170 of the city's finest across a dozen categories
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The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
For 30 years, the site stood empty; a spontaneous forest sprang up where 33 high-rise buildings once stood. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth begins with a shot in that forest. By the time the credits roll, you’ll call into question what you think you know about Pruitt-Igoe—and St. Louis. Director Chad Freidrichs spent years gathering material, then tweaked and edited until the flow and the tone were perfect; like Errol Morris’ best work, it walks a graceful line between art and hard journalism. As the film’s traveled the festival circuit, it’s continued to rack up raves (including from Variety critic Robert Koehler) and awards (most recently Best Documentary Feature at the Oxford Film Festival). pruitt-igoe.com.
music release of the past year
Riverboat Soul, Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three
Sure, there are the accolades—the Independent Music Awards named it 2010’s best Americana album; MOJO included it in its top-10 blues list for 2010; and it landed on blues and roots music charts all over the world. But Riverboat Soul, whose title tips its porkpie hat toward St. Louis’ own stretch of the Mississippi, is remarkable in its own right. The album combines old-timey music recorded in old-timey fashion (laid down and mixed in two days, just like in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? days), but somehow charts new territory. More good news: The band’s follow-up, Middle of Everywhere, is scheduled for release July 19. pokeylafarge.net.
I Went to a Show
Not everyone qualifies as a superfan—or has the stamina to see music shows every night. The problem is, if you don’t go out, you lose track of what’s going on. Fortunately, there’s Team IWTAS: Jess Luther, Dave Baker, Corey Woodruff, Julie Dill, and Annie McCance. They see every show worth seeing, write up every album worth listening to, and provide early warning for shows you would hate to miss. They do it in sparkly, sassy prose and post it on a simple but beautifully designed website. Music may be the universal language, but these interpreters are crucial. iwenttoashow.com.
This trend caught on in New York and Chicago due to high rents; in St. Louis, it works because we don’t have a large pool of spendy collectors to support large numbers of commercial galleries. But that’s OK. If you’ve visited Los Caminos (2649 Cherokee, loscaminosart.com), Isolation Room (5723 Dewey, isolationroom-gallerykit.com), or Cosign Projects (2733 Arsenal, cosignprojects.net), you know seeing art in a domestic space offers some advantages. You get to see what a piece would look like in your living space. It can feel lots warmer than white plaster and track lighting. And it’s like a nonprofit art space in miniature, which gives young curators—and sometimes established artists—the leeway to take risks and do new things.
citywide cultural event
Southern Graphics Council International Conference
“Printmaking conference” sounds dry—and doesn’t begin to describe what happened. If you happened to be on Cherokee Street March 16, you understand—there were exhibits or music shows in every storefront, a flash parade, and hundreds of people in the street—both out-of-towners and locals. There were no fights, drunken scenes, or imbroglios. It was magic. And that’s not even taking into account the dozens of other print-themed exhibits and events that happened elsewhere that weekend—in Grand Center, at Wash. U., on the Loop. Tom Huck of Evil Prints even staged his own late-night alternative to SGC, Hell Week, including “The Printbangers Ball” at Atomic Cowboy. Though we may not host another big arts conference for a while, the energy’s still pulsing through the local arts scene. 314-633-7634, sgci2011.samfoxschool.wustl.edu.
St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance
When Subterranean Books came wickedly close to closing in February, owner Kelly von Plonski collaborated with Nikki Furrer of Pudd’nHead Books, Vicki Ervin of Main Street Books, and Jay Steele of Left Bank Books to form SLIBA. From crisis came brilliance: a weekly local Indie Bestsellers list; a website with info on upcoming readings, local book news, and recommendations; and fun events like literary speed dating and an “Indie Bookstore Cruise.” Members now include local used bookstores like Dunaway Books and The Archive. Our only regret: This idea didn’t come to fruition 15 years ago…The Library Ltd. might still be around. stlindiebook.com.
George Hickenlooper Tribute, St. Louis International Film Festival
Though full-blown Hollywood success evaded Hickenlooper for most of his career, he always felt loved in his hometown. So it was twice as tragic that his death occurred on October 30, days before his final film, Casino Jack, opened at the St. Louis International Film Festival. Working under these stressful circumstances, SLIFF principals Cliff Froehlich, Chris Clark, and Brian Spath quickly organized a tribute around the screening. Friends, family, and collegues, including Kevin Spacey, flew to St. Louis in support. A terrible situation was made poignant thanks to SLIFF. cinamstlouis.org.
Kayak at the Confluence: A Tribute to George Hitchcock
Hitchcock was the editor of KAYAK, a ’60s literary magazine that was arguably one of the most influential journals of the late 20th century. After Hitchcock died last August at age 96, former student Liz Wiley—who now lives here—organized a proper tribute. Held at the Ethical Society of St. Louis in March, it included an exhibit of all 64 issues of KAYAK and a lineup of poetry superstars. Poets, curators, and editors flew in from around the country. And though the event flew under the radar locally, we hope it doesn’t discourage Wiley from organizing future literary events.
The inaugural LouFest in Forest Park last year exceeded all expectations. More than 8,000 people showed up to hear She & Him, Broken Social Scene, and more. With two stages and room to spread out, people could watch in comfort and never had more than a 10-minute wait between acts. Allowing high-school garage bands to play this year is icing on an already delicious musical cake. (This year’s fest is August 27 and 28.) loufest.com.
theater with a purpose
Mustard Seed Theatre
Mustard Seed Theatre gets its name from Matthew 17:20 (“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…”), so it’s no surprise that it’s on a mission to examine our relationship with God and ethical responsibility to the world. But if you’re expecting religious claptrap or uncomplicated allegory, look elsewhere. This company puts on productions with substance and tackles philosophical questions that transcend any faith. 6800 Wydown, 314-719-8060, mustardseedtheatre.com.
Prison Performing Arts
An entire episode of This American Life was devoted to its 2002 production of Act V of Hamlet at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center. Now, it also offers a weeklong workshop where juvenile offenders are taught how to rap, DJ, and dance to hip-hop. Promoting literacy and self-expression among a population of men and women who are easy to forget has been Prison Performing Arts’ goal for two decades. While taking the bard behind bars might not be easy, anyone who’s taken part in one of the productions assures you it’s worth it. 314-289-4190, prisonartsstl.org.
“Joe Jones: Painter of the American Scene,” Saint Louis Art Museum
Famous in his time, Social Realism painter Joe Jones captured working-class people and real strikes. His work ebbed from view until he was nearly lost in obscurity. SLAM’s show—the first major survey of Jones’ work—reminded St. Louis that it needed to lay claim to this important painter and alerted the art world to how resonant Jones’ work remains. 1 Fine Arts, 314-721-0072, slam.org.
underdog theater company
HotCity has enough guts to stage Equus, enough humor to put on Slasher, and enough talent to pull off everything from Sam Shepard to Christopher Durang with flair. Formed in 2004 with the merger of Hothouse Theatre and City Players, this company takes chances and fosters the development of new playwrights. Hot indeed. 314-289-4063, hotcitytheatre.org.
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Blues / Jazz Music Venue
Jazz at the Bistro
This nonprofit, nonsmoking jazz club celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and is beloved not just by audiences, but by musician—which is why it attracts the best of the best, from Sonny Rollins to the Yellowjackets. 3536 Washington, 314-534-3663, jazzstl.org/jazz-at-the-bistro.
Saint Louis Art Museum
1 Fine Arts, Forest Park, 314-721-0072, slam.org.
Indie Music Venue
3511 Lemp, 314-773-3363, offbroadwaystl.com.
Center of Creative Arts
524 Trinity, 314-725-6555, cocastl.org
701 N. 15th, 314-231-2489, citymuseum.org
Rock Music Venue
6161 Delmar, 314-726-6161, thepageant.com
Theater / Theater Company
527 N. Grand, 314-534-1111, fabulousfox.com