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Kranzberg has 20 artists transform Washington Avenue with murals

Several murals are located on the rear wall of the building that houses Sophie's Artist Lounge and High Low, a coffeeshop and art gallery.
Broadys Work Productions
Kranzberg Arts Foundation
Several murals are located on the rear wall of the building that houses Sophie's Artist Lounge and High Low, a coffee shop and art gallery.

Artists have transformed a stretch of Washington Avenue in St. Louis.

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation commissioned 20 artists to paint large murals on the walls of buildings between Josephine Baker Boulevard and North Leonard Avenue, near where the Midtown neighborhood borders Grand Center.

The collection of work, known as Walls Off Washington, officially opens Oct. 7 during First Friday, when people will be able to take a closer look at some murals that are currently gated off from public access.

“This stretch of Grand Center is very underutilized and underappreciated in terms of the walkability, and just acknowledging that this area could be a source of inspiration if it just had some paint and pigment embedded in the facades,” said Gina Grafos, director and chief curator of visual and literary art for the Kranzberg Arts Foundation.

Seven additional artists contributed smaller works that are on display inside Sophie’s Artist Lounge and Gallery. Artists painted the largest span of continuous murals on the rear wall of that building and those adjacent to it, which house the offices of several arts organizations and the Kranzberg’s High Low gallery and coffee shop.

Performance venues the Big Top and the Marcelle theater sit on opposite ends of the stretch of murals.

“I think this is definitely helping bring more attention to what an area can look like, by doing it so concentrated like they did,” said St. Louis-based artist Cbabi Bayoc, who contributed a mural. “I think it helps add to the conversation that we need more of this. And the more people see of it, the more they want to see more.”

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation worked with Paint Louis and Painted Black STL, organizations that have promoted street art by Black St. Louisans, to identify participating artists. The contribution from people involved in those organizations was pivotal to the project and its acknowledgment of “the history and legacy of graffiti and street art, and thinking about how this art form can further be amplified,” Grafos said.

The murals are large and brightly colored. Organizers said they will help transform the mood of a neighborhood that houses several cultural organizations, but has little daytime foot traffic and borders a vacant lot.

“The center of the mural is an older Black man. Beside him I have someone playing the guitar, because of the rich music legacy of St. Louis,” said Bayoc of his contribution, which references the history of the neighborhood and the threat of gentrification.

“It kind of speaks to the idea that this was once somebody’s home, but now it’s a whole new environment,” Bayoc said.

Work on Walls Off Washington began in 2019 with a mural by Remix Uno, an artist based in Mexico City. Organizers plan to continue commissioning artists until the work covers four blocks.

Other participating artists include Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, Burlesque, C215, Phil Jarvis, Liz Markus, Hayveyah McGowan, Norm4eva, Pl@stic, Remix Uno, Carlos Rolón (also known as Dzine), Kenny Scharf, Simiya Sudduth, TASK, José Luis Vargas, Wendy White and Carlos Zamora, also known as CARTEL.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.