Despite being a historic haven of crime, unemployment, poor city planning, visible segregation and haunting abandonment lurking beneath St Louis's crusted wounds exists pockets of genuine human expression and community that quietly junxtaposes the desolation.
Like an island, trends ripple here and at times never connect with sediment on other shores. Culture is raw and insular but is indicative of the environment. To exist as a self-invested artist in this city is career suicide but to connect with community is evolutionary.
Over the past four years I've been involved with an area known as Cherokee Street. I've watched creative projects literally transform this neighborhood. The roles of artist, activist, and organizer have blurred for many of us as we buy houses, have live/work spaces, start businesses and become civic leaders and teachers.
The business district is not owned by big business nor is anyone being pushed out. Up until the past 2 years St Louis has lost population for the past 40. As a result most chains and box stores exist in the suburbs not the city. In it's current state the city is affordable, self-sustaining and architecturally stunning. Its cultural element is composed of self starters and entrepreneurs as there is relatively no national/international scene to connect with.
Museums and art institutions network and show the work of local artists along with internationally recognized artists. The regional arts commission hosts a national model for community arts training, a free fellowship program for recipients.
My observations, networks and experience in this city is expansive. I could write pages on art as it exists in St Louis alone. Today I leave you with images from several projects that exemplify the spirit of what I'm discussing.
Since 2003, 29-yr-old historic preservationist Michael Allen has been documenting architecture in St Louis through his blog The Ecology of Absence. The project, now gaining national exposure started as an effort to record what was being lost using the Internet as a tool for community awareness.
The People's Joy Parade began two years ago through the efforts of St Louis artists Sarah Paulsen and Lyndsey Scott. A growing project, diverse people from throughout the neighborhood parade together in handmade costumes, floats and puppets during the Cinco de Mayo celebration on Cherokee Street. Sarah's experiential art blog Wanderlust voices personal art interactions as they exist in her reality.
- Emily Hemeyer aka Ghosts I Have Been