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.”