A Bold New Vision for Unleashing Creativity in the Region—And in Each St. Louisan
The new report “Arts &: A Creative Vision for St. Louis” is full of imaginative ideas—as you’d expect in a document generated from a year-long exploration of viewpoints that engaged more than 3,000 people. The unexpected twist is how much it celebrates and encourages the creativity of everyday St. Louisans.
“You would be surprised how many people sing in church choirs or have garage bands or paint or write poetry,” says Felicia Shaw, executive director of the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), which led the information-gathering initiative known as EVOKE. “St. Louis is one of the biggest poetry centers in the country—people really engage in poetry here. Who knew?”
Traditionally, arts programming is viewed as passive. You buy a ticket, watch and go home. However, Shaw says, “the way most people interact with the arts every day is through their own creativity.” Thus, one of the report’s six priorities is about inviting St. Louisans to “advance active participation in the arts.” In other words, get out there and take the stage. Or the mic. Or the dance floor.
Shaw—whose own creative passions are building a personal art collection and writing—sees tremendous possibilities in fostering everyday creativity. “This priority is all about activating everyone’s ability to be a creative person, and then providing outlets where it can happen.”
The other priorities in the report include committing to arts education, amplifying arts and culture as an economic engine through support and partnerships, attracting and retaining a community of professional artists, advancing equity and forging new collaborations and alliances.
Notably, the report doesn’t call for additional arts and culture organizations or venues. St. Louis is rich in those already. “The work ahead is not so much to create a lot of new programs, but to look at the good things that are already happening and shine a light on them to give them an opportunity to grow and get better,” Shaw says.
To that end, the RAC plans to go back to the community in the coming months, opening a dialogue with artists, arts organizations and the public. By 2019, Shaw says, they hope to have fleshed-out strategies for each priority.
While that process unfolds, RAC and other organizations will continue to form partnerships aligned with the priorities. One example is RAC’s collaboration with Downtown St. Louis, Inc. and Explore St. Louis. It resulted in a first-ever “Downtown St. Louis Public Art Plan.” A key component is commissioning new public art for a variety of spaces—and interested artists can already be thinking of proposals. There’s also a new public-art advisory committee made up of community members, as well as a new manager for public art hired by RAC but working out of the Downtown St. Louis Inc. offices.
The Downtown plan launched on Oct. 30 accompanied by an outdoor celebration complete with music and installations by three artists whose work was projected onto the side of the T Rex building at 10th and Washington. As passersby craned their necks to look up at the huge images, it seemed very plausible that they might be attracted and want to engage more with the activity—even if they were simply out walking their dog at the end of the day and happened to stumble onto the art.
“More and more programs offer amateurs a lot of opportunities,” Shaw says. (ALIVE has recently featured two examples: an immersive theater experience, and opportunities to make political yard art as part of a nationwide initiative.) “When people do that, something in them activates that wants them to be even more engaged. They gain a greater appreciation. They rediscover something about themselves by becoming more civically engaged with others—and there are all kinds of benefits to being a creative person.”
RAC’s website offers the full “Arts &” report, and Shaw says future opportunities to participate in discussions about the priorities will be posted there as well. RAC has also set up a page to learn more about the “Downtown STL Public Art Plan.” In the future, it will including opportunities for artists and community members.
Featured image of Felicia Shaw speaking about the “Downtown STL Public Art Plan” on Oct. 30 courtesy of Sara Wilson.