Art, Music and Cocktails at SLAM Underground

If there happened to be a scene in St. Louis where residents and passersby could enjoy art, cocktails and music by local bands, for free, would you attend? What if the event description also happened to proclaim, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together on the last Friday in August to get through this thing called Life?”

Thankfully, there is one such scene in the city: SLAM Underground, an event series that takes place once a month at the Saint Louis Art Museum. On Aug. 25, the Museum has planned an evening titled “Purple Reign,” dedicated to both the song by the late Prince as well as the Museum’s fashion exhibition “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715-2015,” which opened in June of this year.

We sat down with the Museum’s Director of Learning and Engagement, Amanda Thompson Rundahl, as well as Educator of Adult Learning Sherri Williams to discuss the origins, purpose and vision of the event series.

SLAM Underground Saint Louis Art Museum ALIVE Magazine

Can you tell me about SLAM Underground, and why the museum decided to start the program?
Amanda: SLAM Underground started in early 2014. It was an intentional effort to offer something that landed on the final Friday of the month that engaged primarily young adults—and visitors of all ages—to the Museum in unconventional, fun and interesting ways that were still grounded in the Museum and based around art. There are a lot of choices on a Friday night, and people should know that they can come to the art museum and feel that they’ve had an experience.

What are some examples of previous SLAM Underground events?
Sherri: This year we’ve done “Fleur,” which was our February SLAM Underground, and tied into our “Art in Bloom” event. It was flower themed. We’ve also held “Prom,” which was in May. A typical SLAM Underground has photo booths, a band, live performances, art-making and a variety of in-gallery engagement experiences.

SLAM Underground Saint Louis Art Museum ALIVE Magazine

What can attendees expect from the upcoming SLAM Underground event?
Sherri: We’re planning to have karaoke and a Prince cover band. The art activity is inspired by our Explore Lab, which is an activity space inside the exhibition. There are fashion drawings and visitors can design an outfit around the figure. There are also plans for a live sewing demonstration. Fiber artist Tucker Pierce will create mini caricatures of people using his sewing machine, and we’ll have another activity where visitors can decorate their own tie or sneaker key chain as a play on the men’s attire in the “Reigning Men” exhibition. We’ve also planned a photo booth that’s Prince themed.

Are guests encouraged to dress up for this event?
Sherri: Absolutely. They can wear their best Prince outfit, or just something purple.

Is the “Reigning Men” exhibition open to view that night as well?
Sherri: Yes. The exhibition is free on Fridays. For SLAM Underground, we’re also planning a scavenger hunt that’s based on accessories in the exhibition and some of our permanent collections.

SLAM Underground Saint Louis Art Museum ALIVE Magazine

Is there a SLAM Underground event that you feel has been particularly successful?
Amanda: The program has really grown over the past three and a half years, [though] I don’t know if it’s fully reached the limits of where we can take it. In 2016, there were 10 of them—we host them 10 months out of the year. We had more than 10,000 attendees over those 10 months, more than double the first year’s attendance.

One of the biggest ones we’ve had was in June of 2015, when we opened the sculpture garden, located behind the museum. That was outdoors, with a garden party theme. January 2016 was another the biggest, in terms of attendance—we had two artists who were St. Louis natives, now based in Brooklyn: Steven and William Ladd. They also helped to curate that particular SLAM Underground event. Their artwork is really fresh, interesting and fun. It really draws upon their memories of growing up here in St. Louis. There were somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 guests that night.

How did the museum come up with the name SLAM Underground?
Amanda: It’s sort of playing off of an underground club vibe. Also, originally a lot of the activities happened on the lower level of the art museum, so it was literally underground because that’s where our auditorium is located. It’s an area where we can have food, drinks and access our education center, where we offer our art-making activities that we call “Create Labs.” Then, we send people off into the galleries to explore art.

SLAM Underground is from 7-10pm, free and open to the public. Visit slam.org for more information.

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