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Commentary: Many factors contribute to the cultural richness of St. Louis


Lately, I've been spending more time in museums and cultural institutions than ever. I really believe that St. Louis is the most culturally rich city --per capita--in the country. We are not New York or Chicago, but per capita, we're really culturally at the top of the heap.

A couple of thoughts keep moving through my brain as I visit and think about art and culture in our city. The first thought is that we think of the Saint Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Symphony and the Missouri History Museum and tend to not include other very important institutions in our city in the mix.

A wonderful example of a very important institution that gets overlooked in the scheme of things is the St. Louis Mercantile Library, located at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which is the oldest library west of the Mississippi. The library was founded in 1846 and just celebrated its 175th anniversary. It was founded as an athenaeum where scholars, scientists and explorers came from all over the country to do research, congregate and hear lectures. Scholars from all over still do that research in this gem which houses all kinds of special collections and concentrates on Westward Expansion and the history, development and growth of the St. Louis region and of the American rail and river transportation experiences.

The art collection includes such luminaries as George Caleb Bingham, Harriet Hosmer, Oscar Berninghaus and Thomas Hart Benton. There are also ancient works and works up to the present including pieces such as Chuck Berry's scrapbooks.

And Laumeier Sculpture Park also attracts visitors from all over the world. One of the first sculpture parks in the country, Laumeier is also one of the largest. It is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and operates in partnership with St. Louis County Parks.

Laumeier not only has an incredible collection of outdoor works, but displays works in the Aronson Museum on the grounds which allows artists to display their works indoors as well.

The most recent exhibition fits into this year's theme at Laumeier of health and wellness and is called Salutary Sculpture. Salutary, an adjective, means promoting health and wellness. Eight artists exhibit their works which were influenced by artists who in many cases had health issues which either influenced their works or helped them in the healing process or in the creation of these works in all mediums.

The list of high quality art institutions is endless. MOCRA, the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art and The International Photography Hall of Fame were both on my list of trekking around arts institutions and venues in recent weeks.

Another thought which keeps whirling around in my head is the frequency of visits to an exhibition I make. For example, someone asked me if I'd seen "St. Louis Sound," an exhibition at the Missouri History Museum. I said yes, I'd been about five times. I've been making myself return to exhibitions to get the full value of what the exhibitions have to offer.

St. Louis Sound explores diverse music that has helped define the city of St. Louis spanning from the earliest recorded sounds all the way to today. Visitors learn about famous pillars of St. Louis music like Scott Joplin, Miles Davis, Josephine Baker and Nelly. The exhibition has a playlist of 100 songs that can be accessed through a QR code when the visitors enter the exhibit. If all you can do is a one-time walk through, it's better than nothing, but the more you can come and observe, the happier you'll be.

And Judith Mann, Senior Curator of European Art to 1800 at the Saint Louis Art Museum has brought St. Louis world attention for "Paintings on Stone--Science and the Sacred--1530 to 1800.”

This stunning exhibition took Dr. Mann 15 years to put together and can be seen as simply an exhibition of beautiful works or any way you choose to view it. Everyone loves a story and the mythological stories are thrilling, or one could concentrate on the portraits or landscapes, or look at religious themes or look at the techniques of painting on different surfaces of all kinds of stones from slate to amethysts. Anyway, I've been to the exhibition six times and attended two lectures at the museum.

I also saw the musical “Hamilton” at the Fox for the third time. When you go to the symphony or The Muny, you are often revisiting the art for the umteenth time and often go back to hear the work at one of our not so large venues.

The point of this somewhat rambling commentary is that we have art and culture of the highest quality in our fair city for us to enjoy over and over again.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than forty years on numerous arts related boards.