Arts New Arrivals
From-the-notebook chats with the new leadership of three of STLs most prized arts institutions.
THIS SUMMER IS particularly dynamic for St. Louis’ arts scene as three new leaders take the helm at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, the St. Louis Symphony and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. ALIVE sat down with each to get to know them and get a sneak peek at any upcoming plans they have in store for their organizations.
Felicia Shaw, Executive director
Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis
ALIVE: What experience from your past work will you take to this new post?
SHAW: One of the things I’m most passionate about is the work that I’ve done with art-movement-specific engagement … When the arts show up as a tool for solving some of our toughest social issues, you really see their power. I think that St. Louis is great laboratory for unleashing all that the arts can do.
ALIVE: What are you most looking forward to about your work with RAC?
SHAW: I’m most looking forward to getting re-acquainted with the arts community, which is so vibrant… It feels like people have given themselves license to start up whatever they want. You can get space fairly easy and fairly inexpensively. Every night you can go see something of high quality. So, I want to meet everyone, of course the cultural leaders, but I really want to get into the neighborhoods and see how art is living and thriving at that level.
ALIVE: What pet projects do you want to see come to fruition during your leadership?
SHAW: If I’m so lucky, I would like to engage the St. Louis region in talking about the arts here for the next 30 years. Should we be branding and establishing St Louis as an epicenter for individual artists, or is it more about the institutions and how we support them and make them more vibrant and sustainable? Or are we going to redefine the boundaries of art? … I want to launch a cultural planning process that will get everyone talking about the future.
ALIVE: It’s a great time for that conversation. I feel like St. Louis is heading toward a precipice, toward a renaissance. We’re right there.
SHAW: You just go out and you feel like, “Oh we’re getting ready to be …” and what is that?
ALIVE: It’s holding its breath before an exhale.
SHAW: It’s holding its breath. Somehow, can we formally and intentionally have this conversation and get people to weigh in? … I want us to have a conversation with the police department and Downtown redevelopment and health providers. I want to see what seat we can have in all those worlds and ask, “What do the arts mean to you?” then devise the next strategy for where we’re going to go.
Marie-Hélène Bernard, President/CEO
St. Louis Symphony
ALIVE: What from your past work will influence your tenure at the symphony?
BERNARD: I think that great music is about people and relationships … definitely that aspect of leadership: being able to be an assembler, someone who brings people together and really makes sure the symphony continues its great work.
ALIVE: What are you most looking forward to in your role here?
BERNARD: I look forward to meeting my colleagues in the nonprofit and arts world and making new friendships … I was in Cleveland for about eight years before I went to Boston, and I really love the Midwest—I just feel at home here.
ALIVE: What pet projects do you hope to put into motion during your leadership?
BERNARD: I want to work more with young people to make sure they come and they see the symphony as part of their cultural landscape … also to really dig deeper into touching a larger community and understanding this culture and what makes people come here. I hope that Powell Hall really becomes a destination for people who live in St. Louis and outside of town.
Cara Starke, Director
Pulitzer Arts Foundation
ALIVE: What are you most looking forward to regaring your work with the Pulitzer?
STARKE: What attracted me is that it seems like an incredible organization that’s really open to experimentation and pushing boundaries, crossing disciplines, connecting with audiences and offering profound experiences. I think it’s an incredibly special space and to have the opportunity to be working within the walls and space, but also pushing beyond the institution and engaging with the community, is really an extraordinary thing.
ALIVE: How will your work at Creative Time influence your work with the Pulitzer?
STARKE: I’ve been lucky to work with the most brilliant curators and artists and leaders of our times—those have been really special opportunities, and I’ve learned so much from them … When I was working with [the artist] Suzanne Lacy a few years ago, I learned a huge amount of community organizing.
ALIVE: Do you have a pet project you’re dying to see come to fruition at the Pulitzer?
STARKE: Of course I have tons of ideas, but I’m also a real believer in collaboration, so I come in with that spirit in mind. Plus, I need to learn the space and the community and the audiences and the team, and that’s important. When you commission, you have to be so sensitive to the spaces you’re entering into: the politics of space, the artists … then understand what makes for a great experience.
Felicia Shaw, courtesy of Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis.
Cara Starke, photo by Elisabeth Smolarz, courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation.