EAST ST. LOUIS — A new weekly tour in the city aims to bring its cultural and historical ties to the fine arts to life.
Starting Friday, up to 10 participants move through three well-known establishments in East St. Louis, with Miles Davis’ childhood home as the focal point. The Historic Jazz and Poetry Excursion starts at the Culture Cafe restaurant, then heads to House of Miles East St. Louis and finishes at the Local Legends Listening Lounge.
“The excursion is an opportunity for people to see the heart and soul via the incredible culture and musical history of East St. Louis,” said Treasure Shields Redmond, the tour’s host.
It’s an intimate experience, which costs $36 per person, during which attendees learn about Davis and the impact of jazz in the region, Shields Redmond said. There will be live jazz music, and participants will have the opportunity to read poetry at an open mic.
“This experience is for adults, couples, people who are culturally aware, creative, curious, who may create their own art, or just be art and music lovers,” she said.
The tours regularly run on Fridays, starting on Dec. 13, with at least one each month, Shields Redmond said.
The tour is also an opportunity to bring outside money into the city. It’s organized through Airbnb’s “Host an Experience” platform — giving it nationwide and even global reach, Shields Redmond said. When people search under “Experiences” in East St. Louis on the site, they will see the excursion listed.
“The focus is to bring back the commerce and create a nostalgia that would lure people to understand the history of East St. Louis,” said Jasper Gary Pearson, vice president of House of Miles East St. Louis.
Pearson had been working to create a fine-arts tour of the city when Shields Redmond visited HOME to learn about Davis. They decided to partner after that encounter.
For Shields Redmond, this kind of a tour seemed natural, especially after having lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where she went on African American heritage tours to underground railroad spots there, she said.
“When I moved to this area, I found out there were more than 20 documented underground railroad spots. Not to mention very close to East St. Louis is the country's oldest incorporated African American city and a community founded by enslaved people,” she said. “My mind is always blown at the deep cultural history that is here.”
But East St. Louis is also defined by decades of economic divestment.
“A lot of people who come to East St. Louis who grew up here say, ‘I would love to live in East St. Louis, but there’s nowhere to live,’” Pearson said. The city needs to find new ways for money to flow into the community so that it can improve and attract people again, he said.
That starts with the city’s image, Shields Redmond said.
“In order for East St. Louis to battle back, there have to be opportunities for people to see it in a new light,” she said. “This experience provides that opportunity.”
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