Commentary: St. Louis museums provide a feast of arts and culture | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: St. Louis museums provide a feast of arts and culture

Feb 2, 2018

Nancy Kranzberg

St. Louis is filled with many fine museums both large and small. Of course the St. Louis Art Museum located atop art hill in beautiful Forest Park leads the pack and the Kemper Art Museum is close by at Washington University. Saint Louis University has several museums on its campus and MOCRA (the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art) is a true gem nestled in the campus. There's the St. Louis Blues Museum, The Eugene Field Museum, The Campbell House Museum and the list goes on for pages more. 

Three museums that I'd like to highlight are The Sheldon, CAM (Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis) and the Missouri History Museum. All are jewels in St. Louis's crown. 

CAM, designed by world famous architect Brad Cloepfil, is filled with art of our time and is a non-collecting museum located in Grand Center. The exhibitions change three times a year, fall, spring and summer, and what you will see at CAM is an exciting variety of mediums created by a diverse array of artists: painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, installation, video, and performance art take place inside and outside the museum walls. Established and emerging artists, artists from around the globe and around the block show at CAM.

 Lisa Melandri, the Executive Director of CAM, says, "CAM is alive with ideas, with activities, with people from all walks of life. People come to CAM to see, to experience, to think, to gather, to share with others. CAM is free, which ensures accessibility to all. I like to think of CAM as a space where democracy lives. Free expression, free thinking, open dialogue-all inspired by the art of today."

CAM is also thrilled to introduce a new Chief Curator, Wassan Al-Khudhairi and Assistant Curator Misa Jeffereis who both praise CAM for the innovative exhibitions of the past and are ready to keep the ideas and open dialogue going with new and exciting exhibitions.

CAM also is involved with young people in the community. Such education programs as New Art in the Neighborhood, LEAP Middle School Initiative, and Teen Museum Studies bring schools, with an emphasis on those St. Louis Public middle and high schools within a one mile radius of the museum. These are schools that are often lacking in art resources. As a matter of fact, CAM has partnered with Vashon High School this year, a school that has been without a consistent art program for five years. CAM brings local working artists into the school and works with two groups of sophomores twice a week. It is a year-long project that is really making a difference.

The Sheldon, headed by Executive Director Paul Reuter, not only presents world class concerts in its acoustically perfect concert hall, but also features local talent. The Sheldon is known around the world and was voted one of the top ten concert halls in the country by touring musicians. It has been cited as the favorite American concert hall by many well-known musicians.

The Sheldon was designed by noted St. Louis World's Fair architect Louis Spiering and opened its doors in 1912 as the Ethical Society of St. Louis. Famous speakers such as Thurgood Marshall and Margaret Mead have spoken from its stage and the world's greatest musicians including Jose Carreras, Wynton Marsalis, Renée Fleming, George Benson, Joan Baez and Diana Krall, have performed in the intimate 712 seat hall.

Great jazz, folk and classical music is performed at The Sheldon as well as gospel, blues, bluegrass, Celtic, Latin and other music from around the world.

Olivia Lahs-Gonzales heads the Sheldon Art Galleries. In 1998, The Sheldon added the 7,000 square foot gallery space and an outdoor sculpture garden. The galleries contain seven separate spaces devoted to rotating exhibits of St. Louis artists, photography, architecture, jazz history, emerging artists, children's art and now boasts of the world class Hartenberger Musical Instrument Collection. 

The Sheldon has also made a commitment to education. In addition to a Matinee Concert Series, The Sheldon introduces over 25,000 young people to music through "The Jazz Story," "Folk Music in the Melting Pot," "Nothin' but the Blues," "The American Musical," "Lewis and Clark," "Drums and Dances of Africa" and "Classical Connections" educational workshops and master classes connect talented young musicians with Sheldon guest artists, and college internships teach arts management, recording techniques and concert production.

One of the most visited history museums in the nation, The Missouri History Museum, looks at the history of the St. Louis region from the Mississippian people up to the present day. Collecting for 150 years, the Missouri History Museum has one of the largest collections of artifacts and historical materials of any regional history museum in the country. Through the Museum's long term exhibits, visitors can discover St. Louis's baseball history from the Browns to the Cardinals, explore life on the Mississippi River, marvel at the magnitude of the 1904 World's Fair, learn about the Civil Rights movement and much more. The Museum's "History Clubhouse," which is open year-round, is an immersive, hands-on history experience designed for the younger visitors and their families.

Committed to creating and hosting the most dynamic and engaging history exhibits, the Missouri History Museum also features a rotating schedule of special exhibits throughout the year. Right now, the Museum is hosting its acclaimed exhibit "#1 in Civil Rights: the African American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis" through April 15, 2018. This exhibit examines the local civil rights movement and St. Louis' leading role in advancing the cause of racial justice. Also on display is the stunning "Panoramas of the City" exhibit through August 12, 2018. Using incredible floor-to ceiling panoramic photographs as its backdrop, "Panoramas of the City" explores the history of St. Louis from 1900 to 1950, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in these moments in time.

Of course the Missouri History Museum has Dr. Francis Levine at the helm guiding everything along. She has the highest regard for her staff and says that they work together as a team. Jody Sowell, Director of Exhibitions and Research at the Missouri Historical Society, and Nicholas Hoffman, Managing Director of Education and Visitor Experiences, work with the many curators to present the best programs and exhibitions for the engagement and enjoyment of the public.

And let’s not overlook Soldiers Memorial Museum in downtown St. Louis which is now run by the History Museum and the fact that the History Museum has a fantastic restaurant and gift shop both overlooking beautiful Forest Park.

What an enjoying feast of art and culture is available to citizens of our city in our museums. Have fun, enjoying them.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.