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All posts by Kranzberg Arts Foundation

22 Jul 2020

Videos and process behind the artmaking for “It Hits Home”

By Christine A. Holtz and Jessica Witte

In March 2020, this New York Times headline grabbed readers’ attention: ‘I Feel Like I Have Five Jobs’: Moms Navigate the Pandemic. Simultaneously, artists Jessica Witte and Christine A. Holtz were responding to these exact same sentiments through artmaking.

Prior to the pandemic, the two artists were scheduled to hang their show centered around caregiving and parenthood at the end of May. As everything began to shut down, Jessica and Christine were given the option to reschedule for the following year or follow through with their show as the first physical show scheduled since the shutdowns occurred. The second of these two options would pose several unknown challenges for public viewing and the logistics of creating a collaborative show while social distancing. Both mentally and physically exhausted from homeschooling their children and working remotely from home, the artists had to make a decision. Christine called Jessica that evening and said, “I think we should do it. When has our subject matter of caregiving and parenthood been more amplified than in this current situation?” Both of them decided to sleep on it and make their decision the next day. Ultimately the two friends motivated each other to take on the unknown along with making new works, and the exhibition “It Hits Home” was born.

Artist Christine A. Holtz shares her creative process making new artworks for “It Hits Home”

I make all my artwork in my living room — which transforms into a studio once everyone else is in bed. When the pandemic started, I began furiously jotting down inspiration and conceptual ideas in my notebook/sketchbook. My emotions about the pandemic needed an outlet. My dining room table, now a schoolhouse and home office, caused stress just looking at it. To add insult to injury, I would step on Legos at the base of our stairs almost daily (which inspired “One Step from (in)Sanity”).  A huge part of my artistic practice is a reflection of the absurdities endured during my everyday life. The pandemic provided an abundance of absurdities. In the evenings, my husband and I would work out in our living room after the kids were in bed as a way to relieve stress. We often elbowed or kicked each other due to lack of space, but it made us laugh. It helped us stay connected. Exhausted and feeling defeated from the day, my living room transformed from family space to workout room to studio, where working on art provided me with a release for my flood of emotions.

Covid-19 Work Blazer” is a work uniform for the pandemic. The blazer has three sets of sleeves to show the extra arms needed to take on the additional job of homeschooling while also transitioning my job of teaching to a remote format. I plan to wear it this fall while teaching on campus.

two girls kneel inside a canoe made of bed sheets that looks like a face mask
Daughters of artist Christine Holtz sit inside “Up a Creek Without a Paddle”

Up a Creek Without A Paddle” filled up my entire living room floor during construction. It is made from an old set of bed sheets out of necessity and to symbolize the home. Due to tight quarters and the size of the piece, I had to actually sit on the floor and move my sewing machine instead of the fabric to make each of the seams. I needed to make this boat. I needed to do whatever it took to keep my family safe. I know it is absurd — so is the situation. It is also a very raw display of how helpless the pandemic has made me feel.

More people being confined to the domestic environment due to the stay-at-home orders has amplified the uneven division of labor in the home. I wanted to follow through with this exhibition in hopes that the work would resonate with more people right now. I can’t help but wonder if our show would have been received the same way without a pandemic.

Artist Jessica Witte shares her creative process making new artworks for “It Hits Home”

As soon as we made our decision and connected again to talk strategy, Christine shared her idea for a huge mask/boat titled “Up a Creek Without a Paddle.” Her idea was inspiring and could be an anchor for the show’s new direction. Christine added, “I know it will be hard, but I think we will both feel better if we can process this while it is happening.”

With the baseline anxiety of everyone being so high, I definitely felt the stress on my students, myself, and my family. I began hard training again with running to exhaust myself physically as well as emotionally and help me sleep. Even though I have resources and support, every so often the stress of the situation would leak out and emotions would run high at home. “Smoke and Mirrors: everything is fine” captured those moments when small accumulations of stress exploded into outbursts. To create these little bombs, I inserted wicks into wool and laundry lint felt balls. Stabbing the felting needle repeatedly to form the ball and seeing the works take shape was cathartic, (Christine was right, again).

Witte: Thinking of the viewer at the window

Many people would see the show from the windows on Grand Boulevard, so how could we arrange “It Hits Home” to make the artwork most visible from the street? We placed Christine’s embroidery artworks close to the windows so her intricately detailed drawings would not be lost. “Up a Creek Without a Paddle” and her “Covid-19 Work Blazer” were timely, personal, and still humorous so they were close to the title and window. My new artworks needed to attract the eye with contrast and size but be light enough to be handled by myself alone (due to social distancing during install). Once I had spatial parameters in place, I could start sketching ideas.

What did I most want to say about the pandemic? I worried about my Grandma Rose isolated in her nursing home and my sister-in-law undergoing radiation therapy being at high risk for the disease. Encouraging others to realize how their behavior affects some of the most vulnerable (and to see their value) was my aim for the floor works in “It Hits Home.”

I decided to convey the bright, sunny colorful spirit of Grandma Rose — and make her comfortable and safe during this health crisis. I brought out her pile of quilts to inspire me. How could I also convey her vulnerability? Grandma Rose could have visitors through the glass of the lobby but was too fragile to have close contact in the same room. A drawing on the floor would be similar — easily destroyed by a misstep in the room, but safe when viewed from the window. How could I make the patterns as bright as the colorful quilts and clothes my grandma made for my children? Drawing in sidewalk chalk with my kids between teaching, furiously cleaning, and home-schooling helped answer the question.

Witte: Selecting and learning a new medium

I made lap-blanket-sized powdered chalk drawings into bold quilt patterns. The chalk came in vibrant colors and with the thick application could catch a viewer’s eye from the street. I had a tight timeline to learn how to use this new material, as my previous floor drawings were in seed, with a limited color range. I tested various chalk brands and how to grind and apply a consistent dusting. I made small laminated paper and foam-core templates to quickly stencil and layer the colors.

I dedicated “Targeted Treatment” to my sister-in-law Lori and her fight with breast cancer. I interviewed friends and family who had battled cancer about symbols that best represent their treatment. Caretakers and patients mentioned a new sense of time after a cancer diagnosis. The pattern has seven columns and four rows like a calendar page. A ring of cancer-awareness ribbons surrounds crosshairs in each block. Bullseye targets are peppered throughout the “calendar page” of the pattern to make one think about being an easy mark for the virus.

You Are My Sunshine” is patterned in bold blue and yellow sunburst shapes centered around archery target centers. I left every other square bare except for the center target highlighting the isolation of the residents of nursing homes.

Please wear a mask in public, reach out to your neighbors and loved ones, work out, get sunshine every day, and be kind.

Related: “It Hits Home” virtual exhibition

08 May 2020

High Low‘s “Caffeinated Curation” series of books paired with beverages from Blueprint Coffee is back for another work-from-home edition, this time from the general manager of The Dark Room, Abbie Finley.

“I’m pairing  Norikori, Papua New Guinea single-origin coffee with Hard Travel to Sacred Places by Rudolph Wurlitzer. They both tell stories of places preserved in isolation and places filled with culture, diversity, and life. 

“My mornings now as they always have, start with coffee. The Norikori is something unexpected. I eyeballed the pour-over at first, causing it to be under-extracted and sour. Then, with intention and patience, I repoured for the sweetness and balance. 

“I bought this book as a means of escapism — the story that Rudy tells is a travel guide of Southeast Asia, as he and his wife try to cope with the immeasurable weight of loss. He is trying to find truth in the Buddhist scripture as they remove themselves from their own chaos, mourning through Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia. 

“More than ever, I find solace in the thought of patience right now. The world is changing; my world is changing. It is easy to want to rush and to push forward out of the unknown. I think of the sour pour-over, that held the tropical notes back, and one of the Buddhist quotes:

Be stirred by things which may well move the heart, And being stirred, strive wisely and fight on!  – Nyanaponika Thera

Read more from the Caffeinated Curation series here.

01 Feb 2020
man playing trumpet
By Nancy Kranzberg

I was inspired by two art exhibitions at The Sheldon Art Galleries in Grand Center Arts District. The first was titled “Amazing Horns: Bridging Continents, Bridging Time.” The works were instruments from The Hartenberger Collection of Musical Instruments now owned by The Sheldon. Dr. Aurelia Hartenberger has been researching and collecting musical instruments and artifacts amassing more than 3,000 items. Ninety-four horns from the collection were on display in this exhibition.

Wikipedia describes horns as any of a family of musical instruments made of a tube, usually made of metal and often curved in various ways, with one narrow end which the musician blows, and a wide end from which the sound emerges. In jazz and popular-music contexts, the word may be used loosely to refer to any wind instrument, and a section of brass or woodwind instruments, or a mixture of the two, is called a horn section.

As the name indicates, people originally used to blow on the actual horns of animals before starting to emulate them in metal or other materials. The original usage survives in the shofar (Hebrew), a ram’s horn, which plays an important role in the Jewish religious rituals. The genus of animal-horn instruments to which the shofar belongs is called Keren in Hebrew, Qarnu in Akkadian, and Keras in Greek.

The Wikipedia article on horns describes every horn imaginable from finger horns, marching horns, and saxhorns to horns used all around the globe.

Then I remembered another exhibition at The Sheldon Art Galleries, “The City of Gabriels: The History of Jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1973,” and the wonderful book written about it by Dennis Owsley, jazz scholar, St. Louis Public Radio jazz host and photographer.

Gabriel, of course, refers to the biblical character who blew his horn to announce the judgment day. The trumpet had more references in Owsley’s book than any other instrument.

The definition of a trumpet says it is a brass instrument commonly used in classical and jazz ensembles. The trumpet group contains the instruments (such as the piccolo trumpet) with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpet-like instruments have historically been used as signaling devices in battle or hunting, with examples dating back to at least 1500 BC. They began to be used as musical instruments only in the late 14th or early 15th century. Trumpets are used in art, music styles, for instance in orchestras, concert bands, and jazz ensembles, as well as in popular music.

Adam Corre wrote an article titled “10 Of The Most Famous Trumpet Players of All Time,” and of course Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, and our own Miles Davis were all on the list. But we forget just how famous St. Louis is for its trumpet players in general. The late Clark Terry in the forward to Owsley’s “City of Gabriel’s” says, “I am not certain of the exact reasons why my hometown of St. Louis has had such a great jazz trumpet tradition. It could have been the Midwestern atmosphere or the other great musical traditions of the city, but I know that the origins of that tradition come straight from the great Mississippi River.”

Owsley says, “Trumpet players have shaped the sound and direction of St. Louis from the beginning. The sound of a St. Louis trumpet player is unmistakable, whether the trumpeter is Charles Creath, Dewey Jackson, Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Floyd LeFlore or Lester Bowie. The unique sound is described as a clear, singing tone, with many bent notes reminiscent of the human voice.”

There are many more notable horn players that have and continue to blow their horns in our city, but I’d like to end this commentary by paying tribute to David Hines (1942-1991) whose life was cut short in a motorcycle accident. By 1963, Hines was touring on trumpet with Albert King, T. Bone Walker, and Little Milton and in 1968, Hines was the jazz soloist with Woody Herman and held the same position with Ray Charles in 1970. Hines also played in theatre orchestra throughout the St. Louis area. He was the leader in halting discriminatory practices in the hiring of musicians for theater work by requiring auditions to be held behind curtains. He taught in various school situations and led the University City Jazz Band in the late 1980s. Hines toured Europe with Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy in the winter of 1986.

We can all toot our horns for St. Louis’ rich history of music where it shines in all its guises.

01 Feb 2020
By Jen Roberts

It began with a simple but brilliant premise. 

“The idea was that artists were well-equipped to run the artistic part of their careers but needed expert advice when it came to legal and accounting matters,” says Sue Greenberg, executive director of Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts (VLAA), founded in 1982 by the city’s Arts and Humanities Commission and Saint Louis University School of Law.

VLAA and similar organizations throughout the country were modeled after Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York City, the first program of its kind. St. Louis is one of three national organizations that decided to include accountants in the program. “I cannot imagine not having the accountants,” says Greenberg. “About a third of what we do is on the accounting side. It just makes sense if you’re trying to help people think about their businesses — that’s a key part.”

VLAA’s board and a law student ran the organization for its first few years. Then the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) saw the nonprofit’s potential and provided office space and funding, so VLAA could hire its first employee. Today, more than 300 volunteer accountants and lawyers provide counsel to artists and administrators in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Through the organization’s referral service, clients contact VLAA with a specific question and then are paired with a volunteer who has relevant experience. The questions they receive vary from bookkeeping and taxes to copyrights and trademarks. VLAA also offers assistance about how to set up an LLC and a nonprofit. “In the last 10 days, we’ve had three immigration cases,” Greenberg said in early December. “That’s an indication that what we’re asked to do is sometimes all over the place.”

Educational programming makes up the second part of VLAA’s work, and sessions have included QuickBooks training for nonprofits, how to sign up for health insurance, relevant accounting and legal topics, and a college outreach program called Upstart. There’s a 10-session series for individual artists that includes such topics as copyright, contracts, and taxes. Resources are also available online. “Part of our thinking behind providing information online was that if a filmmaker has a question or was looking for some sort of information, they might find our site when they didn’t know we existed,” says Greenberg.

VLAA has more than 200 new referrals each year. They don’t capture the continued relationships between clients and volunteers but have heard about “people who have been matched with a volunteer and keep going back to them, sometimes for 10 or 15 years, when they have a question,” says Greenberg. 

In November, VLAA moved from its longtime home with RAC on Delmar Boulevard to High Low, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s new literary arts venue on Washington Avenue in Grand Center.

The move seemed like a natural fit. “Kranzberg Arts Foundation has dedicated the building to freedom of expression through spoken and written word, and we’ve always been very committed to freedom of expression issues throughout our history,” says Greenberg.

In addition to VLAA, the second-floor offices at High Low houses River Styx, UrbArts, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, Poetry Center, St. Louis poet laureate Jane Ellen Ibur, Shirley Bradley LeFlore Foundation, and a forthcoming writers-in-residence program. Though VLAA just recently moved, Greenberg says, “there’s already synergy with the people on the floor.” 

VLAA hopes this synergy and proximity to other arts organizations will help expand support. “We are looking forward to the writers-in-residence program and think there’s a place for us to support what those writers are doing. I’ve also met with some of the Foundation’s music artists-in-residence,” says Greenberg. “It’s just opening up more possibilities for us to collaborate.”

Greenberg also hopes to find ways to support the St. Louis Art Place Initiative, an effort to renovate vacant houses near Cherokee Street and make them available for low-income artists. “It’s a really great concept,” says Greenberg. “There is a place for us to help them get their finances together.”

High Low also offers event space, which VLAA is using for educational programs and its library. 

Artists and arts organizations often thank VLAA for its free services, Greenberg says, though the volunteers also frequently express their gratitude to be part of the nonprofit’s mission. “The volunteers are constantly thanking us for the opportunity,” Greenberg says. “It’s a really happy place here.”

For more information visit www.vlaa.org.

01 Feb 2020
By Melissa Meinzer

As any plugged-in music fan will tell you, the music scene here is rockin’ and rollin’ — no help needed. On any night, you can find local, regional, and national acts in everything from gritty little rooms to stadiums. Now, a trio of new or reworked events aim to shine a light on the city’s lively musical happenings, leveraging connections within the community and bringing the music to a wider audience.

About a year and a half ago, planning began on what would become the Saint Louis Music Initiative. Featuring the revamped Music at the Intersection festival and St. Louis Music Week, both debuting in September 2020, and 2021’s Midwest Music Summit, the initiative can be thought of as connective tissue for the city’s thriving and ascendant music economy.

“Our city has a roster of artists that are on the rise,” says Sean Smothers, director of strategic partnerships for the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. “The number of folks I was starting to see kind of come into their own was just phenomenal. You saw Tonina [Saputo] getting name-checked by the president!” he says, referring to Barack Obama’s year-end tweet about his favorite music of 2018. The city’s contributions to the global conversations on jazz, the blues, Americana, and hip-hop are legendary.

Smothers reflected on his admiration for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a marquee event that grew from just a few hundred people in Louis Armstrong Park to an international destination. Festival founder George Wein hit upon a stroke of genius in developing the backbone of that festival. “Wein made an overt effort to make sure culture was embedded in the festival in the right way,” says Smothers. “Really, the success of that festival came from not being able to really separate the New Orleans part from the music and heritage part.”

That baked-in culture piece, alongside recognition of the city’s deep well of talent, informed the formation of Saint Louis Music Week, the reimagined Music at the Intersection, and (in 2021) the Midwest Music Summit. St. Louis is known for a tradition of exchange and collaboration, even more so than a specific genre.

“It’s tough to really put your arms around and draw out a single St. Louis sound,” Smothers says. “It’s everybody’s sound. We happen to be right at the geographic center of all these music hubs. We’ve had all these great people pass through our city and leave a piece and take a piece. We’ve also had artists from other places land here to share a new take. That intersection is worth celebrating by lifting up what we have and growing infrastructure for our music economy.”

The whole initiative is in three parts, Smothers explains. St. Louis Music Week, September 4–13, is focused on marketing — illuminating what’s already going on across the city’s vibrant collection of venues. Think of it a bit like Restaurant Week, with artists and venues signing up for no-cost promotion and fans following on social media.

Music at the Intersection, September 11–13, is a place-making event with eight stages hosting more than 60 bands, including local, regional, and national acts. The Intersection name isn’t new; its previous iteration ended about three years ago with a series of shows with local artists in Grand Center Arts District. This new, three-day concept adds the opportunity for music lovers to navigate their own cross-genre music experience.

With one ticket, festival-goers can access shows at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, The Big Top, The Sheldon, The Grandel, Jazz St. Louis, The Stage at KDHX, The Dark Room, Strauss Park, and more. The outdoor venues are also free. (Stay tuned for the artist announcement; at press time, the roster wasn’t yet made public.)

The Midwest Music Summit aims to join artists with publishers, producers, studios, national representation, and each other. Fostering these connections through panels, workshops, exhibitions, and classes will lead to opportunities and relationships. Behind the scenes, partners in the initiative are undertaking a three-year partnership with Sound Diplomacy, an international organization specializing in understanding a city’s unique music economy. This collaborative work will help St. Louis gain a clear picture of the role the music industry plays in our city (economic output, job creation, tourism interest) as well as ways to grow and protect it. The data and insights from the work undertaken by Sound Diplomacy will be made available to the public upon completion.

The effort is uniquely inclusive and grassroots. “We have 100-plus volunteers on seven committees who are helping to inform every aspect of this initiative,” says Smothers. “We don’t consider this initiative as belonging to Kranzberg Arts Foundation. We are helping continue the conversation, but we see this as belonging to the music community and to our city.  We see ourselves as the organization that’s helped ‘build the box.’ But a multitude of organizations are coming forward to put their unique stamp on it.”

That includes bookers from venues across town who are informing the programming for all three events, and marketing directors from a variety of organizations and firms that are pitching in, too. “Instead of viewing this as something that would be competitive, they’re viewing it as something that will lift the tide for all boats,” Smothers says. “It’s a true collaboration.”

For serious music geeks and casual fans alike, the events offer a glimpse at a thrumming ecosystem — one they either live in or don’t know enough about. Either way, the trio of events offers a new lens for considering music in the city and a chance to see work that might otherwise escape their notice.

“We’re really cultivating an experience here,” Smothers says. “This is a choose-your-own-adventure music opportunity. There’s no one genre of music we’re focusing on. Any genre you want to pick, St. Louis has had a significant impact.” 

01 Feb 2020
By Melissa Meinzer

At its best, theatre can provide a great deal: It entertains us, it moves us, it sustains us, it reflects us back to ourselves. But for some St. Louis school kids, it can literally save their lives.

Metro Theater Company’s “Say Something, Do Something!” program uses drama to help equip students to face difficult circumstances, from bullying to gun violence. The interactive skits encourage them to consider how to defuse tense moments or intervene when they see interactions going south.

“It’s a theatrical experience, but it’s a theatrical experience with a very specific goal,” says Metro Theater managing director Joe Gfaller. The hope is that, having walked through difficult scenarios in safe circumstances, participants might have access to the strategies later, if necessary.

Metro Theater is directed at young audiences and their families, creating access to theatre as well as the growth and development that it fosters. The company produces plays at The Grandel and takes theatre into schools. Last year, it visited  31 schools across the region.

Launched in Fall 2011, the “Say Something, Do Something!” experience involves a relatively small group of kids — usually about 60 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders — and a small troupe of Metro actors, as well as a teaching artist who serves as a facilitator. The scripts and entire experience are the result of intense preparation by Metro’s production team. Before they ever take the stage at a school, they’ve conducted interviews with teachers and social workers in the schools and learned all they can about the specific conflicts that kids might be facing. They’ve also researched language, because lingo and vocabulary are ever-changing, and the scenes need to seem feasible.

“We want the language and conflict situation to feel true to life,” says Metro Theater education director Karen Weberman. “It’s what they’re actually going through. Our education is on the ground every week, in classrooms across the city and county.”

She stresses the need for deep listening to the teachers, administrators, and other school staff who know the kids best. “We don’t want this to be, ‘Here’s this program we think you need,’” she says.

Metro’s methodology for the program is backed by serious scholarship. Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice evaluated the program, and Weberman and SLU researchers presented the data last year at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Philadelphia.

The sessions begin with a deep dive into the study of body language. Actors will freeze into a tableau, which the students can pick apart, examining characters’ motivations and feelings in a specific moment. It’s good training for what comes next — the scripted conflict. The scene is only about five minutes long, Weberman says, and while the conflict itself may vary from season to season or, to some extent, from school to school, one thing is constant: There’s a clear and obvious imbalance of power.

“When the scene comes to the highest point of conflict, the facilitator calls a freeze,” says Weberman. “The students dig into the body language of the characters. We hold up an actual thought bubble, like you might see in a cartoon.”

The students fill the bubbles with what a character — aggressor, victim, or bystander — might be thinking. Then the actors break out of the tableau but not their character, and the students take on the role of investigative reporter.

“They’re put in the hot seat, and the students get to interview them,” Weberman says. The students aren’t shy about grilling the characters, she adds. “They really go after the actor who’s playing the bully character. They want to know, ‘Why are you the way you are? Were you bullied?’”

“They want to understand the bad guy as much as they want to help the good guy,” says Gfaller.

After the interrogations, students come up with strategies for better outcomes. The actors run the scene again, and kids can tag actors out and step into the scene themselves to try the strategies.

“We like to say, ‘It’s like rehearsal for real life,’” says Weberman. “It really is all about empathy, stepping into the shoes of another.”

Previous seasons have addressed physical violence and sexual harassment — disheartening realities, Weberman says, for sixth graders. Some of the programming for the upcoming season will continue to look at violence. 

During the forthcoming year, Metro Theater will also work with the Diversity Awareness Partnership, whose “Give Respect Get Respect” campaign pairs older students with local corporate executives in a mentorship program. Metro’s programming for that initiative will address gender identity issues.

01 Feb 2020
Yo Yo of Circus Flora

After nearly 35 years in St. Louis, Circus Flora has a home.

By Jen Roberts

Step right up and prepare to be whisked away to a magical world where people fly through the air, pigs dance, and one brave soul runs and jumps rope on a spinning wheel.

Artistic director Jack Marsh has been part of the wonder since nearly the beginning when his mother worked as a performer and a director. He was 2-years-old when the show debuted in 1986 at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Marsh never intended for it to be his life’s work, but he was drawn back after law school and several years as a corporate attorney. “Just the magic of it,” he says, “the love for it.”

The one-ring circus was named after an elephant that circus founder David Balding rescued after ivory poachers killed her mother in Botswana. (Flora was an integral part of the circus until the early 2000s, when she retired to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.) Balding’s idea: to meld modern theatre with a traditional European circus. “It was Balding’s dream to marry his twin loves of theatre and the traditional one-ring circus,” says Marsh.

It’s a circus with a storyline. “Circus typically has very specific images associated with it,” says Marsh. “Some of them are wonderful, like the magic of going as a kid and being transported into this place with beautiful people who are doing these incredible things. That is part of that imagery that we love and embrace.”

But not all circus imagery is so favorable. “There are not-so-positive images, like mistreated animals or tawdy aesthetics and a not thought-out artistic product. We steer clear of those,” says Marsh. “I think we lean into the fact that we are this very nostalgic art form, but we try to find ways where it can appeal to a modern audience.”

Circus Flora is modern, but it still has that traditional appeal that you enjoyed as a child. Inside The Big Top is a sawdust-filled ring that’s reimagined throughout the show. There are acrobats and high-wire artists, “the images you might come to expect,” says Marsh, “but then we wrap it in a fun and goofy atmosphere.”

It’s a show that appeals to everyone. “I think it’s secretly the best friend night out or date night. It’s not a show aimed at 5-year-olds; it’s just as fun for adults,” says Marsh. “That’s the beauty of it: You get all these people from different ages and backgrounds, and they’re going to have the same fun time for the same reason. It’s an amazing popular entertainment that not a lot of art forms can accomplish.”

And the show is local. Typically, the word “circus” conjures memories of traveling shows that arrive in town with lions and elephants and exciting performers. The big tent is set up and taken down nearly as quickly, as the show heads to its next city. Circus Flora is working hard to combat this transient image. “It’s been a while since we’ve played anywhere else, and we have year-round programming,” says Marsh. “We see ourselves as a vital part of the St. Louis fabric.”

For years, Circus Flora used to “squat on the Powell Hall parking lot every summer,” recalls Marsh, adding that the temporary location wasn’t as conducive to establishing the circus as a St. Louis arts institution. The schedule also had to coincide with the symphony’s, and the circus packed up everything after the show concluded each year. 

Then, in 2018 the Kranzberg Arts Foundation stepped in. The nonprofit provided a permanent venue, simply called The Big Top, at 3401 Washington Ave. After years of setting up on the parking lot beside Powell Hall, Circus Flora now has its own space, and the tent remains up for much of the year. Even when it’s not set up during the winter months, the four posts remain and a permanent neon-lit sign points in the direction of The Big Top. As Marsh says, “Our best billboard is our big red tent.”

Marsh hopes this permanent location will enable Circus Flora to help grow Grand Center Arts District while allowing the circus to be “full members of the community,” he says. “We like to stress the St. Louis-ness of what we do and how important the community is to us.”

Clowns on Call is one way that Circus Flora extends the show throughout the year and beyond The Big Top. Through this cornerstone community outreach program, clowns entertain children at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. “It’s healing through laughter,” says Marsh. “The families are going through what I am sure is the toughest experience in their life, and it’s really wonderful to be able to transport them and bring a little bit of the magic to them.”

Circus Flora also provides tickets to underserved communities, so all kids can be part of the experience. “The community-oriented mission is really important to us,” says Marsh.

Marsh admits there are a lot of “unmagical things” that go into planning and executing a show including physical labor, paperwork, and budgeting. But even after all these years, he still gets that “warm, excited feeling in his chest” when he sees the audience’s reaction to a performance. “Being able to trace that moment back through a mountain of hard work from so many talented people is amazing,” says Marsh.

Each year, Circus Flora presents a new theme. This year’s production taking place June 4th through 28th is “The Trial of the Century,” which is best described as a “boisterous courtroom crossed with a circus,” says Marsh, which is sure to bring him back to his days as a lawyer. It’s also sure to tie in elements of St. Louis. After all, Circus Flora is St. Louis’ circus — and it’s not going anywhere.

01 Feb 2020
By Grand Center, Inc.

There’s no better time than at the start of the year to try something new. Lucky for you, there are a ton of ways to get “hands on” in Grand Center Arts District – whether it be through an experience, a workshop, or the discovery of a new musical act. s. Here’s some ideas to get your creative juices flowing. 

Arts

With each exhibition, Pulitzer Arts Foundation hosts a variety of workshops and wellness activities to engage their art-savvy audience in a fresh, new way. Throughout 2020, you are invited to explore ranges of motion and mindfulness (classes include tai chi, yoga, and meditation), workshops and conversations (like paper cutting, tours conducted in Spanish , and conversations with renowned artists and curators), and even unique collaborations with fellow arts organizations like St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Contemporary Art Museum. 

The Contemporary Art Museum’s Spring exhibition series opened in January and with it comes a new event roster that includes several hands-on workshops and activities. Two upcoming events to consider are RE: Soul and Drawing from Observation. For RE: Soul, CAM’s 2020 DJ-in-Residence James Biko traces the history of soul music and contemporary sampling in an interactive spinning session inspired by the work of artist Liz Johnson Artur. For April’s Drawing from Observation, guests are invited to draw their own works inspired by the museum’s exhibitions. After a special tour, CAM provides all art supplies for you and invites you to create freely. 

Music

For those who have made a New Year’s resolution to learn a new musical skill, KDHX’s Folk School classes are now in session. Folk School offers small group classes for adults and teens of all experience levels, from complete beginner through advanced. Class options include Banjo Introduction, Classic Country Ensemble, Guitar, Music Theory, and more. 

At the Arts & Education Council, resident Open Studio Network takes jazz education seriously, year-round. Designed to connect all levels of musicianship to a network of jazz artists across the globe, Open Studio is your digital connection to courses and flexible membership options. Browse your options by instrument, sign-up, and take courses from Grammy-winning masters of their craft – all in a few clicks.

Theatre

The Fabulous Fox’s Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation is committed to bringing theatre to the forefront of creativity from an early age. This year, in addition to their Master Class programs for teens, FPACF has announced a new summer program: Next Stop Broadway. The program consists of classes, workshops, and rehearsals focused on classic Broadway shows. Participants will be taught songs and choreography from two hit shows and also create presentations based on shows in the 2020-21 Fabulous Fox Theatre season. 

Design

Creative Reaction Lab focuses on equity-centered community design and provides education, resources, and opportunities for Black and Latinx youth. Each year, programs include options for both youth and institutions to ensure that means and location do not hinder anyone from receiving the opportunities they deserve. The Equity by Design Immersive Series connects the Equity-Centered Community Design to inclusive and equitable outcomes. Creative Reaction Lab facilitators guide participants through highly interactive activities, dialogue, planning, and reflection regarding power, identity, social equity, and community design.

01 Aug 2019
High Low Literary Arts Cafe in Grand Center, St. Louis
By Jen Roberts

A long list of accomplished writers, poets, and playwrights have called St. Louis home: Maya Angelou, William S. Burroughs, Kate Chopin, T.S. Eliot, A.E. Hotchner, Jonathan Franzen, Curtis Sittenfeld, Justin Phillip Reed … Never before, though, has St. Louis’ literary community had a dedicated creative space to gather under the same roof — until now. 

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation recently transformed a formerly vacant building in Midtown into a hub for the literary arts scene: High Low. Located at 3301 Washington Avenue, the two-story space houses dedicated space for local writers, a library, a 200-seat performance space to host author readings and other literary events and a gallery features rotating exhibits. Locally-owned Blueprint Coffee also operates a café inside the space featuring food from James Beard-Nominated Chef Rob Connoley and Squatter’s Cafe. There are also plans for a writers-in-residence program.

People from outside the area are often surprised when they learn how lively the literary community in St. Louis actually is, but I think part of that may be that we aren’t currently home to one large hub that draws national attention,” says Shanie Latham, managing editor of River Styx, St. Louis’ oldest literary magazine, which is moving its own offices to the space.

For more than 40 years, the award-winning publication has been publishing fiction, essays, poetry, art, and interviews. The organization also hosts writing workshops for adults and offers several youth programs, including a partnership with Grand Center Arts Academy to publish a digital journal created by high school students. The longtime River Styx Reading Series, which is currently held at Rooster on South Grand, plans to relocate to High Low.

“When the opportunity came to join the art center, we decided what better way to get involved with other groups, as well as the community,” says River Styx board president Pat Magee. “From my perspective, this is a really good step in the right direction.”

“There are a lot of ways that the space will help us,” adds Latham. “Pragmatically, it’s low-cost and good facilities. Creatively, just being with other organizations — you can’t plan ahead of time to know how it will help. Just having organic opportunities to chat with organizations and see what they are doing and if you have projects in common.” 

It’s a notion that UrbArts founder MK Stallings appreciates as well. “Creating a brick and mortar and taking these disparate efforts and putting them under the same roof creates energy and opportunity,” says Stallings, whose nonprofit will also reside in the space. The grassroots nonprofit was created in 2001 to “create platforms and platform creatives for youth and community development.” It supports poets, writers, actors, musicians, and visual artists who often contribute to the “social arts,” which respond and reflect the community from which it is being produced. During a poetry open-mic night, for example, a gentleman who worked at a juvenile detention center approached Stallings about starting a poetry workshop for the kids at the center. The result: a nonprofit that pays teaching artists to engage with the community.

“I see High Low supporting the work that we do because there is a clear alignment for civic service that we need to engage around arts, particularly literary arts in the city,” says Stallings. 

One other way he sees the center supporting the arts: It will be home to St. Louis’ Poet Laureate — a significant distinction. “This person will be a cultural ambassador,” says Stallings. “All of a sudden, you create a center of gravity for the literary arts scene.” The city’s first poet laureate, Dr. Michael Castro, helped launch the Brick City Poetry Festival, which brings together St. Louisans from various backgrounds to present literary art forms.

Already, the region boasts world-class MFA programs, award-winning literary journals, and small presses. “Not to mention fabulous libraries and independent bookstores that offer diverse programming,” says Latham. “I think the fact that our city hosts all this programming through numerous smaller organizations is a good thing — it helps to promote diversity of voices, genres, aesthetics, and so forth in a way that might be harder for a single organization to do. But what we lose out on is the sort of national recognition that a larger organization can garner through a preponderance of programs with consistent branding.” 

“Having this space makes it easier for groups to foster opportunities for collaboration,” says Stallings. “You create a way of taking these lofty helium-filled dreams and you tie them down, and you make it as real and as concrete as possible. I think that’s what the Kranzberg Arts Foundation is facilitating: They’re making it possible for the literary arts to be found.”

01 Aug 2019
The Cabaret Project St. Louis at Sophie's Artist Lounge

From concerts to conferences to open-mic nights, the St. Louis scene is thriving.

By Phillip Zacher

Since it started during the turn of the 20th century in France, the art of cabaret has delighted audiences around the world. Typically performed in smaller venues, the sense of intimacy helps differentiate cabaret from musical theatre or a jazz concert. “Cabaret is an intimate style of performance where the singer has a direct relationship to the audience and a personal relationship to their material”, says Tim Schall, the executive director of The Cabaret Project of St. Louis

In St. Louis, cabaret is flourishing. “There’s no comparison,” says Schall. “It’s incredibly vibrant.” And that’s in large part thanks to The Cabaret Project, which was founded in 2010 with a mission to support, develop, and sustain the art of cabaret and song performance in St. Louis. This September, The Cabaret Project kicks off its third season of the Cabaret Series, co-produced with Jazz St. Louis. Running through May 2020, the series brings six nationally and internationally recognized cabaret performers to St. Louis such as Tony winners Lindsay Mendez, Rachel Bay Jones, and Paulo Szot.

Beyond presenting concerts, The Cabaret Project focuses on educating and developing local and national artists and audiences through programs including The Cabaret Open Mic, Sign Center Stage, a five-day training program for high schoolers, and The St. Louis Cabaret Conference.

The Cabaret Open Mic, hosted every third Tuesday at Sophie’s Artist Lounge, offers singers a chance to perform for an open, receptive audience. Hosted by Chuck Lavazzi, with Carol Schmidt on piano, the event invites any and all to bring sheet music and their voice. “It’s a chance for experienced singers to try new material,” says Lavazzi. “And it’s a way for people without experience to get in front of an audience for the first time.”

For performers more serious about developing their skills, there’s the St. Louis Cabaret Conference. Currently, in its 13th season, it’s “the largest and oldest training program in song performance for adults in the nation,” according to Schall. The Cabaret Project has taken the lead in organizing the conference, which attracts and trains performers from across the nation. “We have singers coming from all over the country,” says Schall. “They get training, develop a network, and get connected locally and nationally.”

The conference has made a wide-reaching impact on the local scene. In fact, it’s where Robert Breig, who founded Mariposa Artists in 2009, got his start in cabaret. “I’ll credit Tim Schall,” he says. “I took the St. Louis conference, and I got hooked.” Today, Mariposa Artists helps artists of all experience levels produce shows, but the organization thrives on helping performers with their first shows. It speaks to the group’s roots. “I just kind of landed on the producing side,” says Breig. “I had people tell me they didn’t know where to start, and I said, ‘Hey, we can do this.’”

That attitude is what prompted an exchange program that helps artists perform their first show in a new city. Last June, Mariposa Artists presented A Taste of New York at The Kranzberg. The show featured four accomplished New York performers who had never performed in St. Louis. At the end of September, St. Louis performers will have a chance to perform in New York for the first time.

Locally, one exciting performance from Mariposa Artists is a collaboration with singer and St. Louis native Katie McGrath on Immigrant Songs, November 9 at .ZACK. Created in response to the recent spike in hate crimes, the show is the first in a series of concerts that will focus on the stories and songs of American arrival and, according to Breig, will “support the visibility and importance of immigrants to our country.”

As Mariposa Artists approaches its 10th year, the group is excited about the future of cabaret in St. Louis. “I think our community is thriving and expanding,” says Breig, “as we link arms with other performers and cities.”

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