The leading Democratic candidates for mayor of St. Louis all say they would boost support for the arts if elected.
Aldermen Antonio French and Lyda Krewson, Board President Lewis Reed and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones all made that commitment Monday at The Mayoral Town Hall on Arts and Culture. Kara Turrentine, a consultant for Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, also voiced his support for artists.
The forum at the Luminary Center for the Arts, was held to focus the race for mayor on issues important to the arts community.
Moderated by community engagement artist De Andrea Nichols and former journalist and Sweet Potato Project head Sylvester Brown Jr., it gave the candidates an opportunity to address how they would involve artists in their administration, how they would be ambassadors for the arts and how city development efforts could include artists.
Questions from architectural historian Michael Allen, former Zoo Museum District board member and gallery owner Robert Powell, visual artist and animator Sarah Paulson and others focused on how candidates would support low-income artists. The candidates also were asked for their views on funding an African-American history museum under the Zoo Museum District.
Each candidate committed to at least one strategy to link the city administration and civic-minded artists.
Tishaura O. Jones
Proposal: Community benefit agreements.
Jones proposed attaching community benefit agreements to large development projects. Citing an ordinance from Detroit, Jones said her proposal would require developers to commit to funding or helping produce neighborhood projects in the communities where they receive tax benefits or land from the city.
“We can make sure those agreements are as creative as we want them to be but can also include funding for the arts in every new development that has a community development agreement attached to it,” Jones said.
Lewis E. Reed
Proposal: Arts director and liaison
Reed said that his administration would create a new directorship to better bolster the arts community in the city. He intends to establish the cabinet position to make sure various city government officials receive a perspective from the arts community.
“They’d be one of my cabinet positions that’s at the table when we’re making decisions," Reed said. "That’s at the table when we’re talking to developers. That’s at the table when we’re planning our street grids. That’s at the table when we’re looking at what we’re going to do with federal funding that’s coming to the city.”
Lyda L. Krewson
Proposal: Bridge the gap between artists and administration
If elected, Krewson intends to integrate artists and makers in city affairs through their participation in commissions. She would also hire artists. Krewson said that would provide additional approaches to citywide issues and integrate artists’ perspectives in the political process.
“I’m certain that I’ll get to a better answer [to certain civic questions] if I’m able to include some of you or many of you on boards or commissions or staff so that we can actually collaborate together on how to do all of these things better,” she said.
Antonio D. French
Proposal: Enforcement of established laws
French said his number one priority would be to reduce the level of violence in the city and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods — and that a significant portion of this goal is achievable through arts and education.
“Part of my comprehensive crime plan for the city actually involves making the recreation centers for the city open after school for kids to come, get arts education, get enrichment programing, get off the streets, not get involved in gangs and drugs, but have safe places to be where they are encouraged to practice the arts and continue their education even after school hours,” he said.
French also the city needs to enforce a bill requiring for 1 percent of any public funding earmarked for development project to into a fund to support local arts and community engagement projects. French said he would enforce the bill that department Mayor Slay ignored.
Proposal: Director of arts and culture.
Consultant Kara Turrentine, who spoke for Boyd, said he would commit to creating a director of arts programming position to work with the artists and ensure that they had a voice in the administration.
“What that roll would do is, one, elevate the creative scene in St. Louis and elevate the creative profile of St. Louis as a city known for arts and culture," Turrentine said. "Number two, using the creative space of St. Louis to provide additional revenues for the city. So the impact of the arts and culture community can be huge and is wildly underutilized here.”
Proposal: Designate under-utilized land a resource for creative projects.
Rice argued for artists and community engagement specialists to work with the city's Land Reutilization Authority, a city land bank. He stressed that one way to better serve the arts communities is to make these tax delinquent properties available to artists, thereby reducing city cost for maintenance while providing artists with beatification projects, living space and creative work spaces.
“We have so much creativity right here in this room, we could make these available to the people in our community and save money," Rice said.
'Make arts a priority'
Travis Sheridan, President at CIC Venture Cafe Global Institute, said the event established groundwork for holding the eventual mayor accountable for statements made while campaigning.
“I’ve been going to a number of these and as we get closer and closer to election day I see that the specificity is getting there,” he said. “And it’s very clear which ones are just banking on a platform and which ones really have a plan for the region.”
Although Sheridan said some candidates weren’t clear enough on how they would implement their proposed policies, or taking responsibility for failing to execute their vision in past positions, he did see an upside to the event.
“We have a number of candidates that made this a priority and make arts a priority,” Sheridan said.
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