St. Louis Arts Project connects ideas and people
Want to know what a diverse and creative corps of St. Louis artists is doing to fostering community, civic engagement and collaboration? Check out the second annual SLAP conference this weekend at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
The St. Louis Arts Project was formed in January of last year as a grassroots collective focused on creating an arts conference designed to foster a spirit of community and creating an opportunity for dialogue and interdisciplinary programming. The first St. Louis Arts Project Conference was in June 2011 and featured discussion panels, a concert and other programming. The success of this symposium laid the foundation for an annual convening. It also garnered recognition as “Best Collaboration” for 2011 by The Riverfront Times.
Convention organizers are again offering creative and dynamic programming, interactive events and networking opportunities. For many of the artists the SLAP conference is a special opportunity to get together, talk shop and exchange ideas while promoting the work of area artists. Programming includes appearances and conversation from established people in the arts and community-building fields who will participate such things as panel discussions, artist talks and music performances. Among those presenting are Bob Hansman, Randy Vines, Tate Foley and Black James.
One interactive event that is new to this year's conference is Loving the Lou. It is intended to create a living history, community map and archive of arts-related spaces and events.
SLAP’s Liz Deichmann said this year’s conference has built upon the success of 2011. “This year's conference again focuses on our original purposes, but this year has a greater local focus to allow for in-depth conversation about the city we live in.”
Deichmann also acknowledged the efforts involved in organizing the event. “Planning SLAP was not an easy task,” she said. “We started planning the festival in January of this year and meet every other week (or every week depending on members' availability) since then to plan both the conference and the five events leading up to it.”
The conference kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday night with a keynote address by David Wilson, co-founder of the prestigious True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Mo.
True/False, a documentary film festival, has continued to grow since it founding, with attendance reaching almost 38,000 this year.
True/False is being held up as a model of an organization that mixes several mediums in delivering its programming to the surrounding community. Organizers say one reason for the success of True/False has been its belief in collaboration, engagement and activism, goals that are in line with the objectives of The St. Louis Artists Project. The Beacon spoke to Wilson via telephone about True/False, civic engagement and his appearance at the SLAP Conference.
How has The True/False Film Festival affected the artistic landscape of the region?
Wilson: For me, our impact on the art scene in mid-Missouri has been the most exciting thing about the festival. We try to fold in things besides films – music, decorative arts, sculpture, etc. We also bring in community members and organizations to become part of the fabric of the festival. It’s been really satisfying.
What should those wanting to start up their own arts related organization know ahead of time?
Wilson: There’s not a lot of money in it. It takes a lot of work and dedication. You need to put a lot of commitment into it. I think that ensuring the sustainability of the organization requires you to bring in new people constantly. You have to be willing to share and transcend selfishness, to make everyone involved a stakeholder.
What is the best advice you can offer filmmakers or artists about the business aspects of their creativity?
Wilson: For a long time I put on punk shows in my basement. But I didn't want to engage with the business side of music. I love music and I tried to keep my involvement as "pure" as possible. When I decided to make films I knew I would have to engage in the business part of it much more. It’s a control issue. Being independent means you have to take control yourself but a lot of artists just want to focus on making their art. They have to realize that the more you relinquish control the more things may not come out as you have hoped.
What do you think the artists attending SLAP this year should take away from the conference?
Wilson: I'm looking forward to learning about SLAP at the same time as other people will but what I hope I can do with my talk is to provide some concrete examples. True/False started in 1998 and has enjoyed a lot of growth and been a very gratifying project. I hope other people can use my stories and examples to build a map of what it takes to make an arts organization.
Film festivals like True/False have done a lot to spark innovative cinema while also creating a sense of activism and engagement in communities. How do you think artists or arts groups can maintain this engagement all year long?
Wilson: I think that True/False is just now finding ways to have a year-round presence. With film festivals, there is this magical, cathartic experience of an intense weekend of film. To make that work year-round, you have to engage people without diluting your brand. It's about preserving the spirit of what you are doing while finding new ways to evoke the character of it. There is a real danger of losing this character by trying to do too much.
For example, three years ago we started the Boone Dawdle. It takes place in August and has been very successful. There is bike ride to a picnic at a winery with live music and things happening on the trail along the way. Then when people get to the winery, there is a picnic and a movie screening. All of these elements work together to create something that, while different from the fest, still contains that essential "T/F feeling."
In addition to his work with the True/False Film Festival, Wilson has served as an associate programmer for the Sundance Film Festival and a consultant for the Creative Capital Foundation, the LEF Moving Image Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Wilson hopes his keynote address will strike a chord with local artists who can then apply his experiences and knowledge to their work after the convening comes to a close.