Throughout our year-long venture to engage the public in conversations around how the arts can make St. Louis a better place to live, a common theme surfaced: the power of the arts to revitalize struggling neighborhoods.
Questions were raised about how we can look beyond arts and cultural programming to the larger toolkit of creative placemaking in neighborhoods. And we heard from many that celebrating the heritage and the future of St. Louis’ communities is an essential part of, and contributor to, revitalization.
What we learned: St. Louisans want the arts and culture to be more a part of their everyday lives. They value the small and the local—experiences that are integrated into daily life, and into their neighborhoods. And because St. Louis is so much a collection of neighborhoods, they want arts and culture to celebrate that community identity and history.
“When looking as a young adult for a place to settle, I looked at the arts as part of what I wanted. Having the arts as part of my life is important—having culture is how I stay connected—on a spiritual level, with other people.”
– Community Listening Session, North St. Louis
One project already underway that addresses these very needs is the Chouteau Greenway, a new pedestrian corridor from the Gateway Arch to Washington University. A public art approach will be one of the elements of the final design and will support the vision of the Downtown STL Public Art Plan.
As part of this plan, The City of St. Louis has proposed “Facing Mill Creek Valley,” a public art project that would address the issue of displacement. The project will explore the legacy of Mill Creek Valley, a predominantly African American neighborhood established in the late 19th Century and razed in the 1950s and 60s to make way for the construction of a freeway. Artists will engage with local historians, community leaders and historical materials to create artworks as part of the Chouteau Greenway project.
“Art on the streets and in the community seems like the biggest thing. Just decorate the heck out of St. Louis. Turn those abandoned buildings into pieces of art. The ones that are just walls, the old warehouses downtown, the ones that have those old advertisements. They are the history of their neighborhood, the heyday of St. Louis. Boosting them up, celebrating those things. Our city has had amazing times and celebrating that, the beauty behind it, the history behind it, that’s good.”
– Community Listening Session, Cherokee Street
The proposal is a result of a collective effort led by the City of St. Louis in partnership with several organizations including Great Rivers Greenway, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, The Griot Museum of Black History and Culture, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and others.
Felicia Shaw, executive director of the Regional Arts Commission and one of the collaborators, is equally excited about the prospects for St. Louis and the potential impact of the project on the community.
“’Facing Mill Creek Valley’ invites St. Louisans to examine what is lost when thousands of people are displaced in the name of progress. Engaging local artists and connecting the exhibition to the Chouteau Greenway project will help leverage this opportunity to make an even greater impact on our community,” Shaw said.
The proposal for “Facing Mill Creek Valley” has been selected as a finalist to receive up to $1 million as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, a program that aims to foster creative collaboration, address civic issues, and support local economies through public art. More than 200 cities applied, and St. Louis, along with 13 other cities, has been invited to submit a full proposal.
Bloomberg Philanthropies will select at least three winners from among these 14 finalists in the fall to execute their projects over a maximum of 24 months. More information about the Public Art Challenge and the St. Louis proposal can be found at publicartchallenge.bloomberg.org.