A convener is an individual or group responsible for bringing people together to address an issue, problem, or opportunity. Co-conveners Marilu Knode and Meridith McKinley did just that to expand the conversation about the role of sculpture, public art and monuments in a context of communities. The three-day event in St. Louis engaged 300 participants in a dialogue. Along the way the region found itself proudly showcasing its own unique and powerful commitment to art as it relates to our civilization.
Marilu is executive director of the Laumeier Sculpture Park and Meridith runs Via Partnership, a firm that facilitates planning and management of public art. So they are stakeholders in such an exchange. To their credit, this meeting of minds was not at all parochial. However, they are careful to leverage the assets of this region from the Saint Louis Art Museum, The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, The Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), Forest Park and the nearby Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois.
“Saint Louis has the nickname ‘mound city’ precisely because this region was home to a civilization archeologists refer to as ‘Mississippians’ more than one thousand years ago. The mounds preserved here are part of that,” advises Bill Iseminger atop Monk’s Mound as he guides a group of conference participants. The Gateway Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial can be seen on the horizon on this clear day as the visitors marvel at the remnants of an ancient civilization. This reference point and indeed the Arch itself serve a powerful reminder of what Marilu Knode refers to as “the archeology of place,” as the Laumeier Sculpture Park opens its Mound City exhibition with commissioned installations by artists Sam Durant, Marie Watt, Juan William Chavez, Geoffrey Krawczyk and others.
The conference wraps up with a keynote address by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. His work embraces a sense of space with light, sound, technology. He has had exhibitions around the world from San Francisco, Sydney, Buenos Aires and Singapore. He inspires the artists and academics in the room. He demonstrates how public space can be energized. "My work lives at the intersection of architecture and performance art" says Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. “It is just like a club: you set things up and hope people will come in and make it a scene. If they don’t, it’s okay. You move on and do something else.”
At the Chase Park Plaza hotel in the Central West End of Saint Louis on Sunday morning the remaining out-of-towners make arrangements for transportation back to their respective cities. They are, like everyone else who engaged in this comprehensive discussion, processing what it all means in the context of art, of history, and how they might apply principals to their respective places as artists, as academics and as citizens.