Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

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.

A print by Mitchell Eismont, cut from linoleum depicts noted physicist Albert Einstein above the words "Einstein was a refugee."
Courtesy of the St. Louis Artists' Guild

Ohio-based artist Mitchell Eismont’s interest in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis developed while he was producing posters for East Coast musician Chadwick Stoke’s “Forced to Flee” tour. Inspired by Stoke’s dedication, Eismont began work on a series of prints supporting immigrants and refugees, featuring cultural figures like the Dalai Lama, Jesus and Albert Einstein.  

“I think it’s probably the crisis of our generation,” Eismont said of the crisis, which stems from a long-running civil war. “I think it’s important to try and help with the situation.”

In this April 12 photo, arts advocate and law professor Adrienne Davis looks upon a piece by artist Lorna Simpson in her home collection.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Adrienne Davis teaches law but she regularly cross-examines the status quo in a completely different field: the arts.

The Washington University law professor will receive an Arts Advocacy award from the Women of Achievement of St. Louis in a May 16 event at the Ritz-Carlton. The honor applauds her service on various boards including that of the St. Louis Art Museum and Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

But it also extols her efforts to infuse more racial diversity into the artistic pipeline, from art-makers to gallery attendants to curators to institutional leaders. In our latest Cut & Paste arts and culture podcast, we talk with Davis about her advocacy and why it matters.

A picture of vinyle tops and stacked records from Euclid Records' upstairs which is filled with old pressings of jazz, country, ambient and rock
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Saturday is Record Store Day, an international event developed in the age of the internet to build awareness for brick and mortar music shops. The music-buying public has embraced the event and many stores use the day to host live music, have cookouts and generally adopt a party atmosphere.

Continuing the Legacy COCA 2015
Provided by COCA

When folk artists die, their craft can be lost. To make sure their work is preserved, Lisa Higgins, director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program at the University of Missouri in Columbia, helps preserve those techniques.  That way, when an artist dies, it’s not the end of their expertise.

“There’s a bit of joy in there also, it’s bittersweet, to know that through the program they have been able to sit down and pass that tradition onto someone else who’s invested in it and plans to carry it on,” Higgins said.

Kat Reynolds is pictured in a file photo of a self-portrait shown recently at The Militzer Art Gallery in St. Louis.
Provided | Kat Reynolds

Photographer Kat Reynolds is having a moment.

In the past few months, Reynolds has exhibited at five St. Louis venues. She was named this year’s Emerging Artist by the local Visionary Awards, a prize she’ll accept April 24 at the Sun Theater in Grand Center. She’s also wrapping up a residency program at Paul Artspace, north of Florissant. Her work primarily features young people of color, friends, people she encounters on the street, or people she finds through social media.

Reynolds works all these activities around a full-time customer relations job. In our latest Cut & Paste podcast, we catch up with this busy artist, who strives to genuinely connect with her subjects.

Gene Jackson started his professional performing  career at 15 when his mom signed a waiver allowing him to perform at the Midnight Lounge on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in the mid-1970s.

Older musicians took him under their wings, showing him the ins and outs of St. Louis’ rhythm and blues, and initiating him into a fellowship of performing musicians determined to keep soul music alive.

Roland Johnson entered the scene years earlier, started his career singing with groups at sock hops and youth dances before entering the realms of bars and clubs.

Organizer Yusra Ali sits in the CAIR Missouri office in Clayton
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Yusra Ali, a student at St. Louis Community College, was a shy child, and took to drawing and painting at an early age as a way to express herself.

As a young adult, and practicing Muslim, she hopes to harness that communicative power of art to help people better understand the nuanced identities of Muslims.

Concerned that people in the larger community tend to lump all Muslims together, Ali organized an exhibit she hopes will help others see people who are Muslim as individuals. Creativity and Identity: A Muslim American Art Exhibition takes place tonight at Third Degree Glass Factory.   

(From left) Arthur Woodley as Emile Griffith, Jordan Jones as Little Emile Griffith and Denyce Graves as Eelda Griffith
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Update 4:17 PM: this piece was updated to better reflect the use of NEA/NEH funding at the Missouri History Museum.

When acclaimed trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s jazz opera opened at the Washington National Opera last month, it was heralded as new hybrid in contemporary opera that fused musical traditions and audiences. 

Two eyes peer out of a red field and an alligator rests below celestial machinery in the collaged cover of Rhizomatic St. Louis 5
Provided by Nathan Cook

For electronic musician Nathan N. Cook, abstract soundscapes, nature recordings interwoven with voices, and harsh noises, aren’t just intellectual experiments in audio editing. Instead, he finds them places of human connection.

Five years ago, Cook decided to mix those elements into recordings that capture a community of local musicians — and to share that connection with others. He launched the Rhizomatic St. Louis series, an annual album release of 10 distinct, avant-garde and experimental musicians.

This is the marketing image for "The Boys in the Band," released in 1970. It is one of two classic films to be shown in this year's QFest.
Provided | Cinema St. Louis

When St. Louis' QFest of films officially launched, people in the LGBTQ community were barred from institutions ranging from the military service to marriage.

A decade later, LGBTQ citizens can both serve and marry.  The 10th annual festival, which opens March 29, includes a dozen films that reflect a restricted past and progressive present.

The Rise & Scream poster gives the date and depicts a closed fist raised in the air.
Provided by Vincent Saletto

When Vinnie Saletto and his wife considered adopting a child from overseas, they turned to the International Institute of St. Louis to learn more about how immigrants fare in St. Louis.

As Saletto learned more about the Institute’s mission — and noticed an increasing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States — he felt compelled to support to the organization. So he turned to his passion, music, and began organizing a benefit concert for the institute.

The concert “Rise and Scream” will take place Saturday at 2720 Cherokee Performing Arts Center. About 90 people are contributing to the event —  from bands to artists, cooks to vendors. Many will voice opposition to the Trump administration's immigration policies.

Bruiser Queen (Morgan Nusbaum and Jason Potter) stand before a giant mural
Provided by Bruiser Queen

Today's the day! We've reached the end of our local Tiny Desk Contest countdown. Our final favorite to highlight? Bruiser Queen

This week, we highlighted the favorite local Tiny Desk Contest submissions ahead of a Tiny Desk STL Happy Hour concert on Thursday,  at Anew, the rooftop venue above the Big Brothers and Big Sisters building in Grand Center.

Kenny DeShields sits at a wooden table smiling wryly
Provided by Kenny DeShields

This week, we're counting down favorite local Tiny Desk Contest submissions ahead of a Tiny Desk STL Happy Hour concert on Thursday,  Anew, the rooftop venue above the Big Brothers and Big Sisters building in Grand Center.

More than 50 St. Louis area acts submitted to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year. There were more than  6,000 entrees nationally.

After an intense voting round, we've narrowed down the top five local submissions to the contest, which we are highlighting on our website and on St. Louis on the Air this week. Earlier this week, we brought you interviews with Monkh and the People and Roland Johnson. Yesterday, we heard from Augusta Bottoms Consort.

Today, we turn our attention to Kenny DeShields.

Band members stand holding various stringed instruments from left to right are Gloria Attoun, Michael Bauermeister, Paul Ovaitt, Rebecca Mayer.
Provided by Augusta Bottoms Consort

This week, we're counting down favorite local Tiny Desk Contest submissions ahead of a Tiny Desk STL Happy Hour concert on Thursday, March 16, at Anew, the local rooftop venue above the Big Brothers and Big Sisters building in Grand Center.

More than 50 local acts submitted to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year. There were over 6,000 entires nationally.

Tiny Desk Saint Louis logo rooftop concert
Susannah Lohr

More than 50 local acts submitted to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year. There were over 6,000 entires nationally.

While the winner of the national contest, Tank and The Bangas,  has been crowned, we decided here at St. Louis Public Radio to ask for your help selecting a few local favorites. After an intense voting round, we've narrowed down the top five local submissions to the contest, which we'll be highlighting on our website and on St. Louis on the Air this week.

A crowd of artists had many questions for St. Louis' mayoral candidates at this February 27 forum.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

When St. Louis’ next mayor takes office, local artists will be waiting.

They’ve got a list of things they want the mayor — likely Lyda Krewson — to do in support of the arts. They presented their ideas to mayoral candidates in a recent forum presented by Citizen Artist St. Louis. Their goals include a living wage, more artists at the table when economic development plans are decided and recognition of artists’ economic contributions.

Magic City plays a show Feb 19, 2011 at the Schlafly Tap Room. The band is performing seated on the group bathed in yellow light
Provided by Dana Smith and Magic City

When St. Louis bassist Anne Tkach died in a house fire in 2015, the members of her band, Magic City, found themselves adrift. The group had been working on a follow-up to Les Animaux Épouvantables, their 2011 driving rock ‘n’ roll album.

Tkach and drummer Sam Meyer kept the group anchored. Without her, the band members weren’t sure how to keep working on the album. Her death made every possibility seem out of the question.

Eventually, the musicians pulled themselves together. This month, they’ll release the album “Le Vie Est Chere” in Tkach’s honor.  It will be their last release as a band. They’ll play one last show at Off Broadway on March 31.

Overgrown greenery almost entirely obscures a gravestone at which a giant white paper mache heart is positioned.
Provided by Jennifer Colten

When Terri Williams’ daughters brought home their Black History Month assignment from school, she noticed most of the historical figures were entertainers or athletes. 

This contrasted with the uniquely heroic lives she saw represented by the figures interred at Washington Park Cemetery — people like Ira Cooper, the first black police lieutenant in St. Louis, George L. Vaughn, the attorney who fought for J.D. Shelley in the Shelley vs. Kraemer court case that eliminated courts’ abilities to enforce housing segregation.

William’s learned about such figures while researching the cemetery for the new exhibit “Higher Ground: Honoring Washington Park Cemetery Its People and Place,” which opens at The Sheldon this weekend.

St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones responds to questions from the audience while alderman Lyda Krewson looks on.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

The leading Democratic candidates for mayor of St. Louis all say they would boost support for the arts if elected.

Aldermen Antonio French and Lyda Krewson, Board President Lewis Reed and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones all made that commitment Monday at The Mayoral Town Hall on Arts and Culture. Kara Turrentine, a consultant for Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, also voiced his support for artists.

Event Flier for Mayoral Town Hall for Arts and Culture on February 27 depicts a mass of people and the dates.
Provided by Citizen Artist STL

As the St. Louis Mayoral Race heats up, a group of artists are insisting candidates address how policy makers will make sure that the city makes the arts a priority.

Artist and educator Pacia Anderson's life revolves around the arts — from her friends to her work life and projects with civic leaders.  “There’s so much overlap between arts and policy, just when I wake up in the morning,” she said.

And yet, Anderson thinks politicians don't address the intersection of the arts and policy enough. To make sure that happens in a new city administration, she and other members of Citizen Artist STL have organized tonight's Mayoral Town Hall on Arts and Culture, where candidates will be pressed on how their policies and administration would focus on the arts and the support creative people need.

A recent show at the Contemporary Art Museum
Provided by the Contemporary Art Museum

The director of the largest art museum in the United States says during turbulent political times museums should stay faithful to their missions of unifying the country.

Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the featured guest tonight at the Contemporary Art Museum’s annual distinguished speaker event. In recent weeks, he has spoken against attacks on federal funding for the arts, writing "The Folly of Abolishing the NEA" for the New York Times.

Members of the Charis women's chorus perform at a recent event, in this file photo.
Provided | Charis

In the early 1990s, same-sex relations were illegal, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy helped keep closet doors sealed shut, and marriage equality for same-sex couples was unthinkable.

Artwork designed by organizer Charles Purnell for the St. Louis artists event depicts the words not my presidents day laid over official portraits of United States presidents with an X over Donald Trump's face.
Provided by Charles Purnell

It’s rare that people find comfort in admitting their fears.  It’s even more unusual to admit those  fears to a group of strangers.

But finding strength in fear, frustration and confusion in a starkly divided nation is one of the aims of This Is Who I Am Now: Artists on Politics,” which takes place today at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester Ave., in St. Louis.

“That’s been one of the biggest things for me, being able to say I’m scared and I have no idea what I’m going to do in the next couple years," organizer Charles Purnell said. "I don’t know what’s going to change, I don’t know what’s going to happen — and knowing that’s OK. It’s OK to be afraid and to admit that.”

Author Rebecca Shuman reads from her book 'Schadenfreude, A Love Story" in St. Louis Public Radio studios.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

As a college junior Rebecca Schuman found herself in peak-hipster Berlin, sitting in a dark, smoke-filled bar where patrons ordered Heineken through a hole in the wall.  She’d wanted to live “Iggy Pop’s Berlin,” and to do that she wanted to find living space in a loft.

A friend told her that people in a a local collective living space was looking for a new roommate That’s how she found herself sitting across from a guy named Johannes who had, “shock of bright blond hair that stuck out in the electrified curls about six inches in all directions.”

Schuman  recounts the experience and a number of other anecdotes in “Schadenfreude, A Love Story,” a memoir. She'll discuss the book Sunday during a book launch at Urban Chestnut in The Grove.

Elizabeth Vega is on the front porch of Art House in this February 6, 2017 photo, talking about a child's chalk drawing on the bricks.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis artist and activist Elizabeth Vega spends a lot of time in her home.

It’s a place in north St. Louis known as Art House, that she bought in 2015. There, she provides space for sign-making and other activities related to protest actions. She also works with local children to create kites, collages and other art to help them process their feelings. Recently, she spent five days and nights at Art House without leaving. An ankle monitoring device kept her tethered to her home.

David Robertson, the St. Louis Symphony's musical director, leads the orchestra in this file photo.
Scott Ferguson | Provided

The St. Louis Symphony will open its 2017-18 season with six Mozart piano concertos featuring Emanuel Ax.

Its season, which marks half a century in Powell Hall,  concludes with a performance of “Swing Symphony” in collaboration with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz from Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Summer Albarcha stands with friends at a rally to show support for immigrants and refugees outside Sen. Roy Blunt's Clayton office. This week, Blunt released a statement expressing support for President Trump's executive order on immigration. (Feb 2, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Protesters gathered outside Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s office in Clayton Wednesday to voice their opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Music director David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony.
Provided by the St. Louis Symphony

The St. Louis Symphony and its musicians have a five-year contract that will increase the minimum salary for musicians to $100,000 in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

The agreement, signed seven months before the current contract expires, aims to improve flexibility with scheduling, make rehearsals more efficient, and update tour conditions for musicians.

It comes after several strong financial performances and a significant 2016 annual campaign that helped boost the symphony's endowment to more than $200 million.  The contract will establish a stable working environment over the next five years – one that helps attract top talent in classical music, according to Vicky Smolik, Musicians Association of St. Louis representative.

Protesters gathered outside the Terminal 1 departure area at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on Jan. 29, 2017.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated to include information about Sunday's protest and official responses at 7:50 p.m.

St. Louisans gathered throughout the region over the weekend to protest President Donald J. Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

After a controversial fall season overshadowed by community outrage over Kelley Walker's “Direct Drive,” the Contemporary Art Museum will unveil a spring season this weekend.

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