St. Louis is on the right track, according to the head of the nation’s largest grant-making organization for the arts.
Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, visited St. Louis Monday as part of a tour of NEA grant recipients. Her stops included the Grand Center Arts District, which has received two “Our Town” awards totaling $125,000 to help with plans to make the area more walkable and attractive.
Freezing temperatures and blustery winds made Monday less than ideal for an outdoor stroll. But Chu seemed happy to take in the area with Grand Center’s Michelle Stevens as her tour guide.
Stevens pointed out the newer Public Media Commons with its massive video screens, as well as the now-vacant Masonic Temple.
Chu noted that neglected buildings in up-and-coming areas like Grand Center tend to benefit from what she calls a “front-porch” effect.
“Somebody sweeps their front porch and I say, ‘I think I’ll sweep mine, too.’ And pretty soon there’s a confluence of activity and vitality,” Chu said.
Greening up The Sheldon is the next phase of Grand Center’s plans.
This summer, The Sheldon will construct a garden wall across the entire expanse of its west side, visible from the parking lot on Washington Avenue. It's working with the Missouri Botanical Garden to figure out which plants will thrive there.
Grand Center has applied for a third NEA grant that will make it easier for pedestrians to walk from Lindell Boulevard to the Public Media Commons.
Michael Donovan, head of the Missouri Arts Council, said what successful projects have in common are authentic connections and use of natural assets.
“What makes St. Louis unique is that we have this large stock of historic housing and buildings that are available, and affordable spaces, open spaces,” Donovan said.
Both Donovan and Chu also toured the COCA arts center in University City, which received $40,000 from the NEA this year. Chu applauded COCA’s teachers for using the arts to help push kids to be well-rounded individuals.
“They pay so much attention to the conditions that surround the student in addition to their participation in arts: ‘How are you doing school? Are you doing your homework? How are you going to manage your time?’” Chu said.
Chu will visit Jefferson City on Wednesday to speak at the Missouri Arts Awards. Both organizations are celebrating their 50th anniversaries.
St. Louis Public Radio intern Nathan Rubbelke contributed to this story.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL