Parts of the county may not have realized it yet, but over the last eight years, Chesterfield’s arts community has been quietly building up. The Art in the Park[ing Lot] festival, taking place this weekend, is just the tip of the iceberg. Its sponsoring organization, Chesterfield Arts, has been growing by leaps and bounds, according to executive director Stacey Morse.
“We provide education, workshops, community events, performing arts and a growing number of public artworks, as well as a plan for public sculpture,” Morse says. “We’ve put together a comprehensive program. Our vision is to make sure we are an active and valued resource to the region in providing high-quality arts programming and events.” Chesterfield Arts holds an annual fund-raiser every January and also receives funding from the City of Chesterfield, grants from the Regional Arts Commission, Missouri Arts Council, Arts and Education Council, corporate sponsorships and individual giving.
For performing arts events, Chesterfield Arts gets audiences from as far away as St. Charles and Wentzville. “We’re trying to position ourselves as a hub for arts and culture in this western region, and we’ve been able to network with other arts organizations near us,” says Morse. “We also have a great board of directors, they’re highly involved with the strategic planning and supportive of all the events, attending them and helping out.”
The organization’s next step will be to develop a dedicated arts center, right now it’s inhabiting a borrowed space. The group also has been looking into holding another big festival to tie into the new sculpture program it’s developing. That master plan is being forged with Via Parnership. “They’re helping us put an overall plan together that identifies what we currently have and how we can capitalize on placing sculptures throughout the city and in the new downtown area,” Morse elaborates. “The more we grow, the more we can give back to the community. I don’t know if we’ll ever be finished, per se; we keep improving on the programs we already have. You continue to evolve and reshape your programming so it best meets the needs and interests of the community.”
Via Partnership’s Emily Blumenfeld explains that her consulting organization works on public art master planning, project management and community involvement planning. “We look at how to fund artwork and how to maintain it in the long term,” Blumenfeld explains. “We look for spots that will be future gathering places, and we think about how public art could make those places better. There are ways of involving public artists’ insights into the design of an infrastructure, or commissioning artists to create site-specific sculptures.”
The city already has a strong arts community, Blumenfeld comments. Chesterfield Arts has a gallery that’s been warmly welcomed by the community, and Kemp Auto Museum holds art exhibitions. A significant collection of $2 million worth of sculpture is already on display throughout the city, some donated, some on loan from the Saint Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park and the Chadwick Foundation in London. “There’s a strong desire to see more art that adds to the unique character of the city, to set it apart from other cities that adjoin it, and to add to the quality of life,” Blumenfeld says.
Via Partnership is writing a five-year master plan, slated to be adopted this summer. “We did an event in February called ‘Imagine Art Here,’ and about 70 participants came and talked about what kinds of public art they’d like to see, so we got a lot of good information,” Blumenfeld says. “One of the main things residents want is a hands-on opportunity to create artwork for public places. As the city continues to grow, we also want to continue to commission work and to see artwork change, too, so it’s an ongoing program. People want to see variety, traditional as well as contemporary, non-figurative work.”
To get residents more involved, Chesterfield has offered a hands-on, community-based event called ‘Make Your Mark,’ during which residents painted Metro buses with colorful designs. This kind of grassroots art program is complemented by a wider interest in attracting the best art from around the world to the community as possible, Blumenfeld says.