St. Louis artists, musicians, and businesses show support for Syrian Immigrants | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis artists, musicians, and businesses show support for Syrian Immigrants

Dec 5, 2015

Various St. Louis artists are voicing support for bringing Syrian refugees to the city. Chelsea Ritter-Soronen  said she believes positive experiences with refugees should shape the city’s approach to welcoming Syrian immigrants.

“I do believe in the #BringThemHere movement in St. Louis specifically, because of our brilliant example of our recent acceptance of Bosnian immigrants,” she said in an email.

Ritter-Soronen recently launched a visual campaign in support of Syrian Immigration. She’s secured 12 locations to install wheat-paste murals in support of the cause. Wheat-pastes are specific posters or images made on paper and applied to walls using wheat-paste or glue. Unlike graffiti, wheat-pastes are ephemeral. 

Ritter-Soronen said she’s creating these images in response to the chronic media saturation of war and violence related to the Syrian crisis. She said she felt compelled to present images that would interrupt passers-bys visual landscape with specific imagery much the way media consumption is often interrupted with images of war and violence. Ritter-Soronen draws portraits taken from news images, places them together, and adds gear and wing motifs to personalize the images.

“Ideally, the artwork stops people in their footsteps, in public places where they are not expecting to experience a sad/angering/frustrating/debatable/emotional image,” wrote Ritter-Soronen.

Some St. Louis musicians have also lent support to bringing Syrian Immigrants to the city. Joseph Hess organized a benefit concert Drummers Only at The Luminary Friday night. The 15-drummer performance raised donations for the International Institute of St. Louis, which is working on the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Ritter-Soronen wheat-paste outside Latino Americano Market.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Musician and experimental music record label head Nathan Cook publicly supported the event. He said the concert shows that even avant-garde artists in St. Louis support a humanitarian cause.

“It’s not just about music or art, it can be about politics,” he said. 

For Cook events like Drummers Only represent a larger political statement regarding acceptance of Syrian immigrants.

“Symbolically we have to show that we’re not scared, we’re not going to let fear guide us, we’re not going to be bullied by this idea of terrorism, and if America is a leader of the free world we have to set that example that we still have open arms,” he said.

These sentiments are voiced by some St. Louis politicians even as many others oppose allowing Syrian immigrants into their state.

St. Louisans React:

Ritter-Soronen often incorporates the words 'Bring them here' in support of bringing Syrian immigrants to St. Louis.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

We’ve used it to talk (with out children) about how our country is a nation of immigrants and that we should make room for them in our city and our homes and you know bring them here." - Adelaide Lancaster

Ritter-Soronen wheat-paste in Cherokee alleyway entrance between Jefferson Avenue and Texas Street
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

"It's cool. People get to come in, eat, and see some art about what's going on." - employee who preferred not to be identified.

Ritter-Soronen wheat-paste in Cherokee alleyway.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

"Well, you could easily miss it," - Cherokee Street Passer-by.

Ritter-Soronen tags her images with the moniker WagonWays.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio / Ritter-Soronen wheat-paste outside Latino Americano Market.

"For me as a mother, I can't not be attuned to the needs of mothers everywhere, and for me the refugee movement is about family." - Jessie Mueller, Rise Founder.

Ritter-Soronen's work also appears outside Rise Coffee House in The Grove.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio