In the second week of April, when St. Louis was blooming with an early spring, 292 people came for Rustbelt to Artist Belt: At the Crossroads—an arts-based community development convening—to be part of the discussion about the arts and social change.
This conference combined the three Rustbelt to Artist Belt meetings that took place in Cleveland and Detroit with the At the Crossroads convening that took place in St. Louis in 2010.
I proposed this combination when attending the conference in Detroit and the idea stuck with Seth Beattie from Cleveland’s Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC), the organizer of Rustbelt. With phone calls and emails back and forth and with a grant from the Kresge Foundation, we did it!
I wondered whether our gamble—combining the people who talk about creative regeneration of neighborhoods in the Rustbelt with people who practice community arts and social engagement—would pay off.
Would we all be able to significantly connect these threads that make up the fabric of positive social change?
It turns out that, for the most part, everyone was eager to combine these conversations.
From the traditional conference panels and workshops to the FREDtalks (Fresh Radical Educational Dialog) and the Open Space sessions, to the nooks and crannies and couches of the site, these conversations took place with palpable enthusiasm.
As primary organizer of the conference, I should have just trusted my instinct that when you throw a group of people passionate about the arts, social issues, and communities together—you are going to get some visible excitement and incitement!
Another question was—is St. Louis part of the Rustbelt? Traditionally, St. Louis is usually not included in that nomenclature. But we share so much with the other post-industrial cities that it didn’t seem like a stretch.
Besides, when Saving Cities’ Jack Storey illustrated the Rustbelt in his FREDtalk, he showed St. Louis right there looking a bit like—as he said—Hawaii of the mainland.
One of the best parts of Rustbelt/Crossroads was welcoming people from places like Singapore, Ireland, Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Cleveland to St. Louis for the first time.
All of us are proud of the work we are doing here. And we know our visitors enjoyed themselves not just as attendees, but as tourists. So maybe for a just little while, we were Hawaii. Only with a lot of red brick. And humidity. And neighborhoods like Cherokee Street.