As an old building comes down, St. Louis artists use its bricks to rethink city's vacant spaces
What would you do with $2,500 and three pallet loads of brick? Four St. Louis art groups and collaborators will soon have an answer in the next phase of a year-long public art project overseen by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art.
The "A Way, Away" project, also under the guidance of two Chicago-based artists, aims to draw attention to the vacant lots and demolished buildings scattered throughout the city. It gives community-focused arts programs bricks and money to help explore creative responses to the ongoing demolition of old homes in St. Louis.
“It’s giving these bricks from a building that was once part of our community basically a new life, an opportunity to exist in a new form and to create new opportunities for how we imagine the process of demolition positively impacting our community,” Pulitzer Executive Director Cara Starke said.
"A Way, Away" got its start last year, when officials condemned the building that once housed the Bruno David Gallery in Grand Center. Soon after, artists Amanda Williams and Andres L. Hernandez organized students and volunteers to paint the building gold. After the building was torn down, workers re-sodded the land for landscaping. Now, brick from the torn-down building will be distributed to four groups: reuse organization Perennial, housing cooperative Art House, the Granite City Art and Design District, in partnership with New American Gardening, and Solidarity Economy St. Louis in partnership with Citizen Carpentry and Tillie’s Corner.
The project aims to draw attention to the land and resource use questions that arise from St. Louis’ growing number of vacant properties, said Liz Kramer, the Sam Fox School of Design’s assistant director for the Office for Socially Engaged Practice.
“It allows something that is broken, this sort of demolition and vacancy that we experience in the city to come back to life in a different way and a different form,” Kramer said.
The groups will use both the financial support and brick donation that will be integrated into a range of work — from a massive outdoor community table to smaller sculptures for the home.
Artist Amanda Williams said project managers were attracted to proposals that indicated a strong commitment to varied communities throughout the city.
“Not only did they have great ideas but they felt like groups that were committed to seeing things through a long haul,” she said.
In addition to money, along with a load of bricks, participating groups will receive design and strategic input from Williams and Hernandez. As part of the project, they conducted a graduate workshop at Sam Fox School.
Williams said she and Hernandez are committed to the area.
“We’re part of the St. Louis family, or we hope we’re seen at least as some cousins, if not some close family members, to a lot of the individuals and groups that make St. Louis so dynamic,” Williams said.
Starke said the project likely will influence the participants and how they shape their work in years to come.
“The subtle aspects are the conversations that we have with the artists that inform our long-term thinking both about process, space and community,” Starke said. “And then these are the more public aspects, the design-build projects where we engage locally.”
Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold
Update: An earlier version of this story misstated that artists Amanda Willams and Andres L. Hernandez were based in Detroit. This has been corrected.