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Cut & Paste: Storefront Art Project In The CWE Interprets Dickens Through Eyes Of Black Artists

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Kyla Hawkins works on a window display that depicts a scene from Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' — the visit to Ebenezer Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Jeremy D. Goodwin
St. Louis Public Radio
Kyla Hawkins works on a window display that depicts a scene from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" — the visit to Ebenezer Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Business owners in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis have long adorned their storefronts with festive decorations during the holiday season.

That tradition is getting a twist this year, courtesy of a collaboration between St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and Painted Black STL, the artist collective that formed this summer to paint on boarded-up windows around the city.

Fifteen artists are creating storefront displays that interpret scenes from Charles Dickens’ oft-adapted novel “A Christmas Carol.” They will be in place from Nov. 28 through Dec. 23.

The project, called “A Walking Xmas Carol,” also includes a musical element. As they stroll from one storefront to another, visitors are encouraged to listen along to a humorous, hip-hop adaptation of the story of Ebenezer Scrooge recorded by Chicago-based group Q Brothers. (St. Louis Shakespeare Festival performed Q Brothers’ very loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in January.) The storefront project was also developed in partnership with Central West End Window Walk.

One idea behind it is to create an upbeat and safe activity for people who’ve been getting most of their entertainment via computer or TV screens during the coronavirus pandemic. Audiences can’t gather in a theater for a stage adaptation of the story this December, but they can stroll down the streets of the Central West End.

Another is to showcase artists of color, particularly Black artists, who have historically been underrepresented in the vision of Christmas presented by mass media.

“The festival’s a predominately white institution, and of course we know the greatest creative combinations have been when different cultures come into collision,” said Tom Ridgely, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s producing artistic director. “Just the simple sight of a black Scrooge or a black Tiny Tim certainly makes you think about that story in a different way. I think it’s something that we just haven’t seen enough of in our stages or in our culture.”

The participating artists are Kaila Austin, Taylor Deed, Kyla Hawkins, Edo Rosenblith, Mee Jey, Sean Alexander, Jayvn Solomon, Charlie Tatum, Erika McClellan, Cam Williams, Tielere Cheatem, Bino, Destiney Lomax, Destini Clark and De Nichols.

In this episode of Cut & Paste, we hear from Ridgely and Solomon.

Ridgely described his organization’s creative path through the coronavirus pandemic, including Zoom performances and this reconfigured combination of holiday traditions. Solomon, who co-founded Painted Black STL, explained why he filled one storefront with objects that were otherwise headed for the trash and remarked on the creative diversity found among Black artists in St. Louis.

The focal point of “A Walking Xmas Carol” is at the intersection of Euclid Street and Maryland Plaza.

“This intersection is one of the busier parts of St. Louis city,” Solomon said. “For different perspectives and points of view to be welcomed into these spaces, and then to come in and be consumed by other folks who might not have otherwise, is a big deal. Because we have a more whole understanding of, first and foremost, what’s happening in St. Louis.”

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

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