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Win-win: Art and communities build on each other

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 8, 2012 - The arts are a unique piece of the community-revitalization puzzle.

Artists are attracted to the inexpensive space often found in urban areas. Art builds bridges across racial, ethnic and economic divides. And art provides quiet sanctuaries within neighborhoods, all according to Todd Swanstrom, UMSL professor of community collaboration and public policy administration.

Swanstrom led a brown-bag lunch discussion at UMSL Wednesday called “Focus on Art as a Revitalization Tool.” Panelists were: Mel Watkin, director of UMSL’s Public Policy Research Center (PPRC) Photography Project; Sister Mary Ann Nestel, executive director of Carondolet Housing Corporation; and Charlie Vinz of Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit that uses art as part of its revitalization efforts in four cities including St. Louis.

About four dozen people watched and listened as presenters gave examples of renovation-related arts projects, including:

A January 20-22 Rebuild Foundation weekend during which Hyde Park youth designed solutions for the Pruitt-Igoe housing project site: Students visited the site for a close-up examination before returning for pizza, brainstorming and project building. Ideas — brought to life through a variety of media including Tinker Toys — included transforming the area into a sculpture park, creating a dog park and a building facilities for housing the homeless.

A PPRC exhibition on display through January 2012 with photographs by the children of Pais Youth Development Center in the Academy neighborhood off North Kingshighway.

Sister Mary Ann Nestel of Carondolet Community Betterment Federation listens asTodd Swanstrom, UMSL professor of community collaboration and public policy administration, talks about the hard data showing the success art as part of revitalization efforts.

Pais provides counseling services for children and teens in the St. Louis area in its facility that lies in a neighborhood with contrasting pockets of ruins and renovation.

A Carondolet neighborhood mural project scheduled for completion at the end of April: In preparation for the mural, stencil artist Pete Wollaeger captured the outlines of numerous residents of Carondolet Park as they attended summer concerts. When completed, the mural will portray the figures in primary colors in a highly personalized display of public art.

UMSL’s “Community Development Corporations: What’s Working in St. Louis Neighborhoods” lunch conversations will continue Wednesday, April 4 with a session on “Focus on Youth and Summer Programs.”

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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