Takin' It To The Streets: Street Art in The Grove
This summer, St. Louis popped up on national lists of the best cities to see street art, and the artform shines brightly in The Grove, where it’s beloved by residents and businesses. The scene along Manchester Avenue is ever-evolving: At the time of press, there are plans for a fresh mural coinciding with 2015’s Grove Fest, a new paint job on an AT&T call box and a refresh of fire hydrants sporting playful designs.
The woman behind many of these projects, artist Grace McCammond—fueled by partner- ships with Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation, support from the Grove Community Improvement District and commissions from the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission—has led the charge on this revitalization since 2005. Back then, long-time residents will recall, The Grove wasn’t the destination it is today: It was, McCammond says, a “drive-through neighborhood: windows up, trying not to look at the empty buildings.”
AT FIRST BRUSH
Rejuvenation began with McCammond’s mural inside Sweetie Pie’s. Boldt Brothers’ window-washer mural, painted on the side of their warehouse, soon followed, and then Atomic Cowboy commissioned her to paint their rocket-riding “Atomic Cowgirl” mascot. The street art coincided with a time of investment in the neighborhood, and the brightened-up streetscape “made it more of an inviting and walkable destination, and that encouraged more businesses to take a chance,” she says. The first Grove Fest was held in 2006, and that’s when McCammond introduced paint-by-number community murals (a dragon kicked it off ), which have become an important tradition at the annual festival. Her approach creates a bond between participant and community in a literal way: By painting a wall, even if it’s just filling in some color, those who help out claim a part of the city as their own.
“People still remember what scales on the dragon they painted,” McCammond says. “When you’ve painted the scales, you have a stake in a thing and then a stake in the neigh- borhood.”
GROWING THE GROVE
These festival-born works have resulted in city favorites, like “Welcome to the Grove,” the postcard-themed art from 2010’s festival. Other paint-by-numbers works bring in city organizations to help: The “St. Louis Wall of Fame” came to life with help from the Boys and Girls Club of Adams Park and celebrates St. Louisans like Tina Turner, Maya Angelou, Katherine Dunham and Nelly.
With other paintbrushes now in the mix—Peat Wolleager, Craig Downs and others have added their art to the walls—the growing collection of Grove street art is one of the city’s treasures.
It has revitalized and given identity to an area once known for vacant buildings, and it showcases the craft outside of the traditionally secluded galleries, making it accessible for all.
“People’s lives are so busy,” McCammond says. “To have color and beauty and to be able to just see it when you’re doing your daily activities without having to make seeing art a special destination—that spark of brightness in your day is really helpful.”
This story appeared in the October 2015 issue.