Reimagine Urbanism in St. Louis This Week at “Dwell in Other Futures”

As countless development projects continue to take shape, it’s increasingly clear that St. Louis’ most prominent decision-makers have the area’s future at the top of their priorities.

From the completion of the long-awaited trolley project on The Loop and the symbiotic redevelopment in Midtown (an area that comprises the newly formed Prospect Yards district and features the much-anticipated City Foundry retail-and-food development as an anchor); from the forthcoming residential high-rises in the Central West End and in Downtown, to the multi-million-dollar Union Station aquarium project, St. Louis’ future is on track to look—at least on the surface—drastically different from its present.

For multidisciplinary artist and curator Gavin Kroeber, scholar and Washington University in St. Louis faculty member Dr. Rebecca Wanzo, and artist and Washington University faculty member Tim Portlock, exploring St. Louis’ many possible futures also doubles as an opportunity to dig deeper into more complicated questions. Driven by a desire to facilitate a more imaginative and accessible dialogue open to the St. Louis public, the trio organized “Dwell in Other Futures: Art / Urbanism / Midwest.”

The two-day festival, scheduled for the weekend of April 27-28, features panels, performances and art installations all meditating on the intersections of race, urbanism, and futurism through multiple artistic practices and interpretations.

Kroeber, Wanzo and Portlock crafted the event around their mutual admiration of Samuel R. Delaney, a masterful African-American science-fiction writer considered one of the foundational figures of Afrofuturist literature, alongside greats like Octavia Butler. With this creative approach inspiring their overall vision—and Delaney as the festival’s keynote speaker—the three began working on the logistics of “Dwell in Other Futures” while crafting the festival’s arts-centric approach to facilitating a community conversation.

“We wanted to think about what the arts can say, and what the arts can help us see about imagining new futures, as well as speaking to things that are lost or forgotten or invisible to people depending on their positionality,” offers Dr. Wanzo in a phone interview.

And certainly, “Dwell in Other Futures,” presents a line-up of some of St. Louis’ most captivating local artists—including well-known staples like Damon Davis, Basil Kincaid, Katherine Simóne Reynolds, and Treasure Shields Redmond to name a few—alongside several national and international names. Architect Jae Shin travels from Newark with a fresh approach to community-based architecture, V. Mitch McEwen brings progressive and creative urban design experience from Detroit, and artist Sophia Al-Maria joins the festival all the way from London, bringing her own futuristic perspective on Gulf Arab nations.

Bringing non-local artists to St. Louis for this festival also acts as an opportunity to put St. Louis artists and creatives in dialogue with conversations happening at the national and international level. While the effects of race-based housing segregation and economic disparity along racial lines both impact St. Louis’ current urban landscape in a very particular way, many U.S. cities across the country are facing similar modern, urban challenges. The topic and challenges of urbanism are at once both hyper-local and mirrored in a variety of ways in cities across the country, and around the globe.

Still, the festival’s founders want to keep St. Louis at the center of “Dwell in Other Futures,” using their community-focused and highly collaborative vision to provide an alternative for St. Louis locals who might feel shut out of conversations about the city’s future. As Kroeber explains, the plans that typically dominant narratives about the city’s future tend to be “things like stadium-building and other kinds of mega-project solutions to the city’s ills.” Another dominant narrative, says Kroeber, originates from media portrayals of St. Louis during the Ferguson Uprising, casting the city’s future as one “calcifying into a monument to structural racism.”

Neither narrative offers the kind of restorative, progressive imagined futures Kroeber hopes the festival will inspire.

“I think the most generative sense of the city’s potential future often emerges in smaller and more fleeting spaces—queer club nights, different art scenes, poetry readings,” he explains over the phone. “There are these moments where I’ll walk into a room and feel like I’ve stepped into an alternative future where people are already embodying the future they want to exist.”

Kat Reynolds St. Louis ALIVE Magazine GUIDED Dwell

Many overlapping artistic communities across the city regularly collaborate to produce work that operates at the intersections of urbanism and futurism, using local experiences to fuel dynamic, inventive works. “Dwell in Other Futures” hopes to bring those people into the same room, and inspire them to build something even more impactful in the festival’s wake.

“Could the festival be a platform that amplifies these more generative, more visionary, more radical futures that are already at play in the city?” Kroeber asks.

Dr. Wanzo, echoing the same sentiment, says she’s “most excited by the possibilities of all the conversations and future collaborations that might emerge after all these different events. When you do something like this, you want there to be some longer conversation between people, or some new connections that weren’t there before that allow people to then build something else.”

The festival’s celebration of collaborative community efforts is also replicated in its own origin story. In addition to Kroeber, Wanzo and Portlock working together, “Dwell in Other Futures” is also made possible through grants, partnerships and sponsorships from more a dozen of St. Louis arts and academic institutions and generous individuals. Though the “constellation” of partnerships made logistics a unique challenge for the three-person team, Kroeber says, “It’s been worth it because it’s an amazing group.”

The event opens at the .Zack event space and continues with performances and instillations at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Visit their website for a full event schedule for “Dwell in Other Futures,” held April 27-28.

First image of Damon Davis at work and second image of Katherine Simone Reynold’s previous work courtesy of the team at “Dwell in Other Futures.”

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