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.

Vaughn Vaughn Davis's Sunset Hills, a ripped and orange canvas hangs from a white wall.
Provided by Philip Slein

Updated Oct. 24 at 10:25 with additional media

Artist Vaughn Davis is an anomaly in the St. Louis commercial gallery scene. He’s young, local and exhibiting in a space usually reserved for more established artists: Philip Slein Gallery in the Central West End.

Jim Schmidt, who coordinates much of the gallery’s exhibits, said there was almost no doubt about showing the emerging artist’s work in their project space.

St. Louis rapper and producer Muhammad Austing poses with a picture of himself on his laptop.
Provided by Muhammad Austin

Muhammad Austin doesn’t have top of the line equipment or a world-class studio. He records most of his music in the basement of his parents Spanish Lake home. But that hasn’t stopped him from making some of the most innovative hip-hop in St. Louis — and people are starting to notice.

Over the past two years Austin, who goes by the stage name Mvstermind, has risen through the St. Louis music scene to become one of the dominant voices in the young hip-hop community. Today, he performs at Delmar Hall in support of his new album, “The Cusp.”

Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company

PNC Bank will distribute $1 million over the next four years to help fund arts groups in the St. Louis region.

The grants, part of PNC's Arts Alive funding initiative, have a larger focus than just keeping organizations afloat in the short term.  They aim to inspire lasting programs that reinvigorate arts organizations.

Since 2011, the Arts Alive program has distributed $2 million to established theater companies, museums and dance companies. Recipients include Dance St. Louis, Opera Theater of St. Louis and The Muny. 

A selection from Amy Reidel's "Radar Home: 11.8.13"
Willis Ryder Arnold

We’ve all been touched by cancer, through someone we love or admire, or even our own. Nearly 40 percent of us will be diagnosed with the disease in our lifetime.

Three years ago, St. Louis artist Amy Reidel found out her mother had cancer. Shortly after, first one aunt, then another, got a cancer diagnosis. In the middle of it all, Reidel’s grandmother died.

Visitors to the Contemporary Art Museum are now (Sept. 30, 2016) greeted by warning signs and a wall that went up in front of Kelley Walker's Direct Drive exhibit following criticism and outrage of the work.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 1:40 p.m. Oct. 10 — Chief curator Jeffrey Uslip is leaving St. Louis' Contemporary Art Museum for another institution.

Uslip's departure follows weeks of controversy over CAM's current solo exhibition by white artist Kelley Walker that some found demeaning to African-Americans. Three CAM employees and others had called the museum to remove Uslip shortly after the exhibition, "Direct Drive," opened Sept. 16.

In a news release, the Contemporary did not say where Uslip is going or whether he will remain in St. Louis.

Two immigrant men hang suspended in the air as window washers in the play "Spended"
Provided by ProPhotoSTL.com

As the St. Louis metro area continues to take note of the region's growing status as a magnet for newcomers from other countries, Upstream Theater will launch "Suspended," a play that aims to break down assumptions about immigrants.

Director Linda Kennedy said stories about the relationship between immigrants and longtime residents can strengthen both communities.

Melinda Cooper performs with her band Town Cars
Jess Luther | St. Louis Public Radio

Local musician Melinda Cooper remembers the exact moment she fell in love with songwriting.  Decades ago, it was snowing outside and she was driving down Interstate 44 when Stephen Merritt’s song “Falling Out Of Love (With You)” began playing on her car radio.  She immediately changed course and drove to Vintage Vinyl to buy the album.

Cooper hopes submitting her music to the St. Louis County Library’s new local music initiative — which will allow music fans to stream local music on computers and eventually an app — gives someone else a similar feeling.

Local guitar duo Fine to Drive play onstage at a preview show at Delmar Hall the night before its grand opening.
Jess Luther | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis’ newest concert venue opens tonight in the Delmar Loop neighborhood. With Delmar Hall, Joe Edwards and Pat Hagin, co-owners of the Pageant concert hall next door, continue their push to make the neighborhood an entertainment hub.

“This is the live music corridor, center, of St. Louis and this just cements that,” Edwards said.

Delmar Hall will seat up to 800 people and focus on concerts, comedy and private business events. Edwards said up to 25 percent of the acts will be local performers with national touring groups making up the remaining shows. The opening weekend features Stir, Jay Farrar, and Hippie Sabotage.

Jason Wilson, CAM board member, and Shanti Parikh, anthropology and African Studies assistant professor
Kelly Moffit | St. Louis Public Radio

An exhibition that opened at the Contemporary Art Museum Sept. 16 continues to draw fire for images that some say are demeaning to African-Americans. The issue has hit home with many St. Louisans including Shanti Parikh, an anthropology and African Studies associate professor, and her husband Jason Wilson, who’s on the board at CAM.

Lonely Mountain String Band played last year's An Under Cover Weekend and came back for this year as well.
Provided by Corey Woodruff and Michael Tomko

As Libby Swanger raised her viola and began Jimmy Page’s solo from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” there was no way for her to anticipate the crowd reaction.

“People were like screaming for me, and as a violist, that has never happened ever," she said. "People don’t scream for us, and it was just like a shining moment that came out of last year.”

Swanger’s performance took place with the bluegrass group The Lonely Mountain String Band during An Under Cover Weekend, St. Louis’s annual tribute band festival.  This weekend, the event celebrates its 10th anniversary.

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

Updated 3:20 p.m., Sept. 28 with Erika Diettes and Terry Dempsey's interview on St. Louis on the Air.

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 killed several government officials over decades. Though her father survived the conflict, and Diettes' fear dwindled, those thoughts stayed with her.

When she became a photographer, Diettes dedicated herself to examining how that violence affects individuals. 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.

A art piece by Kelley Walker depicting a civil rights-era protest is splattered with melted dark, white, and milk chocolate.
Kelley Walker, Black Star Press | Paula Cooper Gallery

Updated Sept. 29 with a statement from Jeffrey Uslip — The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis will not remove Kelley Walker’s controversial artwork from its walls. 

Some St. Louis residents called for a boycott of the museum and three of the museum’s black employees called for the removal of four works  — and for chief curator Jeffrey Uslip to resign — on the grounds that Walker’s exhibit demeaned black people. CAM director Lisa Melandri said Monday that removing the work would be censorship.

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.

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.