The next great art exhibition in St. Louis will not be found within the walls of a gallery or museum. Instead, viewers should head outside.
The Kranzberg Arts Foundation is the Washington Walls features murals by 20 artists of local, national and international renown, including St. Louis-based visual artist Cbabi Bayoc and street artist Remix Uno from Mexico City. The expansive and vibrant Mural Walk stretches between Josephine Baker Boulevard and North Leonard Avenue, behind the Kranzberg Arts Foundation sites Salon des artistes de Sophie (3333 Washington Ave, 314-710-5647) and the Up down (3301 Washington Ave, 314-533-0367).
The foundation celebrated the completion of the Washington Walls in the Grand Center Arts District last Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and catered reception. The project took more than three years to mature.
The exhibit is the foundation’s latest attempt to fulfill its mission of strengthening the arts in St. Louis through the development of arts venues and community programs.
It’s a cause that Gina Grafos, director of visual infrastructure at the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and co-curator of the Washington Walls, firmly believes in it. As a former resident of Seattle and Chicago, she has seen both cities change and push their art scenes to the periphery. She and her colleagues fought tirelessly to save St. Louis from the same fate.
The strip of Washington Avenue where the mural resides “is a block that has been very much developed in a way that supports artists and arts organizations so they can afford offices, so they can afford studios next to all these hotels and all these restaurants and all this stuff that’s happening in Midtown,” Grafos says. “We’re just making sure that the core and the instinct and the vibrancy of what makes this central and impactful city don’t shrivel not.”
In the same vein, the mural walk aims to present viewers with a more accessible and
a less daunting experience than they might normally encounter in the art world.
“It’s for people who don’t feel comfortable walking into a ‘white-cube-space’ art institution or commercial gallery and still want to be inspired,” says Grafos.
Contributing artist norm4eva, who created a vibrant geometric “Soul Greetings” mural, echoes that sentiment.
“I feel like access to public art is really important,” they say. “I think by having a space that allows people to have a lot of freedom to express themselves, not only does it really inspire others, but it gives the community a different sense of belonging within the space. .”
For Grafos, the medium of mural painting is particularly conducive to this type of response.
“Murals are the most amplified and monumental way to express yourself,” says Grafos. “They can also have very, very busy themes without [the viewer] have to read a didactics or read the catalog. And so the heavy-hearted, or the political, becomes greater than you as a human being standing before it. It’s a way to really tackle topics that are loaded head-on.
The minds behind the Washington Walls was inspired by other public art exhibits in St. Louis, such as The Mural Mile. They also looked beyond city borders, from Miami’s Wynwood Walls to the Berlin Wall.
Unlike many such displays, the Washington Walls are free. Nonetheless, the mural itself will remain a curated experience, similar to that of any indoor gallery, with fixed opening hours and entry to the outdoor grounds primarily through Sophie’s. “We want people to be taken care of as soon as they cross the threshold,” says Grafos. “Of course, you can randomly walk through and see most of it. But we want people to really have a map in hand and have someone available for questions or to use the restroom or get a drink.
Along with a plea to check out the space, Grafos asks one more thing of potential visitors: “If you don’t see yourself in the murals, get out your sketchpad and tablet, and start doing whatever you want. see. .”
The Walls of Washington will officially open its doors to the public on Friday, October 7, as part of the Grand Center Arts District’s First Fridays.