A Conversation With Boo McLoughlin And Jackie Chambers Of Craft Alliance Center Of Art + Design In St. Louis

Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design in St. Louis began as a cooperative gallery in 1964, and has been shaping conversations about the vitality of craft and art making ever since, at the local and national level. The organization lives out its mission to create a space where individuals of all ages, skill levels, and backgrounds can experience the transformative joy of making art, through a variety of classes and exhibitions. Classes include classic staples like Jewelry + Metalsmithing, Hand Built Forms with Clay, and Floor Loom Weaving, rounded out with Fused Glass Mosaics, Drawing the Still Life Soda Vapor Firing, Glass Bead Making and many more. Children’s classes and summer camps are also available, perfect for the inquisitive and artistically-inclined younger generation.

The organization also supports young artists through the Crafting-A-Future program, which provides mentorship for high school-aged artists. Students participating in the program have the opportunity to hone their skills, gain confidence and prepare for higher education. Alums of the program include successful St. Louis-based sculptor Kahlil Irving, who is now pursuing an MFA degree from Washington University in St. Louis. His story is one of many.

On Friday, April 21, the organization will host the upcoming Maker’s Ball, Craft Alliance’s premier fundraising event. The evening is designed to both generate support for the arts and celebrate the power of art. The event will include artist demonstrations alongside a live and silent auction, plus an open bar, seated dinner and a few surprises.

We sat down with Executive Director Boo McLoughlin and Jackie Chambers, Director of Development and Communications, for a discussion of the upcoming event and what it means to Craft Alliance.

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What are you most excited about for the evening of the Makers Ball?

Boo: The part of the evening that always fills me with real joy about what we do is when students in our Crafting-A-Future program and the Artists-in-Residence tell us how these programs have impacted their lives. It’s wonderful to learn what their experience at Craft Alliance means to them on a personal level.

Jackie: I have to agree. During that part of the night, there’s usually not a dry eye in the house. They’re telling very real stories about why having the opportunity to make art is so moving to them. It gets people emotionally connected to what we do. That’s the moment when an abstract mission statement comes to feel very human.

What is unique about how this event has been developed?

Boo: It isn’t like any other gala I’ve attended. There is an opportunity to meet artists who are engaged at Craft Alliance, and to see them at work. Guests have the opportunity to personally experience what they’re supporting at this event.

Jackie: The artists who donate to the auction are present in the evening. That makes the Maker’s Ball different. The artists we work with every day are present as guests at the event. This is truly the Craft Alliance community coming together to support what we do. It’s the community’s event, and it’s our community that turns out.

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What should guests expect?

Jackie: When guests first arrive for the cocktail hour, we’ll have the silent auction and artist demonstrations, where you can see them throwing pots, using fire to make glass beads, or metalsmithing. The auction will have beautiful, one-of-a-kind items. Dinner will include a presentation that features a current Crafting-A-Future student and an Artist-in-Residence. That’s when guests get to hear from artists who are currently in the program, and they get to say why our programs are important and transformative in their own words

Boo: It is our key and only fundraising event for the year—so yes, it is very important. But it’s also a great party! Jackie has designed the whole evening, and this year I am particularly excited because we are at a new venue.

Jackie: This year’s event will be at the Caramel Room, which is a wonderful venue in the same building as Bissinger’s Chocolate on North Broadway. Everything about the space reflects the feel of the event: the woods, metals and fibers. It really sings. It is a beautiful space in a historic building—and Bissinger’s is a terrific partner.

What new elements do you plan to introduce this year?

Jackie: This year we are having a late-night party that we’re calling Crafted Confections: from 9-11 pm, guests will get to experience pairings of handcrafted chocolates with spirits. We are focusing on local and regional spirits—craft specialists like Pinckney Bend, Defiance Whiskey and Urban Chestnut. Those will all be paired with Bissinger’s chocolates, for a highly curated pairings experience. Even if you only come for the Crafted Confections pairing event, you will have a little taste of Craft Alliance, and you’ll get to know us better.

Boo: That late night will also have an art auction and a raffle, so there are opportunities for everyone who attends to really engage with the art.

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What do you hope guests take away from the Makers Ball?

Jackie: What we are focused on with all of these elements—from the silent auction items, to artist demos, chocolates and spirits—is local and regional handmade specialties. We want guests to experience craft, pay attention to the materials and connect with the makers.

What is the dress code, and what does it mean?

Boo: The way we say it is “crafty cocktail attire.” That means put on your best look, and put on some art. Let your ensemble or your jewelry be the art. You can be creative with it.

Jackie: Fun, colorful, handmade is all fair game—and we want to see it!

It really is a celebration, then.
Boo: I love that word to describe the Maker’s Ball. That’s really what it feels like.

To purchase tickets to the Maker’s Ball, Friday April 21 beginning at 6pm, click here

This post has been brought to you in part by the mentioned organization. Thank you for supporting the companies that keep ALIVE growing. Photos courtesy of those listed.

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