Willis Ryder Arnold

Arts and Culture Reporter

Willis Ryder Arnold is an arts and culture reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. He has contributed to NPR affiliates, community stations, and nationally distributed radio programs, as well as Aljazeera America, The New York Times blogs, La Journal de la Photographie, and LIT Magazine. He is a graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a recipient of the Society of Professional Journalist’s award for Radio In-Depth Reporting.

This painting of an officer and an artist wearing a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" shirt, by Solomon Thurman, shows the thin line between police and protesters, according to gallerist Freida Wheaton.
Solomon Thurman

In a single moment and with a half-dozen gunshots, St. Louis was shaken to the core on Aug. 9.

The shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police office Darren Wilson unleashed continuous waves of local and national protest that significantly shifted the St. Louis arts scene. Since then, musicians, dancers, and visual, performing and literary artists have sung and performed, and written and painted the issues revealed by the tragedy.

Cherokee Street Reach participants collaborate on a painting
Provided by Cherokee Street Reach

Last year a group of artists got together to form an arts camp. Initially they wanted to provide a place for kids to spend time between the end of traditional summer camps and the start of the new school year. 

“We just really wanted to find something, or find a way to help children utilize their potential for something productive, and since we’re all artists, that’s what we know,” said founding member Pacia Anderson, 36.  

CAM Teen Museum Studies participants plan the final stages of thier exhibit
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Your cell phone. Skype. Email. Imagine each device as an impediment to communication, not an aid. That’s the idea behind Cole Lu’s exhibit SMELLS LIKE CONTENT at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

“Most people use text messages and that’s one of those things where you don’t get a voice intonation and you don’t read body language,” said one of the show’s curators, 18-year-old Scout Sale.

Clockwide from top left, Damon Davis, Freida Wheaton, Michael Castro, Brian Owens, Lee Patton Chiles, De Nichols
St. Louis Public Radio file photos

For the past year, a tragic and powerful muse has fed the energy and work of St. Louis-area artists.

The shooting death of Michael Brown and the unpeeling of issues that followed have inspired a bounty of work with a social-justice mission. As we near the Aug. 9 anniversary of Brown’s death, we talked with a number of arts professionals about their work in the wake of the turmoil:

60 girls from 30 states and 10 countries compete this week at the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls' Invitational
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

After Team USA won the Women’s World Cup Soccer Championship, people started talking about money. The women’s teams competed for a fraction of the prize money compared to the men’s championship. This pay disparity is replicated throughout the sports world, even in chess. And the irony with chess is this is a game played with the mind. It’s a game that has nothing to do with strength or height.

This radiation warning sign is one of many posted on the chain link fence surrounding part of the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo.
Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio

This year, 26 St. Louis-produced films will appear alongside films from around the world at the St. Louis International Film Festival. The organization’s Artistic Director Chris Clark said quality, not just location, was the primary factor affecting what films would be included in the November programming.

“They are like top gun. They are the best of the best,” he said. “These are things that we would be proud to recommend and could stand toe to toe in other festivals anywhere.”

Some objects found inside the newly acquired GCADD buildings will remain
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

In Granite City, $75,000 can buy you almost an entire city block. At least if you’re an arts organization.

“This is the promised land is what it is, it’s the land of opportunity. And as much as it may sound hackneyed or trite, it’s true,” said Galen Gondolfi, founder of Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts.

William Morris
Durrie Bouscaren

When William Morris was growing up in St. Louis in the 1970s, his mother was close behind with her Super 8 camera.

Science Center President Bert Vescolani presents a year's worth of activities, events, and finances to the Zoo Museum Board
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The Zoo-Museum District board is giving the Saint Louis Science Center a greatly improved bill of health. In the past five years the institution has reduced its debt from millions to a few hundred thousand dollars.

“There’s been a vast improvement,” said ZMD board member Charles Valier. 

Bosnians and thier allies marched down Gravois Ave. Saturday in honor of the Srebrenica massacre
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

About 1,500 people gathered in south St. Louis to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide Saturday evening with a solemn re-enactment and walk.

Original Story published July 9, 2015

  Elvir Ahmetovic, 33, is a teacher in the St. Louis public school system. Twenty years ago, he was a child living through an event that has been called the largest civilian slaughter on European soil since the holocaust

“My parents thought, OK, this is something temporary, something ephemeral, we are civilized people after all, we will not let the situation escalate that bad, but unfortunately just in a matter of weeks they came to our village and started killing people,” he said.

Anne Tkach performs with The Skekses
Courtesy of the band

It seems as though everyone in the St. Louis music scene knew Anne Tkach. In April, Tkach died tragically in a house fire. Ellen Herget, 30, played with Tkach in the band The Skekses. She said Tkach’s loss was felt throughout the music community.

“It was immeasurable,” said Herget, “she was everywhere, she was so active, and she was so enthused.” 

This week marks the end of construction on Laumeier Sculpture Park’s fine arts center. According to park Executive Director Marilu Knode, the entire building was designed to bridge the gap between future indoor exhibits and its already established outdoor collection.

“You know we’re an outdoor park, we don’t need a fancy building we need something that’s like a barn!” she said.

Artists and students gather before new Old North mural of Jesse Owens
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The arts education organization Raw Canvas debuts a new mural of Olympic legend and track star Jesse Owens debuts this week in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. For 17-year-old Arieona Burse, completing the project was emotional.

Equilibirum by Lyndon Barrois
Courtesy of Lyndon Barrois

Three St. Louis artists are each $20,000 richer this week.  

“It’s still pretty surreal, like it still hasn’t really sunk in as a reality,” said artist Lyndon Barrois Jr., 31. He teaches at Washington University and Webster University.

The money is part of the Great Rivers Biennial award, which also includes the artist’s work in an exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in May 2016. 

Leverage Dance Theater on the House Stage at Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

Attendance was down by more than 10,000 people for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ performance of Antony and Cleopatra over last year's production. Artistic and Executive Director Rick Dildine says that’s the cost of doing business outdoors.

Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre, MO
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

If there’s one thing Stuart Grebing has learned to love in his 28 years in prison, it’s his Cadillac. At the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre, a “Cadillac” is defined as “Coffee prepared with a full range of condiments.“ It’s one of the terms important to life in Bonne Terre.

It's not the only word that doesn't quite mean what non-inmates assume. Take, for example, the word jail. In prison, “jail” is a verb; it's something you can do well.

Joan Lipkin
Willis Ryder Arnold

"Uppity" is a word with a history of keeping women and minorities "in their place." But when Joan Lipkin named her theater company in 1989, she showed marginalized people that their "place" was in the spotlight.

Since then, That Uppity Theatre has celebrated the LGBT population and people with various abilities and addressed issues including abortion and racism. The work has provoked thought, fostered acceptance and won numerous awards.

Mathias Gasteiger, German, 1871-1934; Hercules and the Hydra, 1921-30; bronze; 95 ½ x 77 x 56 inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given anonymously 1:1930
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The 15 year-long renovation of the St. Louis Art Museum has finally reached completion. Museum director Brent Benjamin said he hopes the completed sculpture garden will be as well received as the rest of the museum’s changes.

Marquette Park Pool Opens
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Outdoor pools have become a politically charged subject in the wake of a white police officer’s treatment of black teens in McKinney, Texas. This weekend, the city of St. Louis' largest outdoor public pool reopened after being closed for over a year.  In a year marked by racial tension throughout the city, many people in attendance at the Marquette Park pool characterized the event as a step in the right direction.

Terence Blanchard performs with his band E Collective
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Grammy-winning jazz musician Terence Blanchard is no stranger to composing music inspired by social injustice. He wrote an album about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  He wrote the opera "Champion," which dealt with race and sexuality issues in boxing and debuted at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis last year. And he just released a new work inspired by the death of Eric Garner and the #BlackLivesMatter social media campaign that’s taken root in St. Louis since the shooting death of Michael Brown.

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