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Theaster Gates, world-renowned artist & innovative urban planner, recommits to St. Louis

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed

Several weeks ago Kingsway Development’s Kevin Bryant, far right (see earlier post here), brought an eclectic group of people together at Third Degree Glass Factory to meet Chicago-based, world-renowned artist* and urban planner Theaster Gates, 2nd from right. Gates is reviving his plan to turn the former Euclid Elementary School just north of Fountain Park into a hub of mixed-income artists lofts and creative spaces called the Fountain Park Arts Block.

Among the 30 or so guests was former Alvin Ailey Dance Company member Baredu Ahmed, left, and Mayor Lyda Krewson.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed

Other attendees included Brian Phillips, executive director of Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation, Dr. Lisa Small, principal of Washington Montessori School, Abdul-Kaba Abdullah, executive director of Park Central Development, architect Chip Crawford of Clayco, Pamela McLucas, interim president of Park Place Housing & Urban Development, and Lisa Potts, project director of the Community Mental Health Fund.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed

Pictured with Gates and Bryant are Emily Rauh Pulitzer, chair of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, who has just announced plans to create new housing on Olive Street in Grand Center (read St. Louis Public Radio report here), and Laura Costello, director of real estate for the LRA (Land Reutilization Authority). Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed

18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd was there, center, as well as 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed

When I interviewed Kevin Bryant in 2018 (see earlier post here) I learned that Theaster Gates was interested in renovating the Euclid Elementary School, just north of Fountain Park, but funding was an issue. Now that several development projects are in the works for the 154-acre redevelopment area (just 2 blocks north of the CWE), Bryant was able to woo Gates back to St. Louis to take a second look.

Plans for the Fountain Park Arts Block include 32 loft apartments, 21 new housing units, and a fully-equipped arts center. The site is directly across from Washington Montessori School on Euclid.

Gates believes that “culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.” He has transformed an area of Chicago’s South Side by repurposing 50-60 buildings, Examples include the Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative, and the renovation of the Stony Island Arts Bank. (For more on how Gates’ got started, listen to his 2015 Ted Talk.)

Another St. Louis project that has been dormant is The Pink House, a music program that will be housed in three buildings in north St. Louis, two on Mallinkrodt, and one on Blair near Salisbury.  Baredu Ahmed (in first photograph) will be moving here from New York to get the project up and running soon.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed  While Nick Dunne, above, communications director of Third Degree Glass Factory, led the group on a tour of the glass-blowing studi0s, he mentioned that founders Doug Auer and Jim McKelvey purchased the building in 2002 for $20,000. They are currently in the process of renovating the entry adding a courtyard and more event space. Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed

The group then walked across Delmar to see more of what has been designated the Delmar Maker District, including  M.A.D.E., an impressive “maker space” that opened in 2018 at 5127 Delmar, and The Magic House at M.A.D.E. upstairs, which opened this summer.Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed

Auer and McKelvey have acquired additional properties in the Delmar Maker District including two buildings immediately east of Third Degree Glass, above, and two structures just west of M.A.D.E., shown below.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Events, Sightings  Third Degree Glass Factory Theaster Gates The Magic House at M.A.D.E. Mayor Lyda Krewson M.A.D.E. Kevin Bryant Jim McKelvey Emily Rauh Pulitzer Doug Auer Baredu Ahmed  Dunne said they haven’t decided what they are going to do with the two buildings above. They are seeking input from the Delmar Maker District community to determine what’s needed. If you listen to Gates’ Ted Talk you’ll hear the same philosophy about involving the community in decision-making.

In a press release following the get-together, Kevin Bryant says: “Fountain Park’s mix of large, stately brick homes, vacant lots and dilapidated structures are ripe for redefinition and rehabilitation…We have already begun construction on the first three homes around Fountain Park circle and we are working with one of the local housing organizations to assist existing homeowners with basic repairs this fall so that they keep pace with development.”

As that meeting wrapped up, I had a chance to ask Theaster Gates what prompted him to refocus on St. Louis again.

“I started work in St. Louis 12 years ago,” he said, “and then fell asleep. There’s never been a better time to restart than now.”

*After posting this article I received an email from Emily Rauh Pulitzer expanding on what I already knew about Theaster Gates.

“He started as a potter,” Pulitzer said, “but he has gone way beyond that making sculpture, paintings, and mixed-media objects which have been shown in important galleries and museums in this country and in Europe.

He won the Nasher Sculpture Prize and has often done performances with the musical group, ‘The Blind Monks of Mississippi.’ The Whitney (Museum) describes him as a sculptor, urban planner and performance artist. He is not only charismatic but accomplishes an unbelievable amount of work.”

BookFest St. Louis publishes schedule/seeks volunteers

Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Events, Sightings For Children  Sonali Dev Mary Engelbreit Left Bank Books Joshilyn Jackson James Brandon Elizabeth McCracken Daniel Wiseman CWE North Community Improvement District BookFest St. Louis 2019 Aaron Coleman  Organizers of 2019’s BookFest St. Louis—the staffs of CWE North Community Improvement District and Left Bank Books —have just released the exciting line-up of authors for next weekend’s 3rd annual book lovers’ event in the Central West End. Be sure to check the list out. There’s a lot packed into Saturday, September 21.

If you have a couple of hours to spare, there is need for a few more volunteers (sign up info, where to pick up your BookFest tee, etc, here).

Authors include two-time National Book Award nominee Elizabeth McCracken, St. Louis-based fan favorite Mary Engelbreit, LGBTQ+ activist and artist James Brandon, poet and Fulbright Scholar Aaron Coleman, children’s book author Daniel Wiseman, acclaimed Bollywood-style romance writer Sonali Dev, and NY Times best selling author Joshilyn Jackson.

Left Bank Books at Euclid and McPherson is action central, though authors will be appearing in a variety of nearby locations. Those include the McPherson Tent, above, The Vino Gallery, Mahler Ballroom (where Friday night’s Whitmania will be presented by the St. Louis Poetry Center), Schlafly Library, TechArtista Co-Working Environment (4818 Washington), and 510 N. Euclid (between Evangeline’s and Cocina Latina).

Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Events, Sightings For Children  Sonali Dev Mary Engelbreit Left Bank Books Joshilyn Jackson James Brandon Elizabeth McCracken Daniel Wiseman CWE North Community Improvement District BookFest St. Louis 2019 Aaron Coleman

Left Bank Books’ Kris Kleindienst above right, is shown introducing two of last year’s authors, Sarah Kendzior and Michael Isikoff. Kleindienst will be in conversation with Mary Engelbreit next Saturday starting at 2 p.m. under the McPherson Tent. Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Events, Sightings For Children  Sonali Dev Mary Engelbreit Left Bank Books Joshilyn Jackson James Brandon Elizabeth McCracken Daniel Wiseman CWE North Community Improvement District BookFest St. Louis 2019 Aaron Coleman

The intersection of McPherson and Euclid will be closed east of Euclid to Walton, and at Euclid just north of McPherson to the parking lot. That area is designated as the Festival Zone.Nicki's Central West End Guide Books, Dance, Music, Theater Events, Sightings For Children  Sonali Dev Mary Engelbreit Left Bank Books Joshilyn Jackson James Brandon Elizabeth McCracken Daniel Wiseman CWE North Community Improvement District BookFest St. Louis 2019 Aaron Coleman

There will be live music, and an assortment of vendors and organizations in attendance. A list those participating can be found here.

Don’t miss BookFest St. Louis which starts on Friday evening September 20 with a poetry event at The Mahler Ballroom. Saturday’s events begin at 10:30 a.m. at Schlafly Library with the appearance of children’s book author Daniel Wiseman. The day ends with St. Louis Youth Slam Team Champs scheduled for 7 p.m. under the McPherson Tent.

You’ll love meeting the authors and hearing them interact with each other during panel discussions. In the last couple of years, BookFest St. Louis has gone from being an unknown quantity to recognized among nationally-known authors and their publishers as the place to be.

Join in Clean up/Green up of Hodiamont Tracks

The following post describes an opportunity for community involvement that I thought readers should know about. Next Saturday, August 10, from 9 to noon, volunteers are needed to help “Clean up and Green Up the Hodiamont Tracks.”

The purpose of the event is to stimulate interest in the development of the abandoned Metro (Bi-State) right-of-way as part of Great Rivers Greenway’s network of trails throughout the region.

From the Great Rivers Greenway website:

“The Hodiamont Tracks are an inactive space that have the potential to become a greenway where people could walk, jog, ride a bicycle, push a stroller, use a wheelchair or have a picnic.”

Next Saturday’s community-wide effort is spearheaded by Judith Arnold, a resident of the Vandeventer neighborhood, who initially gathered a group of about 20 women from the 7 neighborhoods that border the Tracks to get the effort going. Since that first meeting in early July, the group has expanded to include an additional 20 or so organizers.

So far, about 160 volunteers have signed up for the project. Arnold is hoping for a total of 200 people to volunteer and register. See more information at end of the post on how to participate.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway

I am on the organizing committee and have driven the length of the 3.5 mile Tracks, which were originally a trolley line and later a bus route, and taken pictures to give you an idea of what current conditions look like. It’s a mixed bag, ranging from surprisingly green and quiet sections to littered/overgrown dumping grounds.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway

Committee members who live adjacent to the Tracks lament that illegal dumping of trash in their backyards is a common occurrence.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway

The City of St. Louis Forestry and Refuse Divisions have been providing preliminary services in advance of the cleanup day, and will be out in force to assist on August 10. The task that day will be to put the finishing touches on the cleanup effort and to demonstrate that there is broad community support for the development of a new greenway along the abandoned route.

“One of the major concerns is ongoing maintenance,” said Judith Arnold. “We’re beginning to tackle this issue with a cleanup day in hopes that residents living near the Tracks will continue to maintain what will become a greenway.”Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway

The Tracks begin just west of Vandeventer Ave. in the Covenant Blu-Grand neighborhood, and continue westward through the Vandeventer, Lewis Place, Fountain Park, Academy/Sherman, Visitation Park and the West End neighborhoods, terminating at Gwen Giles Park near the city limits. (see map here)Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway

The photo above shows new buildings under construction on the Ranken Technical College campus, which also borders the Hodiamont Tracks.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway

Close to Skinker Blvd., near the western terminus of the Tracks, there’s a charming neighborhood in the City’s 26th Ward that was a total surprise to me. Gardens and manicured lawns occupy common areas adjacent to the tracks, and many of the houses and surrounding yards look like they could be on a country lane.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Services Urban Gardens  Operation Brightside Judith Arnold Hodiamont Tracks Great Rivers Greenway  The Ruth Porter Mall, which starts at DeBaliviere and Delmar, intersects the Hodiamont Tracks several blocks north and offers an example of what the Tracks could become.

Though 95% of residents who participated in an engagement study conducted by Great Rivers Greenway say they want a greenway along the Hodiamont Tracks, the decision to include the 3.5 mile stretch as part of the Greenway system is not a done deal. If the decision is made to proceed, residents see the potential for increased property values, enhanced safety, and beautification.

Arnold is joined in leadership efforts by Tom Schweiss (Great Rivers Greenway), Constance Siu (North Newstead Association), Todd Martin (Mission STL) and others.

Volunteers are scheduled to meet at Lane Tabernacle CME Church, 910 N. Newstead, Saturday, August 10 at 9 a.m. to get their assignments. Gloves, rakes, shovels etc. will be provided by Operation Brightside. All participants are invited to return to the church at noon for a picnic lunch and celebration of a job well done.

To volunteer, or for more information and to register, visit Clean Up & Green Up on Facebook, or an eventbrite page (here).