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.

Traffic Calming Project on Waterman deserves a closer look

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

Though I’ve traveled the 5000-5200 blocks of Waterman countless times, I never thought to ask who was behind the copious plantings that beautify the two blocks from Kingshighway to Union. That stretch of Waterman is home to an eclectic mix of uses, including institutions (Central Reform Congregation, First Unitarian Church and New City School), as well as condominiums, apartment buildings, and single family homes. All are enhanced by an equally eclectic mix of plantings that bloom from February through mid-October.

Waterman is also home to the CWE Farm, which provided the inspiration for long-time resident Tom Brackman, below left, to begin beautifying the street 6 years ago after the awarding of a Federal grant for a Traffic Calming Project he applied for on behalf of the Waterman/Lake Special Business District. Speeding had been an issue for years, but after the installation of the circle close to Kingshighway, above, planters mid-block, and another planter in the center of the street close to Union, drivers were forced to slow down.

Those planters, as well as the infrastructure supporting them, were also paid for by the grant, with additional support from the City of St. Louis and the Waterman/Lake SBD which contributed matching funds.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

Brackman, a retired lawyer who owns seven properties on the street, volunteers his services. Lisa Wells, right, one of Brackman’s tenants and his partner in this effort, is hired by the Waterman/Lake SBD to plant, maintain, and water the plant materials. “It’s extremely rewarding and therapeutic work,” she said.

Brackman credits his late partner, a Missouri Botanical Garden employee, for teaching him about plant materials and nurturing his love of gardening.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

The photos above and below show one of two matching planters mid-block. The late Bob Cassilly’s designs are incorporated into the base of the planters. Cassilly’s signature design is also used on the planters that can be found in the medians on Forest Park Parkway and 5100-5200 Delmar.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

Brackman has donated many of the plants, but when he and Wells need more he said they look for bargains. “Everything we buy is cheap,” he said, “in the range of 25 cents — we look for plants that are on sale.”

They are also careful to choose durable plants that need less water, and they increase their yield by dividing many of them, such as hostas, daisies, and snow-on-the-mountain.

A couple of years ago Operation Brightside donated 10,000 daffodil bulbs, which Brackman and Wells dig up after the spring bloom and store Brackman’s basement to be planted again in the fall.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

Large urns at the busy corner of Kingshighway and Waterman contain a mixture of plants including sun-loving cannas and caladiums.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

When 28th Ward Alderwoman Heather Navarro donated a tree to be planted in a tree well in front of the CWE Farm, Brackman was inspired to paint the fire hydrant next to it, above left. Next he painted the hydrant at Lake and Waterman to assist in making that intersection a “plaza area.”

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Urban Gardens  Waterman/Lake Special Business District Traffic Calming Project Tom Brackman Tom Brachman New City School First Unitarian Church CWE Farm Central Reform Congregation

Brackman and Wells were also given the okay by the Oxford Condominium board to plant and maintain several daylily beds at Waterman and Union, above.

“Whenever Lisa or I are working on the gardens, neighbors and passers-by tell us how much they like the plantings and thank us for beautifying the street. That makes the work very gratifying,” Brackman said. “And it has changed the whole mentality of people driving along the street, now they seem to enjoy the view instead of speeding through.” He estimates that cars are traveling 15 mph slower than before the Traffic Calming Project was put in place, a successful outcome for a job beautifully well done.