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.

You Are My Reflection by Erin Rachel Hudak. Installed with the help of St. Louis Community College students at Paul Artspace
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Two north St. Louis County groups are bringing together local and visiting artists.  Paul Artspace and Sculptureworks Ferguson founders said they’re united by a common cause.

“We’re looking to go into the community, use the exhibition as this kind of mechanism to create conversations, to create networks, to introduce people from outside the community to people inside the community,” said Michael Behle, founder of Paul Artspace founder.

Portraits hang at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art as workers finish setting up Erika Diettes' exhibit.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

As the daughter of a Colombian general, Erika Diettes grew up fearing FARC rebels would one day kill her father. The rebels routinely made death threats and successfully killed several government officials over decades. Though he survived the conflict, and her fear dwindled, those thoughts stayed with her.

When she became a photographer, Diettes dedicated herself to examining how that violence affects individual people. Her portraits capture women as they recall watching rebels torture or kill loved ones during the half-century battle between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The photos  will be on display Sunday at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at Saint Louis University.

“My intention with this project is to capture that exact moment where the women are remembering that horrible moment that divided their lives into two parts,” she said. 

An art piece by Kelley Walker uses a floor-to-ceiling cover of a female rapper from men's magazine. It is smeared in tooth paste.
Jenny Simeone | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Sept. 23 with statement from Kelley Walker — The Contemporary Art Museum’s display of a controversial exhibit by artist Kelley Walker — and how the administration handled public objection — has shadowed the museum in tension. The exhibit uses the images of black people in ways some St. Louisans consider disrespectful and offensive.

Three members of the museum’s administrative staff who are black have called for the museum to remove Walker’s “Direct Drive” exhibition. In the letter to the museum's senior directors published Thursday on Facebook, De Andrea Nichols, Lyndon Barrois Jr. and Victoria Donaldson also said chief curator Jeffrey Uslip should resign and issue a formal apology.

'Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa the Musical' dancers and singers held a pop up performance at UMSL's Millennium Student Center Monday.
Provided by UMSL campus photographer August Jennewein

When Niyi Coker considers Africa’s contributions to modern music, he can’t help but think of Miriam Makeba, the acclaimed South African singer and activist who introduced international audiences to the continent’s sounds.

It’s impossible to separate Makeba’s art from her activism, said Coker, a professor of African-American studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In a life that was heroic and tragic, the singer suffered three decades of forced exile from her homeland for challenging its racist policies and injustice.

When Makeba died in 2008, she left an incredible legacy, said Coker, a native Nigerian who wrote “Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa the Musical.” Its first performance in the United States takes place Thursday at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Jess Luther | St. Louis Public Radio

Driven by proven talents and entertainers, LouFest aims to capture college students and older folks, too. It succeeds with a schedule that rolls out like tickertape, allowing attendees to easily flow from one concert to the next with no downtime in between. Hang around long enough and you’re bound to find music you like — and have a good time. 

Provided by iLLPHONICS

Updated Sept. 7 with additional information about producing entities. Updated Sept. 9 with audio from St. Louis on the Air.

The seventh annual LouFest will bring hip-hop, rock, and jazz acts to Forest Park this weekend.

LouFest has grown steadily since its debut in 2010 and the last three years have seen a marked increase in attendance.


Provided by Washington University

Many in the United States likely view Iran as a closed society, one that has limited contact with the western world. But many in Iran would like to see more cultural exchanges.

Among them is Grammy-nominated Iranian musician Hossein Alizadeh, who performs Sunday at Washington University. An avant-garde musician, Alizadeh is known improvising on the radif, a  traditional Persian musical instrument. He has toured the world extensively and taught music in Europe and the Middle East.

The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University is celebrating a decade at its permanent home with a first showing of works from its entire collection.

The museum will celebrate its 10th anniversary at the university with an event Friday that will highlight its paintings, sculpture and other art.  Founded in 1881, the museum’s had a long focus on European art. But in the last decade it has shifted attention to better spotlight political art.

Left to right: Nathan Maul, Sherard Curry and Anna Drehmer in Tesseract Theatre's "Am I Black Enough Yet?" by Clinton Johnston
Tesseract Theatre

The title of an upcoming play by St. Louis’ Tesseract Theatre is a loaded question: “Am I Black Enough Yet?”

It's a challenge that could cause discomfort but the play aims to make fun of the query with a playful approach. The first order of business is to proclaim that the entire audience is “black.” Those who were already black get to be “uber-black.”

Poet Alison Rollins
Provided by Alison Rollins

“I realized fairly recently that I have to write. I am a poet and I claim that and it is a necessity. The same way I breathe, the same way I blink, it must be done.” Alison Rollins.

St. Louis poet Alison Rollins has won a prestigious 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship for young poets. 

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performs in Lucerne, Switzerland, 2012
Provided by Dilip Vishwanat and the St. Louis Symphony

The St. Louis Symphony will be launching its third tour in almost two decades in Europe this February.

The Symphony will perform Feb. 8-11 in the Spanish cities of Madrid, Oviedo and Valencia. The musicians will present works by composers John Adams, Antonin Dvorak, Aaron Copland, and others.

St. Louis residents will have a chance to hear those works in January before the group leaves for Spain.

Ignite Theatre company is one of nine groups to take up residence in .ZACK
Provided by Ignite Theater Company

Nine young arts groups will find a home this fall at .ZACK, the new performing arts incubator.

Created by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, the space aims to foster collaborations among the St. Louis performing artists. Its inaugural class will include dance companies, theater troupes and youth outreach initiatives.

Provided by The Maness Brothers
Provided by The Maness Brothers

The Whiskey War Festival, a homegrown day of music celebrating contemporary Americana, blues and rock groups from the Midwest, turns 5 on Saturday.

This year the festival is moving from its home base in St. Charles to the South Broadway Athletic Club in the Soulard neighborhood. Jake Maness, who founded the festival with his brother David, said the show is a chance to share the music they’ve found while touring the Midwest.

Provided by Phaedra Phestival. Photo by Wilson Webel.
Provided by Phaedra Phestival. Photo by Wilson Webel.

The Arts and Education Council has launched a new crowd-sourcing platform called stARTup-StL  aimed at uniting its existing donor base, new donors and arts projects in the metro area. 

Much like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, the fundraising tool will help organizations and individuals raise money. But fees are far less than those charged by larger services. The council will only collect credit card fees for processing donations. All other funds will stay in the St. Louis region.

Miles Davis' childhood home is without siding. Workers are installing a new roof.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Inside the shell of a modest house in East St. Louis, there is nothing to let a visitor know that one of the nation’s most noted musicians once called it home.

The interior of the one-story structure is skeletal — all bare studs and dust. But when Lauren Parks and Jasper Gery Pearson are inside, they can see the space where a young Miles Davis got his start in life, years before creating the music that would make him one of the biggest names in jazz. They hope to turn the trumpeter’s childhood home into a museum and educational space that will inspire children.

Fabulist bat is sucking the life out of a downed soldier
Provided by St. Louis Art Museum

Francisco de Goya’s “Disasters of War” is considered one of the most personal and influential print series in the Western canon. This will be the first time the complete series will be shown in St. Louis. Elizabeth Wyckoff, the art museum's curator of prints, drawings and photographs, says the work that was created more than 200 years ago remains relevant today.

Detail of Katherine Dunham in Choros, undated
Missouri History Museum | Provided

Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, before Freedom Riders headed to segregated bus stations, before Martin Luther King Jr. led his first march, there was Katherine Dunham.

The dancer and choreographer stood up to discrimination as far back as 1944. She railed against a system in which hotels wouldn’t book her and theaters wouldn’t let her black and white fans sit together, according to Washington University professor Joanna Dee Das. Das has written a book about the legendary artist and activist who lived in East St. Louis off and on starting in the mid'60s. The book, “Katherine Dunham:  Dance and the African Diaspora,” is set for release early next year.

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Jazz St. Louis and leading national institution Jazz at Lincoln Center are again joining forces to show area students how a treasured musical art continues to evolve.

The organizations will bring nationally recognized musicians into schools to give high school students an up-close view of jazz, a music rich in tradition that relies heavily on improvisation. Musicians also will speak on the role jazz musicians played during the music’s heyday a few generations ago and to the continuing importance of jazz in the 21st century.

Treasure Shields Redmond, her mother Elsie Lee Shields, and her grandmother Mary Shields. Meridian, Mississippi 1995
Provided by Treasure Shields Redmond

A St. Louis-area poet is lending her voice to the small but growing movement of activists calling for protests that disrupt U.S. society to spur social and economic justice.

Treasure Shields Redmond is a professor at Southwestern Illinois College and author of a book on civil rights trailblazer Fannie Lou Hamer. She is calling for a St. Louis-area strike by black workers during the Labor Day weekend. She’s calling the event Strike for Black Lives in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

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, Anya 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.

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