Shining the Spotlight on the Needs of Local Talent

Regional Arts Commission St. Louis

St. Louis is home to many talented artists who are passionate about living here, choosing this as their home for a variety of reasons, including family connections, affordability, and the ease of Midwestern life.

However, there are other factors that make St. Louis a challenging place for artists to live and work, chief among them a notable lack of support and opportunities to thrive.

Most of the artists we heard from through EVOKE conversations, regardless of their artistic discipline or the stage of their career, felt that the public in general lack awareness of the depth and breadth of talent and achievement in St. Louis. Furthermore, there is a shared perception that those who are aware of St. Louis’ rich arts community—local critics, media, cultural institutions, and audiences—often diminish the value of local artists over artists from other places.

“There is so much talent. … Things are cyclical, people get excited by emerging movements but [the excitement eventually] fades away. People move because there isn’t a support system here or they burn out. … [There is not only a] lack of support for emerging fields, but also a lack of community or connectivity to support [the talent].”
– Community Leader Interview

Rather than passively complain about these issues, several artists are seeking ways to take a bigger role in the fabric of the community—promoting racial equity, increasing opportunities for youth to engage with the arts, and advancing solutions to social problems like health disparities, urban blight, or juvenile justice, through the arts.

So what can we do to support the needs of local talent?

Many artists voiced a need for affordable spaces where they can live and work, including places for performances, exhibitions and rehearsals, and continuing education. A high concentration of artists in an area often makes it hip and desirable, in short order raising rents to a level where those artists can no longer afford to live there. Artists want and need protection against displacement from these areas.

“People are having to do so much more than their specialty. They have to be their own PR people, artist, etc. There is burnout from performers who are doing four jobs in addition to being an artist.”
– Actors and Performing Artists Discussion Group

Artists also expressed the need for support in the areas of marketing and promotion, as well as more opportunities to collaborate and network in order to forge a stronger network throughout the region. Many artists view themselves as creative entrepreneurs and expressed a desire to be more connected to St Louis’ growing start-up scene.

Overall, artists in St. Louis are under-utilized and overlooked community assets. They want to make a bigger impact on the civic life of the community, to contribute more to the vibrancy and thriving of the region, and to meet people where they are—often outside of traditional arts and culture venues—to help them lead diverse, creative lives.

“There are some incredible artists here, and we need to find a way to celebrate that.”
– Community Listening Session, Ferguson

Visual artist and DJ Stan Chisholm was born and raised in St. Louis, and after attending art school at The Art Institute of Chicago, returned to his hometown. He cites the advantages of being a working artist in the region as, “proper personal space and a close-knit community that’s genuine about their appreciation and approach towards art,” and notes that there are also challenges: “Thin crowds and a population that’s often infatuated with or convincingly belittled by larger cities and mechanical pop culture phenomenons.”

Chisholm calls for the community to push artists to aim higher and be more authentic in the representation of themselves, “by being more critical and descriptive on what’s considered quality. It’s important because we have a unique city for making art. No one is expecting it which makes it more genuine. Genuine people and places are attractive and scarce in a face value, internet-centric world.”

He believes that St. Louis is a great home for artists and the community can do more to attract out of town artists to live and work here. “The pull can be natural, and many artists who visit can easily understand and appreciate our city. … It’s important because we’re a unique city with space and room for experimentation.”

For the arts and culture to thrive in St. Louis, we have to develop a community of local artists that are nurtured, supported, and celebrated. St. Louis is capable of being seen as an arts destination—as a place where artists choose to go, not just a place where they come from—but if St. Louis is to become such a destination, we will need to invest in artists and the infrastructure they need to flourish.

How have St. Louis’ local artists impacted your quality of life, and what do you view as ways our city can appreciate and support them?