Critical Conversations- Art and Geography-6/7/16
Artist’s rendering by Lizzy Martinez
Our profound thanks to all who came out for this conversation. In particular, we’d like to thank Vanity Gee, Matt Brinkmann, Amanda Colon-Smith, Terry Suhre, Sukanya Mani, and Elizabeth Vega for their thoughtful perspectives, as well as the audience for their energetic engagement with the topics at hand. Also thanks to The Stage at KDHX and Jon Valley, as well as De Nichols, Sarah Griesbach, and Ellie Balk for their contributions to the committee. Be sure to check out the summer issue of All the Art, The Visual Art Quarterly of St Louis. We thank them for their ongoing collaboration with Critical Mass for the Visual Arts on this project.
‘Geography’ includes place in an aesthetic, spatiotemporal, and metaphorical sense. Where do these perspectives stand vis-a-vis art – whether it be the county, the city, Cherokee Street, Old North, Grand Center, or any of the other pins in the map of our region? What do we make of our communities and their adjacencies? What of the relationships that cement a particular artistic milieu, or the alienation that separates one from the next? How do we reconcile one paradigm of local geography with that of our neighbor?
Vanity Gee isan educator, musician, and cultural curator. Prior to her appointment as Director of Community Programs and Grand Center Operations at Craft Alliance, Vanity made extended efforts to cultivate community, neighborliness, and leadership through the arts as Program Manager of Rebuild Foundation-Hyde Park. Before Rebuild, Vanity was the Romare Bearden Graduate Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Community Youth Services specialist at Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House. Vanity has worked with youth in a variety of settings, including private instrumental instruction, classroom teaching, the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community, and COCA (the Center of Creative Arts). She currently serves as a committee member of and the Web-mistress for the Harvard Graduate School of Education Arts-in-Education Alumni group, “Continuing the Conversation” and on the advisory board of Arts Connect International. Vanity received an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, an M.S. in Applied Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a B.S. in Economics from Truman State University.
Elizabeth Vega is a Chicana activist, blogger and community artist. She is co-founder of the Artivists, a collective of artists committed to direct action and making social justice visual. Artivists most recently had a mirrored casket created for Ferguson October accepted into the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture. She is also co-founder of Roots Coop, (Resistance, Organizing, Ownership, Transformation, and Solidarity) a housing cooperative for black and brown activists. Vega a full-time graduate student in UMSL’s clinical mental health program, is committed to using art, writing and presence to facilitate emotional justice in communities impacted by violence. A performance poet who represented St. Louis at the National Poetry Slam in 2002 and 2003, Vega is a graduate of the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission Community Art Training Institute. She has taught creative writing extensively in schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters and juvenile detention centers. Her community art projects include Art in Canfield and Art in Baltimore, pop-up art spaces that used creativity to foster emotional justice, Word in Motion, a public video installation and performance with Loyola Academy and Peter & Paul Transitional Shelter and Visible Work/Invisible Workers, a multi-media banner of photography and writing created in collaboration with artists Chinyere Oteh, Tilnise Scott and janitorial staff and commissioned by Jobs with Justice. Vega is known for creating a Dia De Los Muertos Community Offrendas and most recently installed a guerilla altar in Ferguson for victims of police violence.
Suhre holds a B.F.A. in Painting from the University of Illinois- Urbana/ Champaign (1976) and a M.F.A. in Painting (1980) from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. He is currently the Director of Gallery 210 and Research Professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Prior to Suhre’s appointment at UMSL he was director for five years at the Catherine Smith Gallery at Appalachian State University, Boone North Carolina, where in addition to the curatorial, administrative and teaching duties he oversaw the visual arts component of An Appalachian Summer. Suhre began his career at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield where he worked from 1980-1990. Since1983 he has organized and curated dozens of exhibitions. In addition to his university teaching and gallery responsibilities Suhre serves on several community arts boards and is active as a guest curator and juror.
Amanda Colon-Smith is the Program Director at Dutchtown South Community Corporation in South City. She works with residents and stakeholders in the Dutchtown, Gravois Park, Marine Villa and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods. The organization focuses on Housing Development and Stabilization as well as Community Planning and Facilitation. Through activities such as long-term planning and implementing improvements for green space to tenant rights education, Amanda seeks to engage residents and support them in building the neighborhoods they want and deserve. She is also motivated by the possibilities in integrating the arts into community development initiatives. She is fellow in the Regional Arts Commission’s Community Arts Training Program and is a member of the Leadership Team with Yeyo Arts Collective.
Sukanya Mani is currently working for Chesterfield Parks Recreation and Arts as Recreation Specialist for Arts and Entertainment. In this role, she creates and organizes multiple Art initiatives and outreach to expand community engagement. In addition to working at the City of Chesterfield, Mani is also a visual artist. As an immigrant she is constantly building bridges between where she comes from and where she lives today. Her latest series explores contemporary life through the lens of multiple ancient art forms- Ancient Indian, Aboriginal and Egyptian art telling a modern American story. She is interested in portraying nature, people and contemporary objects in a very simplistic format. She calls her paintings “graphic stories”- accessible pieces of art that people of different races, sexes, and multiple generations can identify with.
Matt Brinkmann is the Special Events Manager for Great Rivers Greenway. It’s a position that was created specifically to re-activate the St. Louis riverfront, which was recently reconstructed as part of the CityArchRiver project. Matt is committed to incorporating the arts into this effort. He is seeking ways to partner with local organizations in exploring opportunities to incorporate creative placemaking principles into the challenge of reviving our long-dormant riverfront. The strategy includes everything from large festivals and concerts to street buskers, yoga classes, fitness events, pop-up markets and temporary art installations like Jessica Witte’s “Seed the Change” project. Matt’s mission is to make our riverfront a showcase for creative local talent and a revitalized common gathering space where we can connect, overcome social barriers, and get to know each other better.Prior to his current position, he worked at the Sheldon Concert Hall, the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, and the Saint Louis Science Center. He also recently retired as a longtime founding member of the Funky Butt Brass Band.