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Contemporary Art Museum trainings to help north St. Louis residents discuss redevelopment

Artist Juan William Chávez leads a workshop in north St. Louis
Contemporary Art Museum
Artist Juan William Chávez leads a workshop in north St. Louis in July 2022.

The Contemporary Art Museum will use a $65,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to host training sessions for north St. Louis residents who want to weigh in on a revitalization effort.

The residents' ideas will help St. Louis urban planners, who are collaborating with the museum on the project. After gathering ideas from people who want to participate, organizers will invite them to workshops at community gardens.

“Part one is convening who wants to be involved,” said Lisa Melandri, CAM’s executive director. “That process is just as important — if not more important — than the final work of art, garden or intervention we make. That's really where you build community and relationships.”

The initiatives' leaders aim to educate residents about the longstanding lack of investment and inequities in the predominantly Black neighborhoods of north St. Louis. Through training sessions, residents can learn about environmental stewardship, preservation and multimedia art.

The Contemporary Art Museum in Midtown, St. Louis.
Helene Binet
Contemporary Art Museum
The Contemporary Art Museum in Midtown St. Louis

“This grant will allow us to build on our commitment to our immediate neighborhoods,
which we have worked to develop through community-centered partnerships,” said
Michelle Dezember, CAM’s director of learning and engagement. “We are excited to
expand this work with our neighbors — using art to shape how we make sense of history,
how it has shaped this place and how it can help us preserve the stories and visions we have for it.”

North St. Louis has more than 1,000 vacant lots, according to LovetheLOU, a local community improvement organization that develops green spaces for residents to grow plants and food. Residents who attend the workshops have the opportunity to contribute to the future of the area, said Lucas Rouggly, the organization’s founder and executive director.

“It's really important for us as neighbors to take care of the lots and then to be able to turn them into something beautiful,” Rouggly said. “We need the ability to create.”

The project will last two years, starting with input from local neighborhood associations on what residents want to see.

A separate $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will pay for a new exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum opening in the fall. Japanese artist Shinichi Sawada will debut Agents of Clay for the first time in the Midwest in September.

“Sawada is a maker of really quite wondrous sculptures, wondrous creatures,” Melandri said. “They have really extraordinarily large personalities. Each one, you can imagine, is a kind of animal or creature that’s coming to life.”

Lauren Brennecke is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio and a recent graduate of Webster University.