St. Louis Arts Help Anchor Neighborhoods

BY Arts Desk  April 27, 2009 at 5:02 PM EST

Once upon a time, St. Louis’s Delmar Loop used to be a fashionable shopping boulevard accessible by trolley car. But like many other great urban areas in the 1960s, white flight took a heavy toll on many St. Louis neighborhoods: crime went up, and commercial and cultural centers diminished, as did infrastructure such as public transportation.

In the 1970s, St. Louis native Joe Edwards was one of the people to flock back and set up shop. He opened a bar and music venue called Blueberry Hill. “People kind of dug in their heels and said, ‘Well, this is nuts. Let’s embrace diversity, make that a strength of the area.’ And you know, create something the way America could be and should be,” he said. After a couple broken storefront windows and some intimidating confrontations with the local motorcycle gangs, Blueberry Hill became a neighborhood anchor — an essential player in the revitalization of The Loop.
The Delmar Loop is a success story in St. Louis revitalization

Today, it is again a fashionable shopping and commercial district, as well as home to several arts organizations (like the Regional Arts Commission and Craft Alliance). It draws crowds from all over St. Louis (and all over the world) and was voted one of the 10 best streets in America by the American Planning Association. Edwards’ current project is to try to bring the fixed trolley system back to The Loop, and to connect it to other cultural venues around the city.

Further down on Delmar Boulevard is the Third Degree Glass Factory, a glassblowing studio that opened in 2001, offering lessons to amateurs and facilities to artists. Third Degree does not refer to the blistering heat given off by the furnaces at the studio; it actually refers to the skepticism co-founder Jim McKelvey’s banker expressed when he told her he wanted to buy a building in the neighborhood. “It looks pretty nice right now,” says co-founder Doug Auer, “but seven years ago you would have thought we were crazy.”

In addition to being a public-access glassblowing facility, Third Degree holds a monthly open house allowing people to watch demonstrations and, hopefully, buy art. Both Jim and Doug want this to be a place where glass artists can not only display their work, but also earn a living. It’s a kind of hands-on stimulus plan, rather than hand-out.

[Watch a slide show about old and new efforts to help revitalizatize Delmar Boulevard by moving arts and culture organizations back into the neighborhoods]

We’ll have full stories on Blueberry Hill (where St. Louis son Chuck Berry plays a gig every month) and Third Degree Glass Factory in the coming days.