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Ferguson, Racial Divide Again Bring Artists Together, Plans Start To Take Shape

RAC member organizes and discusses artist ideas for actions regarding the death of Michael Brown.
Willis Ryder Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

The first artists meeting held to discuss artists organizing around death of Michael Brown at the Regional Arts Commission was filled with discussion of racial divide and catharsis. The second meeting, held one week later, focused on planning and displayed a higher level of organization.

“We really had to come in and declare here this is what we’re ready to do. Let’s roll up our sleeves!” said Ed Reggi, 43, artist and actor. Reggi is the primary facilitator of the event. He noted a change in tone from one week to the next.

“Last week was so raw, raw meaning that people were just dealing with emotions, and I think what happened last week when you get a room full of people that have a lot of trust, they were really able to express how they feel,“ Reggi said.

The meeting began with volunteers handing out printed schedules, marking time for different activities. Thirty-six attendees began the evening. There was an explanation of goals and large rectangles of paper taped to the wall referred to as “Classifieds.” The classifieds listed events, needs,and necessary information.

Artists greet each other as the RAC artist event begins
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio
Artists greet each other as the RAC artist event begins

After people filled squares with Crayola marker rainbows of protest actions, requests for help and organizers' contact information, the gathering broke into small group work. Six-10 artists discussed ideas for murals, street sculptures, art vans, mosaics, and community engagement. One artist stressed the desire to talk with someone from the Ferguson community.

“When thinking about art projects and solutions it’s more helpful for me to know what some of the needs are. Not just the need based off all the news that I’ve been taking in, but actually hearing from people living in the neighborhood and finding out what their experiences are,” said Sarah Paulson, 36, visual artist and documentary filmmaker. Two members of the Ferguson community participated in her group.

She agreed the second meeting was more organized. “The first meeting was about voicing things in the community, and the fresh wound. This meeting was much more about coming up with practical solutions and actions, she said.”

When the larger group reconvened, they shared the outcomes of their discussions and designated point people for distributing information about specific topics. Categories included ideas about performances, recreational and park events, setting up spaces for arts activities, educational components, and direct protest actions.

Progress already made

Marty K. Casey, 43, actress, attended both meetings. At the first, she’d called for the development of community arts centers in North County. Casey hopes an arts center will keep St. Louis residents from feeling hopeless and reacting violently as in earlier protests. Commissioner of Recreation Division Evelyn Rice-Peebles was in the audience, heard Casey’s call, and promised the use of seven buildings under her department for housing and developing Casey’s project.

Ed Reggi at Thursday's artist gathering
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio
Ed Reggi at Thursday's artist gathering

“To be quite honest, I felt like I’d hit lottery,” Casey said, laughing. Over the past week she’s been in talks with the commissioner, saying they expect arts programming to start in two to three weeks.

By the end of the evening more than 80 artists were in attendance. Event facilitator Reggi, like Casey, is in it for the long haul.

“We’re not going to be able to fix this overnight,” he said.