FoodSpark 37 Recap | Arts & Cultural Planning

6:30PM | FRI 11/02/17 public event in gallery
Facilitators: De Nichols, Sophie Lipman, Maria Kveton | Participants: 8


6:40pm - Introduction by Felicia

Cultural planning is about people talking about the value of the arts in their lives. How the arts could make STL a better place to live. The planning process is a key moment in the life of a community where everyone thinks about the role of culture and how they could do something different in their community. STL has unparalleled arts and culture, and so much of it is free. But we don’t have the assurance that everyone can participate equally and equitably.

When we finish answering this question we’ll have a better sense of what RAC should be doing and perhaps what other orgs could be doing and perhaps artists will have better direction of what they can be doing and more than anything, people will know. And we will become more relevant to people.

We will be wrapping up this process in the first quarter of 2018. There will be a group of findings, 6 or 7 buckets of things, saying “this is what St Louisans said”. Then they will take these findings, ask the people who talked to us if we heard it right, and once they got it right, the will write and write and the plan will be finished, which is the beginning of the next phase of work. We will take the plan and compare it to what we do now at RAC, and change. Hoping that RAC will be a 21st century organization that will be responsible to people. So that it will respond to what everyday people want the arts to do for them. Where they are, for their region, for their communities, for their lives. And not about what they want institutions to do for them.

tinA pihL – Calling it “The People’s Plan” gives me energy

Felicia – In doing these types of plans, you’re always limited by the amount of time and resources and energy you have. You’re hoping you get turnouts from things, that people come out. But you only have so much. But the consultants told Felicia that it’s less about quantity and more about the quality of the conversation. We are trying to make the plan something human, that there are stories, people explain what they mean. Not antiseptic.


6:50pm – De, Sophie, Maria

That brings us to tonight and the conversation we hope to have.  Introduction to FoodSpark purpose and history.


How would you define the current state of arts and culture in St Louis right now?

  • Hungry

  • Disconnected

  • Not so confident

  • Seeking validation elsewhere, almost

  • Massive divide between high art and low art, and it’s very hard to break that barrier. That St. Louis sees it that way, as low and high.

  • Exclusive

  • Clique-ish

  • Same names all the time

  • Undervalued in school. When I went to art school, people were like you shouldn’t do that, you’re not going to make any money. It keeps people from wanting to pursue it.


In your own path, do you feel that you engage in the arts on a regular basis here in the city? Whether considered “high” or whatever we would call “low” arts?

  • My own practice

  • Instead of low and high, can we call it compensated and not? Or…

    • Felicia:

      • Some places are calling it “legacy” institutions, the ones that have been around forever.

      • The other is SOBs – symphony, opera, and ballet.

      • But that perpetuates the whole divide.

      • The divide is = it’s the western European art forms that have been set here a long time ago, and then there’s everybody else.


Regarding that cliquishness. Do you think that some of that linking up, perpetuation of certain artists – what do you think is driving that?

  • There is a narrative of scarcity that drives people to be more collaborative and less competitive. “Well if I share, then I’m not going to get any.” I find myself doing that. And there’s not a whole lot of opportunities. Just basic funding and space to perform or do whatever – art that is new – there’s not a whole lot of opportunities.

  • St. Louis really has a relatively small population that have jumped in. I go something to the Pulitzer sometimes and think, there’s nobody here. That can happen at a major event at SLAM. I went to an exhibition there that just opened this afternoon and for 2 hours, nobody was there.

  • There’s the history of people feeling welcome in those spaces too.

  • We have to take the onus off of people. I think this city births cliques. People stick in their neighborhoods, stay to themselves. This STL is more segregated than any city I’ve ever lived in, which births the culture of the people. I think the city breeds it. It’s part of the fabric. Brit and I just moved to the northside and it’s like a bubble. We don’t see people. We don’t see anyone we know. People stay in their silos. I think it has to do with how this city is mapped out. It also has something to do with what people value, what they think is OK to displace, to erase.

  • As far as collaboration goes, I think that working in this accidental arts administration stuff and with young people, it’s super easy to collaborate when you’re dealing with art and young people or art and social justice. It’s the individual persona practice where it's difficult.

  • As far as people jumping in with two feet, I had an issue in Sept where an issue came up with childcare – there was all this money spent on this thing, and mothers involved in it, and there had been no attention to childcare. And there wasn’t awareness of that. Or people are getting selected for opportunities because they don’t have kids.

  • Transportation is a big issue. People can’t get from one part of the city to another. People who don’t have transportation access.

  • Words mean so much. I hear everyone talk about all the negative stuff so we are constantly reinforcing that. We are not looking beyond that.

  • We’re hinting at the idea of radical inclusion. Even with this event, there haven’t been a lot of traction because of childcare, transportation, access. What does access look like anyway? Who are we talking to here? Probably people who can afford paint supplies, who have books in their home. So when we think about access – it’s really important to take these conversations out into communities and meet people where they are. Because otherwise we’re just going to miss people. We’re going to perpetuate the divide. Every time.


Where do you make art in the city? Where do you spend your time as creative people? Making? Do you feel like the people in that geographic space are being supported by institutions, by systems? Do you feel like there is a culture there for art, for creation?

  • It’s hard for me because I live in Gravois Park. People think I live on Cherokee street. Those are two very different places. Gravois Park is one of the most densely populated regions in the city and no businesses at all except on the edges, just some corner stores, and a park. I don’t feel like there are institutions or real organizations outside of Dutchtown South Community Corporation that do anything to support the people in Gravois park. You go two blocks up, though – and it’s hoppin’.

  • Where I do things is where I distribute my magazine. I see island after island – in some places the only place I can distribute it is my urgent care waiting room.

  • The type of space in which I create – I’m not comfortable in all spaces I’ve found around here.  I don’t feel supported at all as a musician in this city,, because that one particular space, where I don’t feel comfortable collaborating with anyone, is all there is.

  • The city wants us to perform But the support behind that – artist development, our recording, collaborating, there’s nothing. “We want to see you do your work, but we don't’ want to help you become the artist you want to be.” And those are two very different kinds of support.

  • It’s been easy for me to get support as a writer, but not as a musician. (Pacia agreed.)

  • Minnesota and Minneapolis have a lot of interesting things going on to support solo artists. There are some ideas there that we can steal.

  • I feel like, unless another person that I know tells me about something that’s going on, or they invite me to a Facebook event, it’s hard to know what’s happening. For you all, how are you learning about different events, exhibitions, different shows, different experiences happening creatively in the city.

  • The RAC app does not work. I can’t find anything on there. It doesn’t do.

  • East-West Gateway weekly online newsletter has some events in it.

  • Everything we find out is word of mouth, and it’s within 24 hours of the event happening. If I scroll FB events I’ll find stuff, but I don’t have the time to do that.

  • A lot of stuff through email, though. Sometimes it’s email not from a listserv. A friend will personally say “hey, you might want to see this…”

  • There are so many lists. There are so many things that are supposed to be “calendar of all the art things” but no one uses them so they don’t work. It’s maybe a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t –

  • I agree. I always have 5 things I ought to be at and I never make it.

  • The channels for communicating about what’s happening are a bit fragmented, in parallel to the fragmentation of who’s creating what, who’s getting attention for their work, and the support – whether it be audience participation, funding, support for creating – reflects that fragmentation that is happening.  As we transition to think about what this cultural plan could be – what could RAC, the region facilitate, offer, to make these nuances more vibrant across the city?

  • I am not super plugged into the arts community and I sort of don’t know what I don’t know. Is there a way to let me opt into what types of arts I want to hear about, to help me understand the ecosystem of what’s out there and what I could choose from? Example: I work from Great Rivers Greenways and we want to integrate art quite a bit. We’ve run into the issue that people were not aware of the outdoor opportunities in STL, either. And that was hard to break into, too. We started a one-day festival where we tried to invite anyone that does anything outdoors, they could come to one place and try everything that there is to do, for free! The second time we had 4,000 people which is awesome. It’s resonating. Why it resonated is that everyone was like, how do I even know what there is, before I even get into deciding whether to participate in something? We are working on transportation and other things to supplement it. That’s sort of what I picture in terms of what I want from the arts. How do I know what I don’t know, that exists here?

    • How did people find out about it?

      • Street team

      • Signs everywhere

      • Signage in all the bike shops

    • Who did you get? Did you get North STL?

      • We did. We got people from all over including the East Side. We did a heat map.

  • Felicia; This is what is so interesting about STL. People will say “we’re so disconnected” and then “there’s so much going on, there’s all this stuff all the time.” How can we have both? How can we be nothing and everything? How can we have so much that literally every night of the week…

    • Just because you have a bunch of events doesn’t’ meant they’re radically inclusive or diverse. There’s a lot of things happening that are not inclusive so there’s not a diverse group of people.

    • Just because there’s a lot, that doesn’t mean it’s connected.

    • Twilight Tuesday and Whitaker at MOBOT are two opposite demographics. TT is black and Whitaker is white. It’s a different type of music too.

    • It’s the same in the visual arts. When I go to some it’s all white people, a specific age group, a specific dress code. Then I go to the Luminary and it’s its own tight circle. And Urb Arts is its own tight circle.

    • I think that’s a St. Louis thing. We have two of everything. When something black happens, a white one pops up. That’s not OK. That’s really sad.

As there are separate events for different demographics, is that problematic for the region?

  • It is problematic when that is all there is. It’s important to have affinity groups where you don’t have to explain yourself, but your life can’t only be that. There has to be common ground. Otherwise, we’re going to have to keep needing self-care for activists, we’re going to have to keep fixing the same damn problems.

  • I think it’s a “yes and” in regards of knowing about so many things and – I’m not someone who’s in anybody’s clique. I float around and I’m often bouncing around outside the city. I think there’s a lot of privilege in that, in and of itself, that a lot of people may not have the privilege to do. Which means that the paradigms of where I am accepted or where I feel like I am welcomed to be, shifts. It’s different. Because I’m traveling in all these different spaces, I feel like Yeah, I’m supposed to be there. Until you kick me out I’m going to take advantage of what’s in this space, or until I feel uncomfortable. This is a city that has already keyed into our psyche before we walk into the space.

  • I don’t know if we separate ourselves. I think it’s in the fabric of the city.

  • I have a lifelong pushback on the messages of “don’t go there. That’s a bad neighborhood. That’s a bad street.’ I think that happens a lot in STL. We do this demonizing.


What would make these things better? Still keeping thought about the plan, the regional plan for arts and culture, but also doing some visioning. What would be a vision that –

  • I think we can reimagine borders. What if we get rid of aldermen, get rid of wards, get rid of borders and reimagine our descriptors in parks, water – not in lines that say “don’t go there”. I get the response a lot about living or north of Delmar, “Why would you live there? Are you safe?” We also get people who are surprised at how nice it is, where we live. No matter who we talk to we get one of those responses. We had someone stop at our house needing access to the internet and he walked in and said, “I wouldn’t have expected that from the outside.” Or a friend gets inside and says “Oh, I see why you moved here.”

  • There are more white people coming to the Ivory Perry Concert Series. One of my friends who came – it was interesting, she brought her kid and she said to him, “I’ve never been a group of black people. I like it, I want to come back. I’ve never been the only.” My friend is late 40s and she says to me, “I’ve never been, either.” It doesn’t matter where she lives, there’s usually a lot of white people. She liked being the only.

  • I went to the Grace Hill Concert Series and passed out fliers, and she said to me, “Is that safe?” so that happens there too.

  • When I’m in places that are all white, I definitely think, “this is a sick, awful thing.” It feels very unhealthy. But when I go to Old North and there’s the first Friday events and I feel like an only, I feel like I don’t want to tell anybody about it, I don’t want to mess it up.

  • There was a northside-southside tour – Neighborhoods United for Change – what about a gallery or a space doing a swap like that in terms of programming a different space and getting a different audience.

  • In Cincinnati, they had this lights and projection festival called “Blink” and across the entire map of the city, there were public murals that were created and turned into interactive experiences. Projections could be made on them with a static image, or lights and stuff, and animations that were interactive with the static images. At each place they were able to activate neighbors and community members to host different types of events just to get people around the city engaging. While I was visiting, he said “We don’t see that many people come out of their houses here. We don’t see people coming outside.” (That’s a St. Louis problem, too.) I wonder what it is that the arts could do to get people out of their homes, because they want to see everything that’s there. As a visitor to that city I didn’t know what’s safe, what’s not. But we ended up walking miles up this one corridor and it was easy to notice that we’re changing neighborhoods just because of the cultural markers. But there was never a point where I was like, I don’t know if I’m safe anymore. Because I was in an activated space. Lights.

  • In the 1970s, STL was a totally different place because we didn’t have A/C. We were outside all the time at night. Kids walking around playing, people on porches. All day, all night long. I miss that so much. We need to get people outside.

  • The question in my head right now is how do you find yourself invested in a city that isn’t invested in you? On the northside, it’s obvious the divide has happened, so why would I want to go to something on the other side of Delmar? So many streets are blocked off and disconnected. We need to reimagine that idea of being part of something. How do you “be so STL” if STL isn’t wrapping its arms around you?

  • There is a long history of intentional segregation. It’s hard to break away of that.

  • We have a mayor who was elected as someone representing the central corridor, she hasn’t said to CWE they need to open up their borders. “You have Soldan right there. Pay attention to it.”

  • And she lives just a couple of blocks away from the Delmar Divide.

Any update on the Gravois Park/Jefferson about artist housing? There was a conversation about what is happening in vacant homes, in neighborhoods that don’t already have things like galleries. How can vacant homes be used to create spaces for creation, that could be celebrated? Neighborhoods are full of space that is underutilized.

  • Felicia - There is a movement across the country to activate churches. STL has a lot of empty churches. The idea of repurposing them as cultural centers. That has been a dream of mine to have some sort of initiative – because there’s one in every neighborhood.

    • Here’s the challenge. There is so much. It’s like wild wild west. If you want to do it, you can do it. No one’s going to stop you. It’s just the will, and organizing. And boom.

    • I’m going to push back on that. It seems to me that everything – that Joe Edwards has put together is a place where an activated space becomes a dangerous space for the people who used to be there, because they’re now being black in that space. I grew up right in this neighborhood from the 70s, when it was more of a black neighborhood than it is now, we never had vans parked on the corner of Delmar and Skinker to – they’re just waiting there to take away black children. That’s weekends all the time. That to me is associated completely with Joe Edwards’ development. Freedom Arts has this space that’s part of a church that’s north West End and they worry about – if you have more people coming over here who are white people and if they get hurt or just get suspicious, it becomes dangerous.

    • Institutionalized fear.

    • I know someone who’s in jail now for being homeless. I’m sure that’s why he’s in jail.

Let’s keep visioning. For those types of dynamics, what’s possible?

  • Union Avenue DOC has an opera house, it’s classic opera. They don’t sing in English (like Opera Theater St Louis does). They have 400-500 people coming from all over, even Illinois, mostly white people, and they do come. Because it’s affordable. I was like, “wow, you get 500 people to your operas.”

  • Felicia: They do it by making people feel safe, people with orange vests wave people into the parking lot. When you come in, you know where you’re going to park. When you leave, you don’t hang around and go to a restaurant, etc. which would create that vibrancy. It’s just people come in, and go right out. Grand Center is like that too.  So how do we build on that success – how do we get people to not only come just for the show, but to stay, to linger, to eventually say “hey, I could live here.”

  • What will take longer – to make them feel safe enough to linger, or to change their understanding of what safe means?

  • When I moved here I wanted to do Project Row Houses. All the vacant land. I think there’s something there in terms of not asking permission, finding funds to do it, and let’s just do it. What if we just turned lots into these beautiful artistic spaces. Would it catch on like fire? I mean, community gardens caught on. They were not here when I was an undergrad here. Now they are all over – they caught on. That’s my vision. Let’s build a form of project row houses (but not like it exactly because it has its own issues about access, who gets to be in a house) but that is more inclusive and gets people to think about ways to do that, without displacing people who are squatting or who are utilizing that space. Can we turn those spaces into something that people say, we can do that. Community art houses.

It makes me think of Vega’s art house. In addition to having space for artists to create and housing artists/activists, and organizing people around things like food. Doing the food share they do every Wednesday and Sunday. Getting Whole Foods to give food consistently. Building out a stage in their backyard and having all these community convenings to respond to what is happening in that neighborhood. The power of that traction (even with their many struggles) – what makes that space beloved is there’s no one asking permission. The people living there saying, “Yo, I see this. We’re going to do it.” People who are in these “positions” in the arts have sustained this type of boldness to just do. There is a notion of, “I have to go through the process, go through the legal way to do things.” I appreciate Amber bringing up that as artists we create, we make ideas happen.

What does it look like that if we know that these issues keep plaguing our cities and we keep having these conversation to make plans, etc – what does it look like to just do? What is culture of support, the community of support that allows it to be manifested and facilitated?

  • On the flip side, I think about , OK we know that STL has all these little pockets. You have art house that is close to our house on the north side. It’s this idea of, what if you do build art houses all over the city? At a certain point in my life it would not have been intriguing to me to go to other neighborhoods that weren’t my space. So if you can create the art in the neighborhood, instead of inviting people over to the Sheldon – you make the Sheldon for your hood. You bring it to people in their neighborhoods.

  • I was thinking about Heidelberg. Taking soda cans and making them into art.

  • We talked about transportation and it’s the disconnect about how to get from point A to point B. But bus stops are a problem here, themselves. Put some art at the bus stops. They don’t want you sitting there. They’re getting rid of the benches and the covers. But in some cities bus stops are the places where that’s the art. That’s the advertisement. Maybe we put those things there, where people already are.

  • We don’t have places we can staple fliers except inside facilities. And if you don’t have the resources to get inside the facilities… you never find out.


In holding RAC and its partners accountable in this regional plan, with the issues we’ve come up with. In a rapid fire way if we can go around and say 2 or 3 priorities that this plan should get at, what should it be?

  • Transforming from the inside out. What happens when RAC mirrors what radical inclusion looks like because RAC practices it. And that mirrors onto the city. Vs. being a reflection of the city which is segregated and exclusive. RAC is the mirror.

  • I like what you said about going to the people and eliminating the transportation barrier, rather than bringing people to where the art is right now. Go where people are. Finding spaces where there are people who are never going to find 3 hours to come to a thing.

  • Especially north.

  • There are already people working in all of these places very creatively. How do we celebrate what’s there.

  • Broadening the definition of what art is. A hair braider should be able to get an artists support grant. A barber should be able to get an artists support grant. Broadening the definition of what we identify arts as so we can support people who have jobs at barbershops. Landscapers. People creating stuff in their own home, creating the designs on their little girls’ heads.

  • Everyone is creative in some way. But they don’t believe it because they’ve been told it’s not art. And they can’t monetize that.

  • I think the same way about spaces. Reimagining where art, creativity can happen. It can happen in the laundromat, in the barbershop, in your house.

  • Someone mentioned not having spaces to create or cocreate. We talk about coworking spaces but not co-creating or co-playing. The idea of, we have community centers for kids and seniors but we don’t necessarily address everyone else.

  • I’m based in a coworking space at this time, and part of me being there is RAC’s collaboration with them. The artists and designers in that space are still complaining that the “let’s sit together next to each other” isn’t quite right. They built out a picnic table, and it still didn’t quite fit. So what does it really look like to have a co-creation space?

    • “Give me money and free space and see what I do with it.”

    • It’s still in  work space so as long as it’s there it may never quite fit.

  • Those types of dynamics – the Metro Lofts and the artist lofts downtown – outside of those I don’t know many spaces where artists can create, can live. And you are income limited there, both lower limit and upper limit. So – reimagining space.

  • I have access to SLU. I can book any room at SLU for free because I work there. (Any SLU person can.) So a maker space? I can rent a space for free.

I think if more of us did the due diligence of being the hookup person – I have access to this and can offer it to support the community at large – I think some of those gaps we have been discussing can be bridged. I don’t think enough of us do that.

Announcements about next steps. We are coming to the end of our community engagement process. This is it! We don’t have anything else. What’s going to happen next is our consultants are going to be back in town in Dec and they’re going to be presenting their findings to us. They’ll present a first look to the Thought Leaders forum, so De will get a first glimpse of what it all means. We’re looking at a way to use social media to let anyone chime in and comment, or prioritize them. Because once it goes to the writing phase of the plan, then that’s it – it’s a wrap. I’m worried about people saying “that’s not me, that’s not what I think.” Before it goes to print and we say “here everybody,” what does that look like to give you a chance to see it in a rough stage and weigh in. If it’s going to be the people’s plan, does it really represent the people.


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