Take Five: RAC's Roseann Weiss on buckling art to social change in the Rustbelt
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 16, 2012 - An April 12-14 conference offers St. Louisans a chance to inspire and be inspired in a weekend of conversation about the power of the arts in community development.
“Rustbelt to Artist Belt: At the Crossroads” will bring together artists, community organizers, architects, policy makers and educators from cities across the U.S. and as far away as Dublin to talk about the many ways in which art is tied to positive social change, particularly in post-industrial cities.
St. Louis conference speakers include Pulitzer Foundation community projects director Lisa Harper Chang, who will moderate a panel called “Staging Innovation: Uniting Theatre Arts and Social Work in a Museum Setting” and poet, writer and vocalist David A. N. Jackson -- aka “D’Poet” -- who will use his words and music for unannounced “random acts of art” throughout the conference.
The Chase Hotel and Conference Center event will open with a tour of the Central West End and close with a reception on Cherokee Street. The Cherokee Street business district and neighborhood provide a meaningful conclusion, according to Roseann Weiss of the Regional Arts Commission’s Community Arts Training Institute, which is sponsoring the event along with the Cleveland Community Partnership for Arts & Culture.
“Cherokee Street will be a very good example of a grassroots collaboration of artists and the people who live there,” Weiss said.
Weiss spoke with the Beacon about her hopes for “Rustbelt to Artist Belt,” which RAC has married to its every-other-year At the Crossroads event.
Beacon: How did “Rustbelt to Artist Belt” happen to come to St. Louis?
Roseann Weiss: “Rustbelt to Artist Belt” has been held twice in Cleveland and then last year in Detroit, and I attended one in Cleveland and the one in Detroit.
So last year when I was in Detroit, knowing we were going to do At the Crossroads again, I talked to everybody and said, “Hey, I have two ideas: first, if you’re going to do Rustbelt in Detroit again, let’s make sure we’re not competing and it’s not the same weekend. Then, the second idea is, we could do it in St. Louis and combine the two conferences.”
And because I had the support of the Kresge Foundation, everybody said, “That’s a great idea.”
All this work is about relationships, right? And about creating partnerships and collaborating. This is a great example of saying “Hey, here’s an idea -- what do you think, and let’s talk about it,” and people getting enthusiastic.
What do the Rustbelt cities have in common as it relates to the arts?
Weiss: We all share a post-industrial bent, with the idea that there are lots of spaces. These cities are not the most expensive cities and there’s lots of vacant land.
The question is: how do we most creatively use those spaces, how do we most creatively redevelop and regenerate our neighborhoods and provide opportunities for everybody?
This conference comes as momentum is building for brainstorming events: Pecha Kucha, Good Ideas for Cities, and the recent UMSL brown-bag session on the arts and redevelopment. Do you see a trend?
Weiss: I think the people have understood that we need to look at the future with the most creativity we can, and that includes having artists in those conversations.
If you’ve read some things that have been out there for a while, like Richard Florida or Dan Pink or Charles Landry, these are people who have been talking about creative communities and how important it its to use every asset we have to look toward the future.
Have you gotten good response already?
Weiss: Yes. And we have all these people saying, “I’m coming, I’m coming,” so what we’re trying to do is get everybody to register.
Our early bird rate is only $95 for a two-and-a-half day conference and that includes four meals, so I think we’ve tried to keep it as reasonable as possible so as many people can afford to attend as possible. The early bird deadline is March 25 and then it goes up to $125 -- which is also cheap.
What do you hope comes out of this weekend?
Weiss: One of the things really stood out for me in Detroit was that every artist I met who was living in Detroit told me with the most passion in their voice, that they were in it for the long haul, that they loved Detroit and they were going to make Detroit better.
I absolutely believe the artists who live in St. Louis have the same passion for regenerating our neighborhoods and for creating a difference in where we all live.