ABANDON ALL HOPELESSNESS YE WHO ENTER HERE: DISPATCH FROM #IMAGININGSTLOUIS
— DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY JOSH BARTON OF THE ST. LOUIS FIELD OFFICE, SPEARHEADED BY CULTURAL AGENT ROSEANN WEISS
On Saturday, July 12th, on one of the hottest days of summer, a convergence of intergenerational imaginations started to dream, dance, sing, hope, and create new possibilities for a Saint Louis where arts and culture flourish at the center of civic life.
The Saint Louis branch of the USDAC evolved under the leadership of Cultural Agent Roseann Weiss, Director of Community & Public Arts at the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, along with artists, citizens, and community leaders collaborating together to produce the first St. Louis Imagining. During the first planning meetings, these cultural agents began dreaming, imagining, and discussing a world and a city where arts, culture, and creativity thrived in their communities. Dreams morphed into determination as agents plotted intentional goals for an inclusive event open to all citizens that would take place in the historic Cherokee neighborhood at The Community Arts and Movement Project (C.A.M.P.). More details came into focus with agents incorporating their talents for performance, spoken word, music, visual art, facilitation, and documentation into a chorus of creativity.
On the afternoon of our Imagining, agents gathered at C.A.M.P. to prepare the space for the day: we wrapped craft paper along the walls, set up chairs and a microphone, created a future self-portrait station with art supplies, set up a photo booth for guests, organized our registration tables with crafted USDAC name tag buttons, projected photos of found works of art from across Saint Louis, and took inspiration from Dante's Inferno to cover the entrance with a new message, "ABANDON ALL HOPELESSNESS YOU WHO ENTER HERE!"
One by one community members arrived, and everyone who entered wrote down a personal imagination for the day.
Greetings were shared and new networks began to form as strangers, colleagues, and new friends filled the room. The event began with prophetic power with a performance of a Saint Louis Imagining Manifesto by the teenagers of CLUB CHIPS (Community Youth Leaders United for Better Health). CLUB CHIPS uses artistic expressions, movement, improv, and performance art to promote awareness of health and wellness issues in Saint Louis. Earlier in the day, they held a USDAC 'press conference' at the Old North City famers market, and the passion in their performance set a powerful tone for the rest of the day. Next, the group got a crash course in Open Space Technology through the facilitation of Con Christeson and Stephen Houldsworth that began with a simple call from Houldsworth that "Art matters, not because it's nice, but because it's necessary."
With Open Space in full effect, The Imagining began addressing several important questions about the intersections of art, culture, and civic society. The dialogues we harvested looked at how communities can build more literary and performing arts into our schools, how issues of diversity and representation affect local arts, how artists and mental health practitioners can collaborate to build art therapy programs, and many other illuminating topics.
Our participants were encouraged to join in any and all of the four discussion groups. As the discussions ended, creative reporters—Fannie Lebby, Vynetta Murrow, and Cheeraz Gormon—who drifted from group to group began performing back to us bits of our conversations and engaging everyone in an interactive sharing of ideas and imaginations. The room was again filled with palpable poetic energy. Once the performance ended, traditional reporters from each group gave their summaries of the topics discussed and possible solutions and ideas generated from the day's dialogues.
But the Imagining didn't end there! Once again, the audience was transported with the power of performance with spoken words, empowering chants, and a group led song of improvisation steered us out into the streets singing, humming, beating out, and dancing our imaginations for the world to see.
And at the end, there was cold, cold beer.
See the full report, complete with more photos and agenda here.