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Miles Davis’ childhood home to be museum and educational center

Inside the shell of a modest house in East St. Louis, there is nothing to let a visitor know that one of the nation’s most noted musicians once called it home.

The interior of the one-story structure is skeletal — all bare studs and dust. But when Lauren Parks and Jasper Gery Pearson are inside, they can see the space where a young Miles Davis got his start in life, years before creating the music that would make him one of the biggest names in jazz. They hope to turn the trumpeter’s childhood home into a museum and educational space that will inspire children.

Outside, the site is a hive of activity as contractors remove trash, staple shingles to the roof and plan further cleanup.

Parks and Pearson decided five years ago to turn the structure into a museum and educational center. If all goes as they plan, it will open this fall.

“You know, I don’t see the concrete aspect of this structure," Parks said. "I see children. I hear music. I see bustling of children and learning and excitement."

The project began in 2011 but the real work began in earnest less than a month ago. That’s when contractors began gutting the structure in order to strip it down to bare bones before rebuilding it in the style of the 1920s, when Davis lived in East St. Louis.  Although the structure is stripped to the studs, Parks and Pearson have great plans for the future.

Lauren A. Parks, president of Home of Miles East St. Louis (HOME) poses outside the building
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Lauren A. Parks, president of Home of Miles East St. Louis (HOME)

First, they intend the structure to be a repository of artifacts from Davis’ time in the city, from old shoes to objects that have yet to be determined.

Second, they want the completed museum to preserve anecdotes and stories from Davis’s childhood to which no other museum has access. These stories are meant to highlight how the jazz legend’s spirit and accomplishments remain ingrained in the city.

Third, Parks and Pearson expect to develop educational programs that includes music classes, history lessons, and community stewardship targeted specifically at 6- to 12-year-olds.  The project founders are working out a partnership with the local school district to develop concurrent programs in the classroom and at the museum. Once the building is complete, they hope to turn their attention to developing a small outdoor performance space so kids can share what they’ve learned with friends and family.

The project is not just an attempt to preserve Davis’ legacy. It’s also a bid to develop life-long community engagement and civic pride in East St. Louis.

“We’re looking to give our kids a little sense of home. That’s why we called this place HOME, House of Miles East St. Louis,” Pearson said. "So when you think of home you think not only about the front door and the back door but the whole community.” 

Jasper Gary Pearson, House of Miles East St. Louis' director of programming, stands outside the building
Jasper Gary Pearson, House of Miles East St. Louis' director of programming

The demolition and renovation is primarily supported through individual donations and a grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement.  Founders are additionally seeking to crowd-source funding online. The project also has partnered with Creative Exchange Lab – Center for Architecture + Design StL to help develop a strategic plan for how best to engage residents and visitors.

Parks and Pearson will be presenting the project 5:30 p.m., Thursday, at Creative Exchange Lab in Grand Center in St. Louis. They’ll be discussing the development of the museum concept and making a case for why it’s integral to developing better infrastructure in East. St. Louis.

What: House of Miles: A Miles Davis Memorial Project

When: 5:30 Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Where: Center for Architecture + Design STL. 3307 Washington Blvd, St. Louis