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'Artists Are Translators': Door, Fence Murals Showcase Culture Of Old North St. Louis

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Lara Hamdan
Artists Luisa Otero Prada (at left) and Andrea Hughes paint the fence of Old North St. Louis resident Kathryn Bentley.

Old North St. Louis is getting a colorful makeover. Artists who live in the neighborhood are painting murals on business and residential doors and fences. Vibrant homages depict jazz culture, African-inspired flowers, St. Louis greats such as Josephine Baker and more.

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Lara Hamdan
Luisa Otero Prada is the project coordinator for the Doors of North St. Louis, an initiative of PEACE Weaving Wholeness.

Paulette Sankofa is the founder and executive director of PEACE Weaving Wholeness, which stands for peace, education, action, compassion and empowerment. She originally intended to put up billboards with messages of peace and hope throughout north St. Louis, but the pandemic made it difficult to get in touch with billboard companies.

So Sankofa sought to find another canvas to spread the message of peace, hope and well being in the community.

“I've been thinking about doors for a while, and everybody sees doors. So hence, the Doors of North St. Louis project,” she said. She put out a call for local artists, mostly seniors, to work with residents and collaborate on the decorative designs.

“Artists [are] translators. And so by asking questions of the homeowners or business owners, we could help them draw out what might be lying beneath the surface and then make some recommendations,” she said.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Sankofa joined the program to talk about the ongoing initiative and how it’s helped connect artists with their community and provide income during the pandemic. Also joining the discussion was artist Luisa Otero Prada. She is the project coordinator for the Doors of North St. Louis, an initiative of PEACE Weaving Wholeness.

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The fence of Old North St. Louis resident Kathryn Bentley.

Currently, she’s working with artist Andrea Hughes to finish painting a fence for Old North St. Louis resident Kathryn Bentley, who wanted an African inspired composition. Colorful flowers, a large cowrie shell and decorative patterns now don Bentley’s fence.

Friday’s conversation also included comments from Hughes and Bentley about what the experience has meant to them.

“[Art] brings people together, it gives you a sense of curiosity and pride and all of those things. When you only see a piece of art, it transforms you, and that's what I want to happen … [and] I know the power of art. You can't walk by this fence now and not have some thoughts that are transformative,” Bentley said.

PEACE Weaving Wholeness will conduct a walking tour on Oct. 10 to showcase the more than 30 murals north St. Louis.

More information
What: Doors of North St. Louis Walking Tour
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, October 10, 2020
Where: 2719 St. Louis Ave. St. Louis, MO, 63106
Tickets here

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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