
In 1988, when the Sheldon was placed on sale, Walter founded SAFE (Sheldon Arts Foundation and Endowment) a not-for-profit organization which was eventually able to raise the money to buy and operate this truly remarkable venue for the city of St. Louis. In so doing Gunn not only preserved a valuable asset for the city, but prevented its acquisition by an outside interest which might have changed the Sheldon to meet that organization’s needs.
There is a plaque on the wall of the Sheldon ”In recognition of his vision for the arts and his dedicated, extraordinary service in preserving the Sheldon for the future”.
Walter was the founding president of the Friends of Scott Joplin House and served on the boards of the League of Historic American Theatres, the St. Louis Blues and Heritage Festival, St. Louis Central Business Association, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, South Grand Business Association, High Hopes, Friends of Tower Grove Park and the Philippine Art Foundation.
Gunn has been awarded the Dawson Achievement Award for arts management, the IESNA Illumination Design Award for outstanding achievement in lighting design and the AT&T Stealth Design Award for his sculptural concealment of cellular phone antennae.