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Paul Artspace Leaves Florissant Home To Offer Residencies Across St. Louis, And The World

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Nate Larson
The original Paul Artspace is located just over a mile from a busy thoroughfare in north St. Louis County. While founder Mike Behle says the group will still host bonfires and other annual events on the property, the actual artist residencies will take place elsewhere.

Nearly a decade ago, Mike Behle decided to transform his family’s quiet property in Florissant, Missouri, into a unique resource for artists, writers and curators: Paul Artspace. Since 2013, the nonprofit has hosted about 100 artists from near and far with its free residency program, providing several people at a time with up to three months’ worth of productive solitude.

From the beginning, Behle said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, the organization’s focus was “the notion of community and how community can be defined,” as well as how art and its function are defined.

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Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Mike Behle and Marianne Laury joined Tuesday’s talk show.

The first two artists to stay for several months came from Ireland in the summer of 2013. And for St. Louis-based artists such as Marianne Laury, those early interactions still stand out.

“I just remember meeting them — I actually ran a gallery on Cherokee Street for a while — so Mike introduced me to these two artists, and their idea was so absurd,” said Marianne Laury, who has since become a community board member for the organization. “I think they were doing some work with crystals or rocks or something. … I was like, ‘Wow, there’s not very many opportunities to explore rocks and crystals as a medium. But if there’s any space around, Paul Artspace is the space that you can do it.’ And there’s absolutely not limitations or rules.”

But Behle, Laury and other Paul Artspace volunteers found that maintaining the thickly wooded, six-acre property sucked up too much of Paul Artspace’s limited funds.

“Even though that property was in place for this nonprofit, at no cost to the nonprofit,” Behle told host Sarah Fenske, “there are still just a tremendous amount of expenses to maintain that property, to pay the taxes for that property, to pay the insurance for such a program as this.”

That, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, now has the organization moving in a different direction — one no longer tied to a single location.

Works on currently on display as part of Paul Artspace’s “Long View” exhibit at Lambert Airport range from this large-format piece to stained-glass creations.
Marianne Laury
Works on currently on display as part of Paul Artspace’s “Long View” exhibit at Lambert Airport include this large-format piece.

“By moving away from that physical space, we can take the spirit of what Paul Artspace is … and take our resources and really put that to that effort,” Behle said.

Moving forward, he explained, Paul Artspace will create individualized residencies for artists whose proposals are accepted. The organization will make use of Airbnb-style setups, leasing an apartment for, say, a month — whether that’s on Cherokee Street, in the Grand Center Arts District or in a sister city on the other side of the globe.

“Opening up the entirety of St. Louis to Paul Artspace programming is such an exciting way to move forward,” Laury added.

Paul Artspace residencies have been on pause during the COVID-19 crisis. And when the organization recently tried to restart its sister-city program with Stuttgart, Germany, international travel issues threw a wrench into plans.

But the volunteers remain optimistic about the organization’s new direction. They’re even working on another sister-city exchange, in Senegal.

“In this world that we’re now in because of the pandemic and with technology that we have, there are new models emerging,” Behle said. “And I think the notion of a remote residency is a model that is there. … We can be in a space that we work together to sort of identify and define as community that we want to support and build.”

8 Years After Its Florissant Founding, Paul Artspace Moves In A Different Direction
Listen as Mike Behle and Marianne Laury talk about their nonprofit's evolution with host Sarah Fenske.

They’re also building partnerships locally and just opened a public exhibit at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Laury, who is also the curator and director of programs at the Granite City Art and Design District, spearheaded the exhibit. Titled “Long View,” it explores the past, present and future of the St. Louis region.

“It’s loosely based around the theme of 100 years of aviation at the airport, and so we were thinking about the location of the airport,” Laury said. “We really gave the artists involved a very loose idea of what type of work should be a part of it, and then they just ran with that.”

“Long View” will be on display in the Lambert Gallery in Terminal 1 through early March 2022.

Related Event
What: “Long View” art exhibition
When: Now through March 6, 2022
Where: Lambert Gallery at Lambert St. Louis International Airport (10701 Lambert International Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63145)

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

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