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Creative Communities Alliance draws connections between artists, municipalities

By: Jessica Meszaros

Art is ingrained of the very identity of St. Louis. For proof, look no further than the Gateway Arch.

“The identity of St. Louis is unprecedented,” Dan Tierney, chief financial officer for the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis and vice chairman of the Creve Coeur Arts Committee, said. “You can’t find another community in the United States that I know of that has a public art piece as its identity.”

Art is literally rooted in the city’s identity, and many local artists in St. Louis believe the blending of art into local communities is just as essential.

Artist Lindsay Higa poses with her artwork at the Green Door Art Gallery in Webster Groves. [Photo courtesy of Lindsay Higa]

For Lindsay Higa, St. Louis native and local artist, participation in the 2016 ArtsFest event in Manchester added to her Fontbonne University degree in Art Education and master’s degree in Studio Art. One year later, Higa has participated in over 11 exhibitions and created a small business selling her acrylic paintings. The assistance of municipal arts programs helped spur the growth of her business dramatically.

“I got a lot of support and now it’s kind of snowballed into my business, [which] people have shown real interest in,” Higa said. “I would not have done any of this so quickly if I hadn’t participated in that local show.”

Stories like Higa’s are a goal of the Creative Communities Alliance [CCA], an in-progress coalition of municipal and nonprofit organizations dedicated to the development of community arts in St. Louis City and County.

Previously known as the Creative Cities Alliance, CCA was formed in June 2016 by arts professionals from areas like Manchester, Creve Coeur, Chesterfield and even the Missouri Arts Council. Their objective is for cities and artists to discover and promote each other.

“Several of us got together because we had arts programs running in our cities, running through our Parks and Recreation Departments,” Kat Douglas, recreation and arts specialist for Manchester, said. “Parks and Recreation is really great about having support groups and other networks, so we thought that municipal arts needed a way to be supportive as well.”

The alliance provides a support network that is designed to help both artists and cities in each stage of artistic collaboration and provide extra guidance to those new to municipal arts partnerships. The CCA not only has become a resource network for aspiring artists, but also for city officials through the use of volunteer accountants and lawyers, who can address the technical aspects of initiating and maintaining community art programs.

“Aspiration” by Snail Scott is part of Manchester’s current loan program. [Photo courtesy of Kat Douglas]

“Cities are beginning to realize the arts are important and how to support the arts in their own community, but it’s difficult to navigate and a lot of people might not have experience,” Douglas said. “We have city attorneys that are familiar with every kind of contract, but even art contracts are kind of new for some of them.”

The CCA works with the member cities on items like contract language, methods of supporting artists, calls for art and the various hurdles of implementing projects. It also has subcommittees that pursue specific projects individual cities are interested in completing.

“It goes both ways for cities and artists,” Douglas said. “A lot of artists don’t know to approach the city or look on our website for calls to art. That’s not something that’s normal for them yet, so part of it is letting them know that the opportunity exists.”

For Tierny, the local uptake in different arts programs is part of a changing community mindset about how art brings culture to a community.

“I’ve been in the arts for 30 years, and even 15 years ago I would say if I was talking to a city about art, the interest would be faint,” Tierny said. “There would be more concern about the economic dollar. In the past five or 10 years, it’s started to shift. People want to have a city that has identity.”

Although the organization is still in development, it already has local impact.

One example is University City’s “U City in Bloom” program, which facilitates civic engagement and education through the production of local gardens. According to Judy Prange, executive director at U City in Bloom, early guidance from officials in the CCA helped with the construction of 10 uniquely painted utility boxes alongside Olive Boulevard in August 2017. The CCA stepped in to negotiate technical items like contracts and discussion with the Missouri Department of Transportation [MoDOT] for the project.

A painted utility box by artist Genevieve Esson. [Photo courtesy of Judy Prange]

“I have a good background in planning events and how to get from point A to Z, but when it came to starting the project, I still needed help,” Prange said. “What I wanted to do was to create a more enjoyable experience driving, walking or biking down Olive Boulevard in U City, and received the help from CCA.”

In addition to promoting transparency with local artists and the surrounding community regarding local art installations, the CCA also works with local government to help streamline the process of adding new art locally.

“With cities, we’re trying to help them understand how to value art in the community,” Douglas said. “It shouldn’t be one person going, ‘Hey, I like painting, so we should have a painting.’ It needs to come from the community, so we help them understand the steps involved and help them understand everything from the calls for art to more technical aspects.”

Artist Judy Baker paints a utility box near Olive Boulevard. [Photo courtesy of Judy Prange]

The hope isn’t just to help artists create a network in St. Louis, but also to help spread local talent across the country.

“Our hope is that they don’t just stay in St. Louis, but that they then feel comfortable to expand and submit to places in Arizona, Colorado or Montana, and that they take the skills they learn here and apply them in cities across the United States,” Douglas said. “We definitely have artists that are capable and deserve to be shown all over.”

In addition to helping promote local art and artists in the communities, the CCA also strives to help artists learn the process of working in the specific branch of public art and to help municipalities successfully enter the public art realm.

According to Tierney, the CCA helps its members utilize an economy of scale for marketing, program costs and developing standards. In just one year after its conception, the group has the interest of municipalities in West St. Louis and St. Charles counties, though no formal CCA agreements are in place. Tierney explained that working with the municipalities is ongoing.

In Creve Coeur, the city’s arts committee unanimously voted on Aug. 23 to support the alliance, which was introduced to the City Council at its Sept. 11 meeting. A second reading on the CCA agreement is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 30.

“That’s where we’re at right now,” Tierny said. “We don’t have the agreements signed, but [municipalities] are coming to the meetings and they’re interested. I’m giving them the agreement so they can take it back to their board [of aldermen or city council] and review it there. They’re interested, but they have to take those proper steps, and that’s completely understandable.”

“Book of Knowledge” by Carol S. Horstman is in  Manchester’s current loan program. [Photo courtesy of Kat Douglas]

According to Douglas, a total of 15 municipalities from West St. Louis and St. Charles counties – including Chesterfield, Creve Coeur, Manchester, O’Fallon and  Town & Country – are currently interested in becoming part of the alliance.

“It’s really exciting,” Douglas said. “We have only been together for about one year officially and we have so many cities that are involved and excited to use us as a resource. Even Jefferson City has come into the fold lately, and they’re going to be joining us with our upcoming Sculpture on the Move program. It’s even expanded outside of the metro area.”

Sculpture on the Move is the first cooperative program the alliance has explored since its conception. It facilitates the borrowing of sculptures between municipalities in a loaner program of sorts.

Tierny said Sculpture on the Move was created to ” test the waters and see what issues might come to the surface and how [collaboration] might work.”

The program was inspired by Stl250, now known as St. Louis 250 Cake Lovers. The event began in February 2014 to celebrate the city’s 250th birthday by placing an equal amount of uniquely decorated cakes around the area.

“People were going to see these cakes, and they were also traveling to areas where they had never been before,” Douglas said. “That idea really inspired what we hope for with Sculpture on the Move.”

The program was originally conceived about a year ago to help foster relationships between communities and artists, as well as to grow art appreciation across the region. Participating cities pay a yearly fee to the artists to be involved in the selection process for the placement of loaned statues. Artists will submit their works for installation across different municipalities.

“So a sculpture that’s in my community might then be relocated to Creve Coeur, and a sculpture that was in Creve Coeur might end up in Grand Center,” Douglas said.

Funding would be allocated for specific sculptures in the loan program, and each participating city would contribute the same amount to the artist for that artwork for a one-year honorarium. The current rate is $500 per year, plus any additional costs. The sculptures would be installed in an outdoor public area, like parks or other areas with visibility and public access. The estimated size of each piece’s concrete pad is 4 feet by 4 feet.

“Streamlines” by Ali Baudoin.  [Photo courtesy of Bess McCoy/city of Creve Coeur]

“There’s an upfront cost for installation of concrete pad and additional costs for any additional lighting and insurance decided upon by the city,” Tierny said.

The involvement of existing loaned statues in local municipalities will be determined later this year as participating municipalities make bids in the program.“Book of Knowledge” and “Aspiration” in Margaret Stoecker Park and Schroeder Park in Manchester and “Streamlines” by Ali Baudoin in Creve Coeur’s Shoppes at Westgate are all loaned statues to their respective cities that may or may not be part of the new program.

“Book of Knowledge” and “Aspiration” in Manchester’s Margaret Stoecker Park and Schroeder Park, respectively, and “Streamlines” by Ali Baudoin in Creve Coeur’s Shoppes at Westgate are loaned to their respective cities and may or may not be part of the new program.

Community applications for Sculpture on the Move are due by the end of November 2017 with artist applications due by the end of the year. Installation is tentatively scheduled for April 2018 on a two-year loan schedule.

“The idea is to move the art around so more people can enjoy it, but also hopefully get residents to think, ‘Hey, I like that piece, I wonder where it is now?’ and then traveling to see it in a different location,” Douglas said. “I have no doubt that this will gain in popularity and that artists are going to be very interested in participating in this program.

“We’re going to put this out to our communities, see how it grows and then go from there.”


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