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City-block-sized arts compound marks growth and looks to future at 1-year anniversary

One GCADD lot includes a crane sculpture and art truck by Christopher Carl
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
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One GCADD lot includes a crane sculpture and art truck by Christopher Carl

Last year Galen Gondolfi bought an entire city block in Granite City for roughly $75,000. The Fort Gondo Arts Compound founder bought the abandoned block to launch his new project: the Granite City Art and Design District.

“It’s exceeded expectations exponentially, there’s just been overwhelming support,” said Gondolfi. “We were a bit, you know, tentative about what to expect, and we’ve just been overwhelmingly pleased.”

That support came from Granite City government, local businesses and area arts advocates such as Alton’s Penelope Schmidt and artists like Six Mile Sculpture Work’s Noah Kirby. Each organization and individual helped promote the space or participated directly in events onsite.

GCADD buildings were empty for many years and some needed serious rehab work before being turned into fully functioning art spaces.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
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GCADD buildings were empty for many years and some needed serious rehab work before being turned into fully functioning art spaces.

Several physical improvements have been made to the structures and landscape of the block over the past year. The district opened Insurance art gallery and also two sculpture spaces called Launch Pad and Legal Pad. Landscape architect and artist Christopher Carl installed irrigation systems that collect water from area buildings and funnel it into nearby ground projects.

Curatorial Fellow Jennifer Baker oversaw six exhibits at the space, which ranged from painting to performance, video work to live bands. For her, the most rewarding moments came when St. Louis art fans mixed with Metro East and Granite City residents. During one event, a local resident felt challenged by a male performer who appeared dressed in traditionally women’s clothes and led a meditation workshop. After several conversations, Baker saw the resident participating in a meditation ritual.

“It was literally watching art change the way people are thinking about really important social issues, but also just changing their lives personally and opening them up to have an experience with other human beings that they wouldn’t normally have,” said Baker.

The coming year will bring additional developments at GCADD, as the space is referred to by founders. Gondolfi and his crew will build out two new galleries called Plaque and Aspirin. He is developing a quasi-exterior installation space titled IDEA with Carl, which will appear in Ikea-like font. There will be an outdoor hanging gallery titled Clothesline for textile and related arts. Organizers are also working to develop two more sculpture sites: Crash Pad and Pad Thai. Marianne Laury will take over for Jennifer Baker as the 2016-2017 curatorial fellow.

Gondolfi says the following year will include even more developments.

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