Arts & Culture | St. Louis Public Radio

Arts & Culture

(clockwise from left) Kevin McDermott, Eric Armbruster and Sunyatta McDermott form the indie trio CaveofswordS. [7/2/20]
Adam Newsham

Before forming the band CaveofswordS, Sunyatta Marshall broke into the local music scene as a 13-year-old strumming acoustic guitar at bars on Laclede’s Landing. Later she joined Fred’s Variety Group and eventually became lead singer for indie rockers the Helium Tapes. 

Kevin McDermott, aka KVN, was a DJ who made short, instrumental tracks at home for his own amusement. 

He approached Marshall in 2011 and asked if she might like to step outside her musical milieu and sing over some of his tracks. 

The musical connection clicked, and so did the personal one — they are now the McDermotts. 

July 1, 2020 J. Courtney Sullivan
Provided by the author

Author J. Courtney Sullivan has a knack for probing the interior lives of women. Her four bestselling novels — “Commencement,” “Maine,” “The Engagements” and “Saints for All Occasions” —  tackle many different ideas. The marketing of engagement rings. The gift of religious devotion. The difficulty of families.

But they have one thing in common: The women in them seem utterly real and completely sympathetic, even when readers might be horrified by their choices.

That is also true of the women in Courtney Sullivan’s new book, Friends and Strangers. The novel tells the story of Elisabeth, a Brooklyn journalist who finds herself living in a small college town just as she becomes a new mother. She’s lonely — and the college student she pays to watch her baby, Sam, becomes her main confidant.  

A fireworks display in south St. Louis. July 4, 2015
Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

Many sanctioned fireworks shows are canceled this summer due to the pandemic, but people continue to set off everything from firecrackers to Roman candles in backyards and streets throughout the region.

And compared to 2019, fireworks use in St. Louis is up this year. 

“[It] started much earlier in my neighborhood and in the neighborhoods I work in,” said St. Louis Fire Department Chief Dennis Jenkerson. “We have 30 different firehouses around the city. They’re all seeing an earlier start and an increased amount of shooting going on early in the evening. The size and the sound of these fireworks going off has increased.”

Last year from May 1 to June 24, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department received 196 calls about illegal fireworks use. During the same period this year, the city received 879 calls. 

Little Dylan is among the performers scheduled for a summer-long, free concert series programmed by the National Blues Museum. [7/2/20]
National Blues Museum

Two prominent music venues in St. Louis are featuring concerts again after closing their doors for months to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

A summerlong outdoor concert series programmed by the National Blues Museum, and an experiment in outdoor music by the Dark Room in Grand Center, are attempts by show promoters to get back to business following a monthslong shutdown of live concerts during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tiana Bojorquez's paintings can be seen on the boarded up windows of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy on Delmar Boulevard. June 29, 2020
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

Tiana Bojorquez has spent much of the past several weeks thinking about how she can capture what's going on in the streets on a special canvas.

On boarded-up windows of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy on Delmar Boulevard, she has fused art and activism to join the movement demanding that police stop killing black people.

It took her several days to paint the colorful and bold images that read “STL Strong” and "Black Lives Matter" in red and green with the letters outlined in black.

Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, is located in the heart of downtown.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Cardinals will open training camp this week at Busch Stadium. They are preparing for a shortened regular season because of the pandemic. Major League Baseball is planning for all teams to play 60 games, starting July 23 or 24.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt spoke with Cardinals beat writer Anne Rogers about the shortened season, what this might look like for the fans and how she’s planning to do her job during a pandemic. 

Black fathers have long been subjects of stereotypes: missing, inconsistent or in jail. Naisha Bailey-Johnson devotes her photography to dispel those myths by showcasing Black fathers interacting with their children.
Naisha Bailey-Johnson

As Naisha Bailey-Johnson scrolled through her social media feeds she noticed nearly every photograph or video on her timelines were unfavorable shots of African American men. She saw mugshots, stills of boys flashing guns and the lasting images of unarmed men killed at the hands of police. 

Alarmed at what she saw, Bailey-Johnson, 33, decided to start a Black father’s photography project to depict that Black men are more than the negative glimpses that are portrayed in mass media.

“I'm taking photos to show the positive images of them being with the children, nurturing their kids, being providers, being their guiding light,” said Bailey-Johnson, who owns YoSnap Photo Booth and Photography

St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's summer show in Forest Park typically draws about 40,000 people per year. [6/28/20]
Credit Phillip Hamer Photography

The coronavirus has robbed St. Louis of another longstanding tradition.

St. Louis Shakespeare Festival canceled its annual summer production, leaving the organization in a big financial hole and sending 25 full-time and 53 part-time seasonal workers looking for other employment. The cancellation does not effect the organization's eight year-round employes.

Actors' Equity, the national union representing professional actors and stage managers, did not approve the festival’s safety plan, Producing Artistic Director Tom Ridgely said. 

Nelly's released his debut solo album, "Country Grammar" on June 27, 2000.
Universal Records

Twenty years ago, a record release on June 27 changed the course of St. Louis’ presence in the hip-hop world and overall cultural identity. Cornell Haynes Jr., a.k.a. Nelly, debuted his first solo album, “Country Grammar,” bringing national attention to St. Louis’ distinct accent and steez. 

Nelly introduced the streets of north St. Louis to the world with the music video to the album’s title track. St. Louisans recall the local places where the video was filmed, as well as seeing friends and family members in the video dancing and proclaiming, “I’m from the Lou, and I’m proud.” 

A scene from "Woman on the Threshold," directed by Dan Steadman.
Provided by Dan Steadman

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske explored the 13th annual QFest, presented by Cinema St. Louis. The film festival showcases contemporary gay cinema, spotlights the lives of LGBTQ people and celebrates queer culture. 

Joining the discussion was Chris Clark, Cinema St. Louis' artistic director and QFest organizer, to talk through what this year's festival has to offer. Also joining the discussion was local director Dan Steadman, who’s participating in QFest for the first time and has two short films on the lineup. 

On Chess: When The Game Of Kings First Became A Game Of The People

Jun 25, 2020
Lithograph of people playing chess
Collection of Tom Gallegos

Chess is often described as the game of kings. And it is. But there was a time when chess was also the game of those who were overthrowing their kings. That was a time when chess was the game of dangerous radicals and revolutionaries, writers and intellectuals. It was a time when men and women used coffeehouses, newspapers and salons as we use the internet to spread once-forbidden ideas and knowledge — ideas that would ultimately shatter the old order and usher in the modern world.

The 11,000 seats at the Muny will sit idle this summer. The shape of summer life in St. Louis is changing because of the coronavirus. [6/25/20]
Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

Live cultural events are typically a big part of summer life for many in the St. Louis region. But this year, musicals at the Muny, free concerts and other events are called off, to prevent spread of the coronavirus in large crowds. 

This creates a void bigger than the hole in attendees’ social calendars. It upends family traditions. It removes gathering spaces where people make connections with neighbors and with strangers. 

It affects many people’s very relationship with the city.

The Marianists Province of the U.S. released the names of 19 priests and members who served in St. Louis-area high schools and had sexually abused children. The Archdiocese of St. Louis confirmed two former clergy members had abused minors.
File photo | Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 25, with comments from the Surivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

The Marianist Province of the U.S., an international Roman Catholic organization based in St. Louis, released the names of more than 40 priests and members Wednesday who sexually abused minors nationwide as early as 1950. 

Of those listed, 19 served in St. Louis-area Catholic high schools, including Assumption High School in East St. Louis, Cathedral High School in Belleville, Chaminade College Prep, Coyle High School, DeAndreis High School, McBride High School, St. John Vianney High School and St. Mary’s High School.

June 22, 2020 Ali Araghi
Provided by the author

Ali Araghi’s debut novel, "The Immortals of Tehran," spans four decades of Iranian history — from what would prove to be the nation’s final shah taking power to the 1979 revolution. It’s a sprawling family saga, with a dose of magical realism and a few surprising twists. Who would believe the surprising role meddling cats played in Iran’s tumultuous 20th century? 

Araghi is an Iranian-born translator and writer, but he’s spent the last four years living in St. Louis, where he is a Ph.D student of comparative literature at Washington University. He explained on St. Louis on the Air that he was inspired to incorporate cats after a chance encounter on the streets of Tehran.  

A recent show at the Contemporary Art Museum
File Photo | Contemporary Art Museum

The Contemporary Art Museum will reopen its doors July 9 with new social distancing measures to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

Only about 50 people at a time will be allowed to enter the museum every 15 or 30 minutes. Visitors and employees will be required to wear face masks, and workers will disinfect public spaces every two hours as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CAM Executive Director Lisa Melandri said.

June 17, 2020 City Museum
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis’ beloved City Museum has long prided itself on having very few rules — “don’t run” being one of them. But when the 600,000-square-foot playland reopened Wednesday after months without visitors, it had a host of new policies and procedures in place. 

Those new rules are designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, even while allowing guests access to the giant tunnels and slides that have long been the museum’s raison d’etre — well, most of them, anyway. In addition to some features being closed, now visitors have to reserve their spots ahead of time. If they’re over 9 years old, they have to wear masks. And the museum will be given a complete cleaning between groups of visitors.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, general manager Rick Erwin discussed the difficulty of bringing order to a place that has long promised near-total freedom. 

Antigone Chambers Reed
Tiffany Sutton

At 17, St. Louis resident Antigone Chambers Reed is already a writer, actor and human rights activist. And earlier this month, she added yet another role to the mix when she was named the 2020 Jamala Rogers Young Visionary.

The award is given annually by the Youth Council for Positive Development, recognizing young adults who are working for social justice and making a difference in their community. The council is associated with the Organization for Black Struggle, which celebrated 40 years of existence earlier this year.

Reed’s project, Writing Through Trauma, impressed the selection committee with its vision to provide people in her community with a safe, creative space to process, heal and share lived experiences of violence. Making use of the $2,000 prize that accompanies the award, Reed expects to launch her free virtual workshop later this year.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen Clutch won the Chess International at the St. Louis Chess Club.
St. Louis Chess Club

The second edition of Clutch Chess, Clutch Chess International, had the recipe for the perfect event: high-stakes, top-level chess, epic comebacks, drama and emotion. 

The historic online tournament, hosted by the St. Louis Chess Club, had everyone in the chess world glued to their seats watching the grand finale between the world No. 1 and 2 players. The event featured some of the world’s best chess players and a record-breaking prize fund of $265,000.

Protesters take to the streets in downtown Clayton. May 30, 2020

The average protester might seem like a young adult, but parents are also bringing out their children with them to demonstrate. 

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske heard from parents about how they navigate the ongoing shift in culture when it comes to conversations about race, and making the decision to bring kids to protests. Joining the discussion were We Stories board members Jenna Voss and Pamela Washington. 

Deborah Krause, a long-time faculty member and former academic dean at Eden Theological Seminar, will become the school's 13th president on July 1.
Mia Smutz-Ulmer

Eden Theological Seminary is preparing to appoint its first-ever female president.

Longtime Eden faculty member and former academic Dean Deborah Krause will replace David Greenhaw, who has been president since 1997, in July. 

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Krause joined other religious leaders in Ferguson calling for justice after Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014 — an event she has called “an everyday occurrence that turned into an execution.” In the years since, she has worked closely with local activists in St. Louis and led efforts to boost on-campus diversity at Eden.

June 16, 2020 EyeSeeMe
Provided by EyeSeeMe

Racism isn’t just a topic in the streets, as St. Louis has joined cities across the nation in marching against police brutality toward people of color. It’s also a topic at bookstores and libraries, as readers increasingly seek out books that examine and critique racism. 

That’s true nationally and locally. Nine of the top 10 books on the most recent New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list were focused on topics related to race. At EyeSeeMe African American Children's Bookstore in University City, sales are up significantly. “We’ve seen an exponential increase in desire for these books,” owner Jeffrey Blair said.

And at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood, staffers can’t even keep display copies of some books on racism in stock. Bookseller Danielle King says as much as one-third to a half of to-go orders (the shop is still only open for curbside or delivery) include a book about racism or a book centered on the black experience. 

Crews lift the Christopher Columbus statue from its pedestal in Tower Grove Park on June 16, 2020.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5:50 p.m., June 16

A crew removed the statue of Christopher Columbus from Tower Grove Park in St. Louis with little fanfare early Tuesday morning.

The statue, which has stood at the east entrance to the park near South Grand Boulevard for more than a century, has become the subject of scrutiny in recent years. Petitioners have called for its removal, citing the explorer’s treatment of Native Americans. 

The 2020 Illinois and DuQuoin State Fairs have been canceled.

In a video announcement posted to Facebook, State Fair Manager Kevin Gordon said the decision stems from wanting to protect people from contracting COVID-19.

The Mathews-Dickey Boys' & Girls' Club was founded by two baseball coaches and has worked to keep baseball alive in north St. Louis city.
Mathews-Dickey Boys' & Girls' Club

In 2016, Ed Wheatley retired from his job as an engineer at AT&T. But Wheatley has kept busy — to the point that Reedy Press recently published his third book in as many years. Wheatley’s “Baseball in St. Louis: From Little Leagues to Major Leagues” surveys the city’s rich baseball history, from the Major Leaguers who got their start here to the semi-pro and amateur leagues that flourished for decades.

In the book, Wheatley posits that the classic St. Louis question asking where someone went to high school works just as well when framed around the national pastime and asking where you played baseball. 

“It’s just kind of gauging the enemy, if you will,” he explained on St. Louis on the Air. “‘You played baseball. How good are you? What club were you with? Who did you play with?’ It’s all those same kinds of identifying answers as people ascertain when you ask, ‘Where did you go to high school?' It tells a lot about you.” 

Ohun Ashe is the founder of For the Culture, a directory of black-owned businesses and events in the St. Louis area.
Ohun Ashe

The death of George Floyd has not just sparked action to protest police brutality, it’s led to more conversations about how to support and uplift black Americans.

Anti-racism books are selling out and topping bestseller lists, while infographics about how to best support local black-owned businesses are filling social media feeds.

On Chess: Chess Improvement — Proven Training Regimens vs Immersive Learning

Jun 11, 2020
Kids enjoying a game of chess in front of the St. Louis Chess Club during the 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Lennart Ootes | St. Louis Chess Club

“What’s the best way for me to improve?”

This simple question, in one form or another, is by far the most common question I’m asked as a teacher at the St. Louis Chess Club. The best answer that I have found is borrowed from language learning. As with languages, the best way to learn chess is to immerse yourself in it. Unfortunately, this takes time and patience, and often leaves aspiring players dissatisfied with the lack of something tangible to follow. To understand why this is the best method, let’s examine the main alternative — a strict training regimen.

Quarantine Radio Theater troupe members record their parts individually at home, and send them to Brant McChance, who mixes together the final product. The radio plays are available as podcasts or on YouTube. [6/11/20]
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Professional theater artists have been out of work since state and local officials restricted large gatherings to keep the new coronavirus from spreading. The ongoing shutdown of performance spaces also stings for folks who view theater as a hobby. 

Community theater enthusiasts use theater to socialize with friends and stretch their creative muscles. In a period of quarantine, the absence of this outlet can sting. 

A group of about a dozen people who were active in community theater before the coronavirus pandemic has found a way to keep their camaraderie going. 

As the newly formed troupe Quarantine Radio Theater, the amateur theater enthusiasts dust off the scripts to radio plays of the 1930s and '40s and produce new versions, complete with dramatic music and foley effects.

Archbishop Robert Carlson, center, has led the Archdiocese of St. Louis since 2009.
Archdiocese of St. Louis

Updated at 11:35 a.m. June 10

Nearly a year after St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson announced his retirement, Pope Francis has named his successor.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, will succeed Carlson as the next archbishop of St. Louis. 

Carlson submitted his resignation to the pope last year after turning 75, the mandatory age of retirement for the position. The Minnesota native has led the St. Louis Archdiocese, one of the largest Catholic communities in the country, since 2009.

A visitor looks at pieces on display at the St. Louis Art Museum's 'The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection' exhibit. Oct. 9, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis museum and zoo lovers can start planning visits once again.

The Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District confirmed Tuesday that all of its member organizations are in the process of reopening. The district includes the region’s largest cultural institutions such as the St. Louis Art Museum, Zoo and Science Center.

The coronavirus pandemic had shut down museum and zoo operations since March.

The Muny box office sells tickets for its 100th season, which has drawn criticism for its production of "Jerome Robbins' Broadway." June 30, 2018
Brian Heffernan | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

The Muny is canceling its 2020 season because of the coronavirus. 

Its leaders concluded that the theater could not safely offer performances while observing social distancing practices that are meant to slow the spread of the virus. By skipping the season, the theater in Forest Park will incur a $4 million budget deficit. 

Large venues with coronavirus safety protocols approved by the city’s Department of Health are permitted to reopen as of today.

Managing Director Kwofe Coleman said the organization will avoid layoffs for its year-round staff of 35 people, but it won’t employ the 800 to 900 seasonal employees it typically takes on during the summer. These workers range from actors to crew members to venue staff.