We Heart STL: Arts + Culture
Oh, let us count the ways our citys arts scene makes our hearts go pitter-patter.
Best New Arts Destination: Public Media Commons
Grand Center’s newest art hotspot is also the neighborhood’s best gathering area: A medley of video installations, art showcases and cultural cognoscent events are held in the open-air space between St. Louis Public Radio and Nine Network. The breathtaking space is like no other in the city, and its goal is to make art and shared creative experiences accessible to all. Case in point: A new partnership between the Nine Network and the St. Louis Symphony will provide free live performances from groups founded by and including symphony musicians. Grand Center, 314.512.9000.
Most Innovative Arts Space: The Luminary
In a departure from one-sided encounters with art, programming at the Luminary is largely designed to facilitate interactions. In March, for example, art took to the streets in “Counterpublic,” as artists reflected on the gentrification of Cherokee Street by creating work for storefronts, hosting communal dinners and exploring what a cultural space could be. Its innovation benefits artists, too: An annual August residency spent on a river and programming such as March’s “60 wrd/min art critic” with critic Lori Waxman (in collaboration with Fort Gondo) provide endless inspiration for the community and its artists. Cherokee Street, 314.807.5984.
Best Art Experience: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
The concept that “art is for all” filters into every corner of St. Louis’ well-loved institution: free admission, unpretentious signage and a perfectly sized space—so whether you’re taking an art history major or converting a reluctant museumgoer, a visit to CAMneither lacks nor overwhelms. Notably, CAM eschews a permanent collection to engage the public with rotating exhibitions that not only have some serious street cred (passport stamps on current works include the Guggenheim and documenta) but keep St. Louisans coming back to catch the latest. Grand Center, 314.535.4660.
Best Alternative Art Space: Blank Space
It’s all in the name: The 3-year-old venue-reading-room-libation-station-gallery-record-store-self-proclaimed “temple of knowledge” is anything the community imagines it to be—and on Cherokee Street, that can get pretty creative. A choice tweet: “Party at the space by night or chill and just vibe out in the space by day. It don’t matter. We’re open like, all the time yo.” With a weekly midday film series, Motown on Mondays and more, it’s the type of venue that makes creative neighborhoods thrive. Cherokee Street, 314.300.8831.
Best New Monthly Art Event: SLAM Underground Series
On the last Friday of each month, St. Louis’ crown jewel of a museum throws an after-hours party. And there ain’t no party like a museum party: Each weaves the theme of one of their featured exhibitions or a moment in art history (the birthday of Max Beckmann, for example) into overtime through cocktails, DJ’d music, games, crafts and tours. Forest Park, 314.721.0072.
Best Arts Community-Builder: St. Louis Regional Arts Commission
There’s hardly an arts organization or artist in this town that hasn’t been touched by RAC’s support: The organization’s advocacy for a thriving arts scene is second-to-none. Foundedby the recently retired Jill McGuire 30 years ago, RAC provides grants to nonprofit organizations, fellowships, critical educational and training classes alongside a range of exhibitions in its space on Delmar. We can’t wait to see what’s in store under the direction of returning St. Louisan Felicia Shaw, who recently took up McGuire’s post as executive director. The Loop, 314.863.5811.
Most Innovative Programming: Pulitzer Arts Foundation
It’s back, and it’s better than ever: After closing for months to turn its downstairs office space into two new galleries, the Pulitzer reopened May 1 with “Press Play,” a series of programming that includes cross-media collaborations. Prior to renovations, its last series was a stage for breakdancers, drag queens and St. Louis Symphony members. With its commitment to thinking beyond traditional definitions of art, the beloved organization provides a space of innovation, creativity and genuine fun in the city’s artscape. Grand Center, 314.754.1850.
Best Place for Aspiring Makers: Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design
St. Louis has no shortage of homes for established artists, but Craft Alliance provides a laboratory and showcase for emerging ones. Weavers, designers and other passionate makers find a community here through events that provide valuable networking opportunities; residencies that give them the freedom to hone their craft and a gallery where they can sell their wares to those looking to support local art. And given the success of last month’s Makers Ball, it’s clear that St. Louis is looking forward to the next big talent to come out of its studio. Multiple locations, craftalliance.org.
Best Community Art Programs: Center of the Creative Arts
COCA has caught national attention for redefining what its genre could be. With two goals—to enrich lives and to build community through the arts—Executive Director Kelly Pollock has brought in top-tier talent to teach STL’s youth dance; she’s created COCAbiz, a wildly successful program bridging art-think and business-think;and she’s formed a conduit to place alumni in some of the nation’s most prestigious performing arts schools. The Loop, 314.725.6555.
Best Lecture Series: St Louis Speaker Series at Powell Hall
Maryville University’s much-loved speaker lineup is engaging, yes, but also incredibly diverse—just check out 2015-2016’s lineup: author John Irving, a former CIA director, a retired astronaut, a record-breaking swimmer and writer Dave Barry. There’s a fit for anyone, and the insights these gamechangers bring make these evenings must-attend events. Grand Center, 314.534.1700.
Best Theater Festival: BRIEFS: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays
Each year, That Uppity Theatre Company and Vital VOICE partner to create BRIEFS, an often sold-out festival bringing together the LGBT community, allies and local businesses to explore the LGBT experience. Each 10-minute play not only stands on its own but as part of a larger whole comprised of multiple perspectives that organically enter into a conversation that otherwise might not happen. Location varies, uppityco.com.
Best Culture-Meets-Pop-Culture: St. Louis Symphony
There’s the symphony, and then there’s the St. Louis Symphony performing the scores of Hollywood classics as the movie screens in front of you. Although we love both, mad props go to the creativity of the symphony’s executive committee, which recently brought audiences “Pirates of the Caribbean 2,” “Gladiator,” and “Pixar in Concert,” a medley of favorite musical moments from the film studio. Audiences clearly love it—on the way in to March’s “The Godfather” performance, more than a few costumed Corleones could be spotted. Grand Center, 314.533.2500.
Best Place to Start Your Art Night Out: The Dark Room
Located conveniently up the block from Bruno David, CAM, The Sheldon and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, and on the same strip of Grand as The Fabulous Fox, Powell Hall and other arts destinations, The Dark Room’s carefully curated wine selection and locally driven menu make the perfect starting point for an art night on the town. It also doubles as a gallery in partnership with the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum—providing great conversation starters as you sip your malbec. Grand Center, 314.531.3416.
Best Interactive Exhibits: Missouri History Museum
If your memories of history museums are, well, a little dusty, it’s time to give them another go: The Missouri History Museum’s curators shape the beautiful space—and past—into intriguing and interactive exhibits that are anything but textbook. Currently: The “Walk in 1875 St. Louis” exhibit features a variety of interactive elements, including a remarkably detailed historical city map, originally taking up 300 square feet when drawn by Richard Compton and Camille Dry in 1874. Forest Park, 314.746.4599.
Best Acting Experience for Kids: The Muny
For shy kids (or outgoing ones), par-ticipating in The Muny’s program is a truly St. Louis way to encourage self-expression, build discipline and explore their creativity. Kids in the youth chorus rehearse like true pros for top-notch productions before taking the stage—last season’s “Seussical the Musical” won four Theatre Circle awards, including Best Musical. Forest Park, 314.361.1900.
Best Broadway Lineup: The Fabulous Fox
Sitting front row at The Fox Theatre is a taste of Broadway at its best. The St. Louis institution is the host of the U.S. Bank Broadway Series, which brings in national Broadway tours of some of the hottest shows in the Big Apple. The 2014-2015 season highlight was arguably a tie between producer Cameron Mackintosh’s reimagined “Phantom of the Opera” and Cyndi Lauper’s ultra-sassy “Kinky Boots.” We can’t wait to see what’s waiting in the wings this year. Grand Center, 314.534.1678.
Best Concert Venue: Peabody Opera House
Opened in 1934 as a rallying point for
civic pride, St. Louis’ greatest concert venue went silent for 20 years before a $78.7 million restoration revived it in 2011. Last year, its acoustics once again proved capable of allowing a variety of artists to shine, from synth-heavy Lorde to folksy Sufjan Stevens. And if sound alone isn’t enough to impress, just look around: It’s one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture west of the Mississippi. Downtown, 314.499.7600.
Best New Storytelling Meetup: Second Tuesdays
On the second Tuesday of each month, storytellers old and young gather to swap stories at this open-mic event, featuring tragedy, comedy and all the genres in between. Participation isn’t a requirement for attendance, so if you’re more listener than talker, post up in the audience and take in the tales. Location varies, secondtuesdaysSTL@gmail.com.
Best Place to Feel Like You’re at an Off-Broadway Production: The Gaslight Theater
If you miss the basement productions of NYC theater companies, look no further than The Gaslight Theater. St. Louis Actors’ Studio calls this intimate 97-seat stage home a true black-box experience. Next month, STLAS is producing the LaBute New Theater Festival July 10-Aug. 2. Be sure to check out their events calendar for burlesque, comedy and live music. Central West End, 314.458.2978.
Best Free Concert Series: Whitaker Music Festival
Break up a summertime workweek with a free concert, a delicious picnic and a starry night at MOBOT. The 2015 program includes musicians from a variety of genres: jazz, country, blues, R&B and a little rock ‘n’ roll. Attendees can bring picnics or purchase food there and kick back as music and the scent of flowers fill the summer night. Shaw, 314.577.5100.
Best Art Fair: Saint Louis Art Fair
This Clayton event is one of the top fine art festivals in the US—and for good reason: The jury selects the best artists to draw more than 150,000 enthusiasts each September. For thethree (free) days of the festival, attendees can also take in performances, demonstrations, kids’ activities and culinary tie-ins for an arty experience that’s fun and intriguing for connoisseurs and neophytes alike. Clayton, 314.863.0278.
Best Summer Date Night: Opera Theater of Saint Louis
Elevate dinner-and-a-movie to the next level with an evening at the opera—no black tie required. Begin with a picnic on the lawn, followed by the performance in an intimate setting where every seat’s a good one. Then, join your fellow operagoers in the garden for a party under the stars. Sound ideal? The season’s in full swing, so get your tickets now. Webster Groves, 314.961.0644.
Best Theater with a Social Cause: Metro Theater Company
Metro Theater Company’s professional performances have the underlying mission of educating kids by creating theater that’s meaningful, inspiring and intelligent. Staffers develop traveling performances that tie in with school curricula, and mainstage productions also draw in plenty of audience members: To date, around two million people from 41 states and four countries have seen their productions. Grand Center, 314.932.7414.
Best Music Festival: Loufest
Each September, top names and up-and-comers alike take over Central Field in Forest Park for two days of music, revelry and (crossing fingers) sun. There’s a high chance that you’ll see the next top-charting band here right before they hit the big time—last year’s breakouts included Glass Animals and Blackberry Smoke alongside big names like Outkast and Cake. For festivalgoers with rugrats in tow, the LouKidz area has family-friendly activities for all-age entertainment. Forest Park, loufest.com.
Best Place to Discover Something New: Saint Louis Science Center
It’s not just planets and earthquakes at the Science Center: There’s also a giant, animatronic T. rex—Mr. T. Rex to guests—who tweets about the center’s engaging talks on topics from the science behind Jurassic Park to the science behind beer-making. One of the largest and best in the US, the center has 700-plus exhibits and makes them accessible to all with free admission to permanent exhibits. Forest Park, 314.289.4400.
Best Family Outing: Saint Louis Zoo
No matter the time of year, the Saint Louis Zoo is the perfect place to spend a day with the fam: During warm months, its 19,800 animals from 600 species are out and ready to strut their stuff for guests. Toward the holidays, come back for Wild Lights on the 93-acre-and-growing complex. Everyday admission is free—not bad for one of the top in the country. Forest Park, 314.781.0900.
Best Place to Bring Out-of-Towners: City Museum
Museum—or playground? That’s for your guests to decide. The 600,000-square-foot attraction, built inside (and outside) a renovated factory, integrates reclaimed architectural objects from the city. There are 10- and five-story slides (and two bars to get your courage up), a Ferris wheel on the roof and a vintage aircraft accessible via wire tube-ladder bridges. The best part? It’s constantly changing as workers pull relics out of storage. Downtown, 314.231.2489.
Best Place to Catch New Works: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
The Rep performs the important task of bringing new works from the West End and Broadway—for example, 2014’s “One Man, Two Guvnors”— to audiences here in STL. And then there’s Ignite!, its annual festival premiering works to keep theater’s canon going. Old or new, these productions— and the consistent talent behind them—are always guaranteed to be a hit. Webster Groves, 314.968.7340.
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg