While symphony lovers have been eager to get back to Powell Hall, it’s not as though SLSO left them totally bereft during the pandemic. The orchestra invested in a half-dozen 4D robotic cameras and sophisticated production to stream a half-dozen shows with the kind of up-close-and-personal points of view you’d never get in person. slso.org.
Losing a summer of Muny magic was one of the clearest signs that the pandemic was really having its way with us. But the venerable St. Louis institution launched Muny Magic in Your Home, offering free streaming content from off-season series Muny Magic at The Sheldon, such as tributes to past Muny leading ladies Ethel Merman, Shirley Jones, and Bernadette Peters. And over the winter, the theater’s “gift to the community” came in the form of streaming holiday favorites, viewed right in our cozy homes. muny.org.
In his too-brief 31 years on Earth, artist Keith Haring made indelible impressions on the worlds of art, activism, and pop culture. His unmistakable style infused the World Chess Hall of Fame this year with the exhibition Radiant Gambit, the largest solo collection of his work ever shown in St. Louis. Haring’s work, while very much a product of the 1980s, remains intensely relevant.
Rapper Sir Eddie C garnered massive attention with his single “Lil Black Boy.” But in the face of a world-changing pandemic, selling merch to support it didn’t seem like the right move. Instead, inspired by the track’s themes, he launched a fundraiser to connect Black St. Louisans with therapy. The urgency and success of the campaign increased exponentially in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder in Minneapolis.
The talented kids of COCA are slowly returning from the virtual world to a campus that has more than doubled its footprint in University City. Announced in 2017, the $45 million, 52,000-square-foot expansion features spaces that work across disciplines to foster the artistry of yet-to-be-born kids who won’t even remember the era of the mask.
MUSIC WITH MEANING
Singer-songwriter John Henry’s album Out at Sea followed a wrenching loss—a bandmate died from suicide in early 2018. The record raised funds for the National Alliance on Mental Illness St. Louis in the hope of preventing others from falling through the cracks.
ARTS & INCLUSION
Last summer, when the country was forced to reckon with racial injustice, arts and culture leaders were among those who asked: What more could we be doing? Some institutions looked to their staff: The Missouri Botanical Garden hired Amanda Shields as its first director of diversity and inclusion. The Saint Louis Art Museum promoted Renée Brummell Franklin to serve as its chief diversity officer. Others looked to their programming. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis announced its Future Leaders Fellowship, created to increase the number of people of color in administration roles, and its Voices Fund, which will expand the number of works it commissions from diverse composers. Along with Washington University, the organization also hosted “Belonging in Opera,” a two-night symposium where guest lecturer Dr. Naomi André examined how people of color are represented in opera. And this summer, the festival commemorated its first Juneteenth with the production I Dream a World. The Missouri History Museum created Gateway to Pride to share the stories of St. Louis’ LGBTQIA+ communities. Amid everything, art also found ways to give back. The Angad Arts Hotel’s exhibits Black Nonpareil and Imperfect Pixels featured the works of 18 Black artists, then used the money earned in sales to benefit like-minded organizations. Proceeds from Black Nonpareil went to the All Black Creatives. Half of the proceeds from Travis Sheridan’s Imperfect Pixels benefitted Black-led organizations in the city; one quarter went to All Black Creatives, and then customers could select from ArchCity Defenders, Forward Through Ferguson, or WEPOWER for the second quarter. And one of the more impressive commitments to making the arts accessible to all came from St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, The Black Rep, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Craft Alliance, Ballet 314, La Voûte, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and COCA, who collaborated with Sumner High School alumni and members of the community group 4theVille to keep the school’s history alive. When low enrollment threatened to close the high school—whose students have included Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, and Dick Gregory—the arts organizations dreamed up new arts curricula and a plan to increase enrollment.
With his record label, Audacity Music Group, the rapper also known as Antoine White works to bridge the kinds of divides that can lead to violence, through both his music and the advocacy group HandsUp United. T-Dubb-O’s album Defiance details his trajectory from joining the Crips in North City to advising President Barack Obama on criminal justice reform.
Hundreds of St. Louisans have taken part in a two-year collaboration between the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and the Philadelphia organization Monument Lab. Their hand-drawn maps examined more than 1,000 spaces and symbols with an eye to how and for whom they can be activated. The museum also worked around pesky social-distancing requirements, allowing small groups to have the entire place to themselves.
Dance the Vote uses movement and choreography to bring clear, nonpartisan voting information into communities, ensuring everyone can participate in democracy. Founder Joan Lipkin, noted for her civic engagement and social justice work through theater, added a Women of Achievement Award this year to the feathers in her already-crowded cap.
For most of us, the year saw our passports and frequent-flier miles collecting dust. But Explore St. Louis safely brought Italy to America’s Center, with the exhibit reproducing 34 of the iconic Vatican frescoes, life size and in stunning detail.
ARTIST MEETS ACTIVIST
Brock Seals is an artist-activist hybrid, one whose music, fashion design, and painting have given observers a window into his evolving talent and political consciousness. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, he released a nuanced and complex record with The Artivist. After the murder of George Floyd, Seals joined PaintedBlack STL and turned boarded-up buildings into canvases for celebration, provocation, and collective mourning.
TURNING THE PAGE
The Rep managed to get families away from their screens with an immersive, drive-thru theater experience in collaboration with StoneLion Puppet Theatre. It brought Ezra Jack Keats’ 1962 book The Snowy Day to life through a podcast and a series of luminous tableaux.
THREE ENTERTAINMENT TRENDS TO APPRECIATE
Forest Park’s 17-acre Anne O’C. Albrecht Nature Playscape emphasizes natural play across nine activity areas. Nearby, the zoo is opening its Primate Canopy Trails exhibit, where visitors will be immersed in elevated walkways and an acrylic tunnel. Farther west, Eureka Mountain Bike Park opened next to the Timbers of Eureka recreation center last year. And in St. Charles, Kinetic Park—which boasts the nation’s largest pump track, the state’s largest outdoor skate park, and a 30-foot indoor rock-climbing wall—is adding an activity center, bike playground, aquatic area, and adventure playground.
As the region awaits the transformation of St. Louis Mills Mall into the POWERplex youth sports complex, the Hazelwood site has already found a way to remain relevant, hosting graduations and Drive-In St. Louis, with movies, food, and concerts from the likes of Wynonna Judd and the Urge’s Steve Ewing. In a similar spirit, City Foundry is breathing new life into a former industrial site, with a food hall, biergarten, and movie theater. And in Chesterfield, developer Michael Staenberg is transforming Taubman Prestige Outlets into another type of destination: the District, with concerts, comedy, bowling, restaurants, and more—all next door to Topgolf.
After the pandemic postponed its opening, the 4,500-seat Saint Louis Music Park is now set to open with such big-name acts as Wilco and Machine Gun Kelly. Beyond being the state’s first food truck garden, 9 Mile Garden has worked to build community with movies, concerts, trivia, a farmers’ market, and more. And in the Metro East, World Wide Technology Raceway has seen a resurgence: It’s hosted IndyCar, NASCAR, and NHRA—and provided a safe alternative for drag racers—and has mounted such community events as a holiday light show and the Gateway Drive-In Theatre.
Wrapping the lore of Mark Twain’s hometown with the modern-day mystery storytelling style of Serial, podcasters Franki Cambeletta and Chris Koetters explore the cold case of three boys who went missing in Hannibal in 1967. The St. Louis–based production company’s podcast recently took home an Award of Excellence from the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts.
It was the blockbuster trade that rocked Major League Baseball—and St. Louis. When the Cardinals acquired All-Star Nolan Arenado in February, John Mozeliak, the team’s president of baseball operations, said, “A deal of this nature, acquiring a player of Nolan’s considerable talents, are the ones that can set you apart in many ways.” While with the Rockies, the third baseman led the National League in home runs during three seasons, topped the league twice in RBIs, and won eight Gold Glove Awards. Since coming to St. Louis, he’s picked up where he left off, batting above .270 and hitting a homer in a win over his former team this spring.
As anticipation builds around St. Louis’ entry into pro soccer, our MLS club is putting its trust in the hands of sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel. Fortunately, the soccer legend is known for his hands—his memoir is titled The Unstoppable Keeper. During his storied career, the German soccer star has played in all six continental FIFA membership associations (the only professional player to do so) and has worked around the globe as a coach, coaching instructor, on-air contributor, and philanthropist.
STORIES & SOCIAL JUSTICE
The group, which aims to engage youth in making art that focuses on social justice, hosts a podcast and is exhibiting at Laumeier Sculpture Park, Bruno David Gallery, and the National Blues Museum. This year, the collective was recognized with a $500,000 accelerator grant through the Lewis Prize for Music.