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Arts

All you can art: American Arts Experience St. Louis offers a full taste of the area's art world

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 4, 2010 - Mondays are often a time for cultural institutions to take a deep breath and get ready for the shows to come. That means if you're looking for Arts Experience today, try one or more of the marvelous standards the area has to offer. Our pick: The Missouri Botanical Gardens and "Flowering Frost," an exhibit of photographic works by David Boesch.

Let's think of the American Arts Experience St. Louis as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Not the kind where there's crust on top of the cheese sauce, but the kind where you gasp when you begin to take it all in, knowing you can't possibly get your fill of everything, but you're darn well going to try.

And unlike those all-you-can eats, with the American Arts Experience, you have more than two weeks to try out the artistic offerings of nearly 50 arts organizations in St. Louis.

"It truly is unparalleled, all of the arts organizations working together," says Cynthia Prost, president with the Arts and Education Council.

The American Arts Experience St. Louis begins Friday, Oct. 1, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 17. The first-time festival offers just about any kind of art -- from dance to theater to music and exhibitions.

Fueling the experience is the opportunity to let people in and around St. Louis know what's available in their city.

"They may not in their normal, daily lives, have any idea that we've got such a huge array of arts experiences here in St. Louis," says Prost.

But she's hoping that in a few weeks, more people will.

The American Arts Experience St. Louis was the idea of Paul Reuter, executive director of the Sheldon, and it's an idea that has percolated for quite some time.

Reuter, a fan of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., felt that St. Louis could be a great festival city, too. So four years ago, he began talking with his peers, one by one. Soon, meetings were taking place and the new festival began taking shape.

Involved in the final product are 47 organizations, Reuter says, from large, well-known institutions to smaller ones.

For all, though, the hope of what the festival might offer seems to be the same.

"I hope that it brings them new attention," Reuter says, "and people buying tickets and coming to the venues and music spaces."

Lory Bowman, marketing director with the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, hopes people in the area will also benefit from the event.

"It once again just shines such a huge spotlight on the many arts offerings in St. Louis," she says.

Among the offerings getting some buzz, Prost says, is Joe Jones: Painter of the American Scene, at the St. Louis Art Museum. The retrospective displays work created by the St. Louis native during the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s and 40s.

"I'm really looking forward to that," she says.

Prost says she can't play favorites, but there's also a performance at the Sheldon by Grammy-award winner Shawn Colvin, and the pre-Broadway debut of "High" starring Kathleen Turner at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

And expect lots, lots more, like master classes at Stray Dog Theater, performances by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, an exhibition by artists with disabilities at the Regional Arts Commission and poetry readings at Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Organizing the event has helped area organizations put their best foot forward, Reuter says, and he hopes they'll all keep heading in that direction together.

And while some events are happening at the same time, Reuter takes the long view, he says, hoping the festival benefits everyone.

"In the short term, we are competing with each other," he says. "But in the long term, I think we're all working together to get more people involved in the arts."

This is the first year for the festival, but Reuter says there's enough of a budget to keep it going for the next four years.

And in the future, Prost says, organizers hope the festival will also help drive more cultural tourism into St. Louis from Chicago, Memphis and elsewhere.

Ticket prices range from free on up, and at the festival's website, you can customize your itinerary, Prost says, to make sure you're able to take in as much as possible.

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