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.

One of Lola Ogbara's illustrations
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Much of contemporary media and arts production is dominated by straight, slender, white bodies. A new St. Louis exhibit aims to upset that dynamic and highlight work focused on marginalized body types.

"Bodies on Display" opened this month at Westminster Press on Cherokee Street. It features Krista Valdez's self-portraits, Kat Reynolds' photography, Anyia Liao's drawings, and Lola Ogbara's illustrations. Their work examines how LGBT bodies and those of people of color reflect identity, how they are viewed in public spaces — and how those bodies can resist dominant cultural representations of the human form.

The interior of 4562 Enright Ave. as it's being reconstructed inside the Pulitzer Arts Foundation
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Anyone who has been through some of St. Louis’ oldest areas, particularly in mostly black neighborhoods, is likely to have been struck by the number of uninhabited spaces.

The architects from the German firm raumlaborberlin certainly were. When they received a commission to examine the urban landscape of St. Louis, they developed a project that would draw attention to all that unused space.

With that in mind, the company dismantled the interior of a home in the Lewis Place neighborhood and is remaking it inside the Pulitzer Arts Foundation building in Grand Center. The foundation will open its exhibit on the interior of the house at 4562 Enright Ave. on July 29.

Treasure Shields Redmond and her book, “Chop: A Collection of Kwansabas for Fannie Lou Hamer"
Kim Love / Shields Redmond headshot

As a child in Meridian, Miss., Treasure Shields Redmond donned special shoes nearly every Sunday — a black patent leather pair that skipped after her mother as they walked to the Baptist church.

By high school, she’d traded her Mary Janes for Nikes, and hymns like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” for Public Enemy's “Party for Your Right to Fight.”

The daughter of East St. Louis Poet Laureate Eugene Redmond is now a poet and performing artist, and an English professor at Southwestern Illinois College.  In our latest Cut & Paste podcast, we talk with Shields Redmond about using language and song as tools for social justice and illuminating women’s lives.

Jack Grelle (left) poses with Patrick Haggerty, who wrote and performed Lavender Country
Jess Luther | St. Louis Public Radio

The first song off Patrick Haggerty’s 1973 album “Lavender Country" proudly proclaimed the recording’s intentions. It’s gay. It’s country. And it makes no apologies. 

“We were making it for ourselves, which allowed a certain freedom of expression because we weren’t cow-towing to anybody,” said Haggerty, who performs Friday in St. Louis.

Four decades ago, the country-music industry greeted the album with hostility. Haggerty’s recording career came to an end. But his seminal work is finding a receptive country music audience today. Two years after a small Philadelphia label re-released the album to critical acclaim, Haggerty is on his first-ever tour.

Ferguson Decree monitoring candidates respond to questions from the public
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The four firms competing to monitor Ferguson's compliance with the Department of Justice consent decree are Ebevy YG, Lemire LLC, Squire Patton Boggs, and Police Performance Consultants.

One GCADD lot includes a crane sculpture and art truck by Christopher Carl
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Last year Galen Gondolfi bought an entire city block in Granite City for roughly $75,000. The Fort Gondo Arts Compound founder bought the abandoned block to launch his new project: the Granite City Art and Design District.

“It’s exceeded expectations exponentially, there’s just been overwhelming support,” said Gondolfi. “We were a bit, you know, tentative about what to expect, and we’ve just been overwhelmingly pleased.”

A crowd gathered at Ferguson police headquarters Wednesday night to stand in solidarity with Alton Sterling's community in Baton Rouge and continue to demand racial equality and police reform.
Lawrence Bryant | The St. Louis American

Near a Save-A-Lot in south St. Louis, two young men stood on Jefferson Avenue on Thursday, selling DVD’s and discussing two other men who died many miles away.

Ikane Smith, a wiry man who wore a large blue T-shirt and jeans, bounced from foot to foot. Derrek Haggins wore a white button down shirt and a black bowtie.  Both were painfully aware of the thin line separating their lives from the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Bjorn Ranheim of The 442s warms up while awaiting a collaborator.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

When 15-year-old Caroline Luethy saw a lime-green piano in Forest Park, she was immediately taken by the chance to play in a lush setting.

Luethy, of Groton, Conn., approached the piano with a mix of anxiety and excitement. She sat down and started to improvise with chords, evoking a somber moment, like that of a movie soundtrack.

St. Louis Public Radio's new arts and culture editor also edits our science and medical reporters.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Do you ever wonder why St. Louis Public Radio covers a particular concert but not an art show opening on the same night? Or a certain play but not a simultaneous music festival?

Editors are instrumental in these kinds of decisions. And we’ve got a new editor for our arts and culture team, who’s come to town with some new ideas. David Cazares (pronounced CAH-sar-ehs ) comes to us from Minnesota Public Radio, where he served as a web editor and music writer with an emphasis on jazz.

Cahokia Power Plant from The American Bottom
Provided by Jennifer Colton

Driving down Interstate 70, headed west toward St. Louis, Jesse Vogler looked out the window and was shocked to see a giant mound rising from the earth. Excited, he mistook a large landfill for The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, which preserves the remains of a prehistoric civilization.

Jacob Schmidt, lead artist on the project, uses a lift to reach parts of the wall he's decorating with imagery of fish and wildlife. He pauses for a moment from working on a heron image.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

While some street art is popping up in auctions alongside the likes of Banksy and Mr. Brainwash, some is showing up on the walls of the St. Louis riverfront. And it's city-sanctioned. The St. Louis Streets Department and local artists have joined together to produce a new mural along St. Louis' riverfront.

Giant robot lions connect in order to form a larger robot humaniod with a sword named Voltron
Provided by Lion Forge

“Ready to form Voltron!”

Fans of the mid-1980s TV show Voltron will recognize that phrase as the moment five robots join together to protect Earth from evil aliens. Now, local company Lion Forge Comics will release a comic based on the series.

“I’ve been a fan of Voltron. It was one of those properties that I grew up with in the ‘80s, so it was probably my favorite show ever,” said Lion Forge head David Steward.

Billy Busch enters the court building to attend a hearing on the sale of Grant's Farm
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 9:26 am June 22 with statements from Busch siblings. - The courts have ruled that the sale of Grant’s Farm can go forward.  The only question that remains is who will buy it? 

The decision was made after a months-long legal battle between Billy Busch, one of the heirs to the Anheuser-Busch fortune, and four of his siblings over who can purchase the farm.

A Make Music Piano near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
Provided by Make Music St. Louis

There’s music in the streets of St. Louis on Tuesday. Well, more music than usual.

More than 40 performers in more than 15 locations will take part in Make Music Day — an international attempt to inspire joy in communities through public performance.

Provided by Darian Wigfall

“Play All Trap Music/That's What We Want/Let it wash ya brain/All We Do Is Stunt.”

In the first stanza of a new poem, multimedia artist Darian Wigfall examines how corporations run by the wealthy profit from art forms they didn’t develop.  He says the work takes aim at corporations and wealthy classes that appropriate minority voices.

Wigfall turned his poem into a series of large-scale paintings currently on view at the Kranzberg Arts Center. The show is titled “Hidden Messages: The Subtlety of Oppression.”

Shalimar the Clown is Salman Rushdie's eighth novel. Published in 2005, it tells the story of a young man who seeks revenge after he's jilted by the love of his life. There's intrigue, violence, and conflict between tradition and modern society — the sort of stuff that makes for grand opera.

Now, Shalimar the Clown is just that. Adapted by composer Jack Perla and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Rajiv Joseph, the opera premieres tonight at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Rushdie says the novel sprang from one tragic image.

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

For its next season, the gallery at the Kranzberg Arts Center will focus on presenting variations on social justice art. But the new direction of the Kranzberg’s Grand Center gallery won’t necessarily be abrasive or overtly political, Director of Operations Chris Hansen said.

“It could be very subtle,” Hansen said. “This isn’t an outward projection of ideals as much as how the social landscape and the times are influencing your art.”

Theresa Payne performs.
Provided by Theresa Payne

St. Louis singer Theresa Payne has been through a lot since 2014. She went through a devastating breakup. She lost her job. And she lost confidence in her voice after competing briefly in the reality TV show "The Voice."

But Payne regained her musical footing while working on a new project. When she thought about recording her album, she abandoned the inspirational, gospel-infused style of her past recordings. The result is “Get My Heart Back,” an album Payne says is raw and honest. 

Cropped photo by Roy Cox

The St. Louis Symphony has named Gemma New the incoming resident conductor.

New’s responsibilities will include conducting various concerts through the season and acting as music director for the St. Louis Symphony’s Youth Orchestra. The New Zealand-born conductor also will assist Music Director David Robertson and guest conductors during rehearsals.

Andwele Jolly best donut
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Andwele Jolly is a trained physical therapist, an administrator at Washington University’s School of Medicine and an all-around doughnut connoisseur. In high school he could eat 12 doughnuts in a sitting. (Good thing that he ran track at the time.) Jolly has lived on two continents and in numerous states and has sampled doughnuts throughout the land. He says St. Louis’ love for the deep-fried delicacy stands out.

Austin and Ryan Jacobs share the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Tim Carter is with Ryan on the right. Carter plays the role of Oberan.
J. David Levy

“What fools these mortals be!” Puck famously utters in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

St. Louis audiences may be fooled in Shakespeare Festival St. Louis' production that lets the spritely Puck be two places at once.  The secret?  Puck is played by identical twins, Austin and Ryan Jacobs, transplants from Houston.

The brothers, who just graduated from Webster University, join us for our latest Cut & Past podcast to talk about sharing the role in the play and a childhood on the stage. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens Friday in Forest Park.

Laura Heidotten | St. Louis Public Radio

The past couple weeks have been rainy and a little spooky in St. Louis.

With that in mind, this week’s Audio Agitation is inspired by David Lynch and the last couple of rainy low-energy weeks.

One dancer removes her mask to pluck something from her eye in a mirror while other dancers form a line behind her.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

When choreographer and performance artist Audrey Simes decided to dance to address years of radioactive contamination and the health concerns of people who live near Coldwater Creek in north St. Louis County, she knew she had a big challenge.

Dance can be a powerful and expressive art form. But could she use it to cover such complex territory? Her piece, “Tributary,” has been several months in the making. Simes wants the choreography to make environmental issues accessible to a broad audience.

Morgan Nusbaum of Bruiser Queen
Provided by Jess Luther

Dance act LCD Soundsystem, country musician Chris Stapleton and singer Lauryn Hill will headline this year’s LouFest, set for Sept. 10 and 11 in Forest Park.

Other scheduled performers for St. Louis’ largest music festival include local acts Illphonics, Bruiser Queen, Karate Bikini, Sleepy Rubies, Foxing and John Henry.

Murmuration

St. Louis’s first “innovation festival” is starting to take shape.  The multi-focused event, called the Murmuration Festival, has announced its debut musical line up this fall, which will include the electronic jazz project Flying Lotus, electronica group Tycho and the rock band Deerhoof.

Documentation of Reclamation 3
Provided by LBPhotography

When visual artist Basil Kincaid looked for a way to complete the Reclamation Project, a 4-year effort that creates art by remaking elements of St. Louis' black heritage, he turned to his grandmother for inspiration.

A quilter who passed her knowledge to her children, Eugenia Kincaid taught her grandson a lot about preserving cultural traditions. He decided to put the same focus into his work.

Balloons are released in commemoration of what would've been Mike Brown's 20th birthday.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Family, friends and neighbors gathered at Canfield Green Apartments Friday afternoon to celebrate what would’ve been Michael Brown Jr.’s 20th birthday.

Michael Brown Sr. and his nonprofit, Chosen for Change Foundation, hosted the party to provide a moment of remembrance and joy for a community that organizers say is still dealing with grief.

“We just want everybody to have a great time, and a nice time, and enjoy themselves and bring smiles and some type of comfort back to their home,” Brown said.

Audio Agitation
Laura Heidotten | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis music scene is a tangled mess of collaborations, established bands, one-off projects, guest spots, and unexpected guest spots.  It’s an atmosphere that contributes to some of the best music emerging from the city but makes less-hot projects easy to ignore.

Michael Brown Sr. and organizers with his Chosen for Change Foundation talk outside the Ferguson Community Center after the City Council's vote to approve the terms of the Department of Justice's consent decree.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Michael Brown Jr. would be 20 today if he’d survived the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting by former Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. On what would have been his son’s birthday, Michael Brown Sr. is choosing to focus on his son’s life, not just his death.

A series of Stratocaster style guitars rendered in dark purples and bright greens splashes across the page.
Laura Heidotten | St. Louis Public Radio

It can be hard to keep guitars sounding fresh in the face of so much experimentation in contemporary music. Guitars are often paired with electronics or heavily processed when they appear in pop music, if they appear at all. Yet, three St. Louis groups have released excellent songs in the past month that place the guitar front and center.

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