A Better Life for All St. Louisans

Laura Kohnen

The arts are a powerful force in transforming not only individuals, but also families, communities, and a region.

When we participate in the arts, it can change the way we see ourselves, and the way we see each other. The arts touch so many aspects of civic and community life, sometimes in highly visible ways and sometimes in ways we can’t immediately see.

In listening to the community, and hearing the wants and needs of community members, artists, arts organizations, and leaders and influencers across the region, it’s clear that people appreciate the role of the arts in St. Louis—and that there is a shared desire to make the arts stronger and more relevant to people’s lives. In these conversations, we witnessed true passion about the arts, enthusiasm for the exchange of new ideas, and excitement about the possibility of the arts contributing to a more vibrant, more united St. Louis.

St. Louisans envision a region where all residents have the freedom and ability to lead the creative life they imagine, for themselves and their families. In this future, everyone – regardless of the background they come from or neighborhood where they live – shares in the region’s extraordinary cultural inheritance, and communities are strengthened, uplifted, and connected through arts and cultural experiences.

There is a strong, shared desire to create more access to arts and cultural opportunities. Arts and cultural organizations are actively expanding their audiences, and there are many examples of arts programs making a difference in neighborhoods.

“St. Louis has a lot of arts organizations and there is a ton of programming. As artists and an arts community, there has been a stamp that the arts are valuable in St. Louis. The question is, how do you reach even more people, to give them access to inspiration and confidence or insight that comes with it?” – Arts Education Discussion Group

Ann Marie Mohr is an arts educator who uses the tools of acting and improvisation to improve St. Louisans’ quality of life. She conducts workshops that teach participants to develop trust, increase communication skills, build relationships, spark innovation, hone creativity, and foster collaboration. Mohr’s most recent venture, Project Present, addresses the needs of both individuals living in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and/or dementia and their caregivers through engaging improvisation workshops to encourage interpersonal connection, creative expression, and joyful collaboration.

“Improvisation guidelines parallel the critical skills needed to graciously care for an individual living with dementia,” says Mohr. “Through the process, caregivers build a unique support system based on positive collaboration and creative communication. Each participant acquires a new set of tools to be a more effective and compassionate caregiver and learns how to diffuse challenging and stressful situations through positive practices.”

Mohr continues, “In my experience, the arts improve quality of life by providing people the opportunity to socially engage with others, have a form of creative expression, and an opportunity to simply laugh. Often times at the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, individuals might become depressed, isolate themselves, or feel inadequate due to memory loss. Improvisation can work as a wonderful antidote by bringing individuals together and allowing them to collaboratively create based on the principles of ‘yes and!’ Everything said is accepted and built upon in the moment. The present is all that matters.”

Mohr sees abundant opportunities to use the arts to make a difference in the lives of individuals in St. Louis. “Community leaders need to think about using the arts to play a vital role in preventive and proactive practices that can relate to a litany of meaningful issues that face a community from health care to race relations. We must be open to thinking outside the box, and work towards giving individuals opportunities to experience the arts, because the actual ‘doing’ of the arts is critical.”