Innovative Arts Institutions Sarah Hermes Griesbach
Art spaces quite naturally feel rarified. It is the purpose of museums and galleries to place art objects apart so that they can be considered. Quiet rooms, pared down to basic, white walls and balanced light are designed to encourage interaction with the physical manifestation of the artist’s ideation. But the reality is that the quiet can be stifling, the art-going crowd intimidating. In St. Louis, many of our local art entities are making their own creative leaps in how they engage their audiences. As a result, these art institutions are growing the art-going crowd in St. Louis.
Art Saint Louis
For 30 years, Art Saint Louis has exhibited work by regional artists and provided educational and outreach programs all around the city. In the summer of 2013, Art Saint Louis moved from Washington Avenue to their current address in the Park Pacific Building at 1223 Pine Street. In what could have been seen as a step backward for an art institution, the non-profit gallery partnered with coffee roaster Mississippi Mud to become a gallery-café hybrid. The collaborative venture turned out to be very clever. It was a good time to move to the Pine-Tucker corner. The change coincided with Saint Louis University Law School’s relocation downtown. Foot traffic increased instantly with visitors coming to view exhibitions over lunch, during work breaks, at the end of the day…,rather than waiting for an opening. Though the café and art gallery have discrete spaces, the audiences overlap. Art Saint Louis director Chandler Branch says that since the move, there are no quiet days, a statement very few gallery directors can make.
Bruno David Projects
The expansion of Bruno David into the Grove with the new Bruno David Projects space creates a visual art bookend effect with White Flag Projects at the west end of that thriving strip of cultural activity. Keri Robertson, the director of the Bruno David Projects gallery opened the space with a solo exhibition bringing paint and performance powerhouse Cindy Towers’ wild site paintings back to an appreciative St. Louis audience.
The Luminary Center for the Arts
In February of 2012, The Luminary Center for the Arts supporters surpassed the non-profit arts organization’s campaign to raise $20,000 for a move to Cherokee Street. The Luminary directors James and Brea McAnally report that the gallery’s move was “part of an effort to be both internationally relevant and to contribute to the neighborhood as an integral part of it.” The McAnallys see the physical design of the new Luminary as part of a larger effort to be completely transparent to the neighborhood. “The gallery was designed to be fully viewable from the street and includes several oversized doors that open onto the sidewalk to ensure there were no physical or conceptual barriers to what we were doing.” The Luminary has a longstanding bent toward art that engages social concerns. Their intention is to host an art space in which people of different backgrounds are not just said to be welcome, but one in which they actually are made to feel welcome. In March, The Luminary initiated their Counterpublic project which takes place in “community hubs” such as barbershops and bakeries. James McAnally describes it this way, “In this instance, we are moving the work out of our space and into the places people already spend time, that are themselves cultural hubs, to consider art’s power there. In our model, we’ve always been a gallery,
Thus far, the Projects art line-up is heavy on powerful one-woman shows. Monika Wulfers’ January-February Lines installation filled the gallery space with glowing glass tubes suspended by nearly invisible flexible wire so that the visitor entered the room as if entering a painting. (Yes, this exhibit is a prime example of “activated space.” See, it is a thing.) Robertson can imagine boundless new uses for the second gallery. She appreciates art neighbor White Flag’s “Film to be Determined” series, projected outdoors and looks to the opportunities for performance and music that she expects will be part of the Bruno David Projects’ development. Robertson finds that while running two separate spaces allows for twice the programming, it also brings new logistical hurtles. For example, . . . “Bruno only has one giant ladder.”
studio space and venue simultaneously, so these different ways of operating have coexisted since the beginning. Starting out, we were interested in conceptualizing music along a continuum closer to visual art. They are very different, obviously (and it should be said that we don’t advocate for all art being considered the same), but we wanted to present music as a thoughtful practice in which the decisions were intentional on the part of the performer and the venue was set up to encourage a more immediate engagement, but also conceptually expansive experience of music. We get a lot of questions from visual artists about what that means for the gallery, but it is usually a practical matter: Is the art taken care of? Is it protected and valued? We’ve never had artwork damaged at an event and find that these events dramatically expand the number of people who experience the work.”
Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts
Cherokee Street is bubbling over with interdisciplinary collaborations that push the boundaries of the traditional arts. Fort Gondo’s addition of neighboring gallery space Beverly advanced that expansion ever further. Fort Gondo and Beverly’s warm, wood-floored rooms make them viscerally welcoming galleries, perfectly suited for …poetry. Fort Gondo Compound director Jessica Baran is a literary artist who sees gallery spaces as a perfect
Fort Gondo and Beverly Galleries (photo credit: Maxine Ward)
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