Saturday, May 27, 2006

conversations about the arts

If you're not sure that great things are happening in St. Louis, let me give you this evidence:

The other night, while five of us sat around a table at Brennan's in the west end, we discussed the state of the world-- as we do. We touched upon liturgical furniture, what we wanted to be doing in twentry years, the greatest problems in America, globalization, and the erasure of place. All this after da day at the batting cages. And then we talked about Dan Scott and Wiktor Szostalo, two of St Louis' own, and residents of Forest Park Southeast.

Forest Park Southeast has undergone a rejunvenation, and a revitalization. In the past 18 months, new businesses have flanked the area, rehabs are under devlopment, and the streets have been cleaned up. Known as a neighborhood given to crime and drugs, Forest Park Southeast has also long been the home of many regular working folk, including Scott and Szostalo.

I visted the neighborhood years ago for the first time. Driving with Steve Smith in his caddy, he was taking me to Dan Scott's gym for a bit of research. Pulling through Newstead, we encountered what remains one of the most beautiful images I have of St. Louis. A group of about 20 girls, all in matching t-shirts, were marching down the street. Lead by two women in the front, the girls ranged in age from about five through seventeen. They would stop periodically, in formation, do a cheer, and then step. Then they would keep marching. There, in that neighborhood, where everyone thinks it all goes wrong, there were kids out playing, and adults finding things for kids to do, and doing them.

Steve and I stopped the car as the marching girls went around us, engulfing us in a sea of chants and laughter. I felt I had literally entered the belly of another world, and inside it was warm and confortable. We continued on down to Dan's gym where small children came running up to Steve, showing him their new shoes, asking if they could watch the Caddy for him. Inside, young men trained in the heat with the clocks buzzing and bells ringing. Dogs ran through the street into the gym and on to the backyard. Neighborhood kids come to the gym for a place to go, and Scott gives them chores to do often in exchange for training.

Caddy corner to his house lived Szostalo, a world renowned religious sculptor, who sadly seems barely on our register. Szostalo has art all over the world, including in the Basillica in St. Louis. The back of his yard is a mass of found objects and wood being carved by chainsaw into sculptures. Out front, he used to have the Pissing Sculpture on a trailer.

It's interesting to me that these two men's names are barely whispered in St. Louis, and doubtless there are countless more like them. Men who make their own terms, who create their lives in their neighborhood, and who have a vision for how to change things. This is not massive change, but it starts where we live. It starts with passion, with looking for ways to connect ourselves to the world, to the people who surround us, and to our neighborhoods.

And then there is Brett Underwood and the Hoobellatoo gang.

This St. Louis artists' collective boasts some mighty fine members and some great projects. Brett, himself, often goes unnoticed. Though he works at the Tap Room and has a show on KDHX (the No Show on Thursday nights), he is more known for being behind the scenes and tirelessly promoting literary events and arts organizations. Coming up on June 4, at the Tap Room, there's a Trivia Night to raise funds for Hoobellatoo ($10 per person, 10 people per table).

And finally, the Arch Rival Roller Girls are getting their due. Founder Sarah Kate Buckles, was just profiled along with a nice piece about the roller derby queens in the latest RFT.

In a city where people say nothing happens, where people on the coasts can barely find us, we are creating our own way-- in diffewrent ways. Starting organizations and groups, promoting people and events, working on our neighborhoods. Not because we want to be famous, especially because surely there is a less heartbreaking path to that, but because we believe. Just goes to show, all the cool stuff happens underground, organically-- but that doesn't mean it doesn't change the landscape of our city. It's these small things everyday that are weaving the fabric of who we are, of who we will be. And every time I get the chance to sit around and talk about it, I feel just a little better about it all.

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