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.

An uncooked egg sits in stone, the shell turned transluscent by white vinegar. Through it the yolk is visible.
Provided by the Catalina Ouyang

Catalina Ouyang’s sculptures are an amalgam of unexpected materials: a raw egg soaked in white vinegar, marble, fake bones, a printed copy of Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities” and basketball shorts. 

Ouyang uses the objects to examine her Chinese-American identity and challenge social pressures placed on immigrants to conform to North American norms. She specifically aims to provoke questions about how society asks immigrants to assimilate into white culture.

She wants people to consider what for her is a consistent dilemma: “How to contend with what I call the aspirational fantasy of whiteness in what I think persists as an imperialist and colonialist power structure."

Rendering of proposed Grandel Theater renovations depicts glowing exterior of building at dusk with people chilling outside.
Provided by Kranzberg Arts Foundation

After closing several years ago, the Grandel Theater in Grand Center will get a new shot as a rehabbed performance venue and exhibit space.

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation has begun renovating the Grandel Theater and intends to will reopen its main stage by spring or summer of this year. Kranzberg Arts Foundation Executive Director Chris Hansen said he wants the space to do more than just host performances.

“We really want to stay focused on meeting the needs of our broader community and making sure the space connects the dots beyond just the main stage performances,” he said.

Following the ceremony, the crowd marches away from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers holding signs that express solidarity with Standing Rock.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

A few weeks ago, Kevin Koehler, the guitarist for iLLPHONiCS watched his friend Monkh Horrell enter the glass-walled studio and performance space at the Gaslight Lounge.  As Horrell and his band Monkh and the People began to play, Koehler was stuck by how his friend used his musical talent to fight for the environment.

Koehler also performed that night during the STL Rocks for Standing Rock, an event they organized. They donated proceeds from the show directly to the tribe, which is leading the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

Provided by CAM

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis hopes its upcoming exhibit will help regain some of the public trust lost after the Kelley Walker exhibit spawned controversy this fall.

The new exhibit will feature four artists: photographer Deanna Lawson, visual artist Louis Cameron, figurative painter Nicola Tyson and muralist Katherine Bernhardt.

Although CAM planned the latest exhibits before the Walker exhibit opened, administrators want the show, which opens in January, to address some of the concerns people in St. Louis had about Walker's displays.

Visitors and area artists expressed outrage that CAM gave wall space to a white artist who they criticized for defacing images of black people — from civil-rights era photographs to an enlarged image of the rapper Trina on the cover of the culture magazine King.

Provided by the arts organization US Department of Arts and Culture

Arts leaders from around the country will gather in St. Louis this weekend to discuss new strategies for better integrating arts and social justice practices.

The Regional Arts Commission is working with a private arts organization that calls itself U.S. Department of Arts and Culture to produce the event titled Culture/Shift, which aims to help artists help promote arts and culture as a human right.

“It’s there in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Yet that right is only as real as we make it," said Adam Horowitz, chief instigator of the arts and culture group. "It’s only as real as the resources we put to it and the way that we stand for it.”

Father-daughter beatboxers Nicole Paris and Ed Cage have fun posing for this photo on November 5, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Millions have marveled at the beatboxing contests between father-daughter duo Ed Cage and Nicole Paris. They’ve battled it out in numerous YouTube videos and TV appearances including “The Late Late Show” and “Steve Harvey Show.”

But did you know they live in St. Louis? And that their beatboxing (percussion sounds produced mainly by mouth)  is more often collaborative than competitive?

Hundreds of demonstraters gathered in downtown St. Louis to express their disgust, concern and fear with President-elect Donald Trump on Nov. 13, 2016.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The largest St. Louis-based anti-Donald Trump rally since his election to the presidency took place Sunday,  downtown. Hundreds of people marched from City Garden through  to the steps of the St. Louis Justice Center, 200 S. Tucker Blvd.,  across the street from City Hall. 

The march began with 22-year-old Basel Isa’s Facebook post to protest Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. Isa said he wasn’t previously politically active but felt compelled to become more involved after the election's result.

“I want this to show the world that we’re not okay with this, we’re going to exercise our rights, and we’re going to get active,” said Isa. “Stand up for people that aren’t brave enough. We love and that’s what’s most important.”

The artist, dressed in a cow-hide apron, Trillby hat and blinders, poses surrounded by hills of unused asphalt.
Provided by Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Drawn in by the landscape, South African artist Mohau Modisakeng hiked out to municipal yards holding heaps of asphalt in Nbabeni, a township outside Cape Town. Surrounded by road maintenance materials, he donned a cow-hide apron, trillby hat, and blinkers and began shooting the video and pictures that would become the artwork "To Move Mountains," currently on display at Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Modisakeng is the 2016 winner of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award, one of South Africa’s major art awards. His work offers a look into how artists in other countries address racism and include images of black people. His approach is both personal and political.

War without the gore, self-help gurus who can’t seem to help themselves, take-downs of late-stage capitalism, and a buddy movie about a duck that might make you run for the nearest tissue.  From domestic films to foreign films, features and documentaries, the St. Louis International Film Festival has something for just about everyone's taste.

For the St. Louis International Film Fest,  which starts with an opening reception Thursday evening, St. Louis Public Radio is bringing you our take on 25 key films.

Jack Grelle's album cover. (Nov. 2, 2016)
Provided by Jack Grelle

Jack Grelle wrote some of his first country songs as he hitchhiked across the Midwest, meeting people from around the country with life experience far beyond his own. Nearly a decade ago, he spent time with strangers in cramped cars — sometimes for days — and gained a strong sense of compassion for a shared, but diverse, humanity.

Kahlil Irving, 24, hunches over a clay vessel as it spins on a wheel. He smooths the sides, with his face an inch or two away from the turning.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Kahlil Irving sits down to the potter’s wheel in his studio, picks up an unfinished pot, the muddled grey of unfinished clay, and begins to turn the wheel. He knows the smooth pot will be glazed, fired, and pulled from the kiln, a deep, lustrous black. 

Irving will add the pot to a growing collection of more than 700 other black vases and vessels, which he’ll arrange into a 20-foot-long table-like platform for the grand opening of Bruno David Gallery in Clayton.  Like a demonstration blocking traffic, Irving’s sculpture manifests dissatisfaction with the systemic racism he sees throughout the art world and greater United States.  

“This is like an act of protest. This is a protest, but I’m not standing outside with picket signs and yelling at you,” said Irving. “I’m yelling at you through the monument of the work, I’m yelling at you through the monument of obstructing your time and space.”

10-27-2016: This detail from Edo Rosenblith's mural, "Supper Club," in the Techartista co-working building. shows the artist within his work.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

You can almost hear the silverware clatter, the glasses clink and the generations clash as Thanksgiving approaches.

St. Louis artist Edo Rosenblith aims to capture the conviviality and chaos of the family dinner table — during holidays or not — in wall-sized mural, “Supper Club.” The 10-by-24 piece towers over work tables at the TechArtista co-working space in the Central West End (see image of full mural, below).

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. 

Earlier this year, iLLPHONiCS released a new album titled "Gone With the Trends."
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.

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