Founded in August 2001, our mission is to create platforms and platform creatives for youth and community development. The animating idea behind Urban Artist Alliance was the concept of “social arts,” where poets, writers, actors, musicians, and visual artists would create art that reflect the conditions and possibilities of their communities. This kind of art is not apolitical. It challenges, disrupts, and tells truth about society from the artist’s perspective.
Art is revolutionary. It changes things and people.
Think of the opportunities artists and arts organization create through their work. Imagine the dancer who instructs a dance class or choreographs a performance before an audience. The dancer would not be able to lead a class or be contracted to choreograph a performance if she or he never learned to dance. Therefore, possibility is inextricably connected to art. Possibilities follow from the art but the opportunity must be first given to the child who desires to dance. Without that initial opportunity, there would be no dance class led by that instructor or choreographed performance made possible by that dancer. But it takes more than the opportunity to lead a youth workshop for the dancer earn some income. It also takes platform to enable the dancer to fully self-actualize and become a model for her or his students.
There are other examples of artists but the one closest to me is the poet who coordinates a poetry night, hires a band, raises awareness of social causes, and financially supports the host business. That’s my story. Possibilities came as a consequence of me writing a poem and performing it before an audience of strangers. If I were illiterate or had family members who discouraged me from writing or had no platform for my creative output, I don’t know if any of the projects in which we are currently involved through UrbArts would be available to the people as we know them.
If there is to be an opportunity or possibility for art, then we must attend to the cultural and social matters that create opportunities for artists and would-be artists. By culture, I mean what Harold Cruse meant or what social scientists mean. I am referring to the ideas, ideals, values, and geography of a people. Because we are artists or arts-supporters living in a declining metropolitan area littered with underdeveloped neighborhoods, we must create the kind of opportunities for this city that allows for new possibilities. We have to commit ourselves to creating art that not only reflect existing realities but imagines alternative ones. We must tag decaying buildings founded on progressive ideal with spray-paint that revitalizes and reintroduces their purpose to our city. We must deface structurally-sound but integrity-free firms that buy-up enemies and sell-out the people. We must destroy institutions founded on corrupt values and designed to negate the beauty of marginalized people brick by brick.
How do we do this?
It begins by understanding that art is social. It is the product of our interactions with people, social institutions, and culture. There is a dialectical relationship between the artist and where s/he lives. While it is true that the artist is influenced by the world s/he indwells, s/he can influence the world through art. Although this sounds like a daunting task, we’ve already begun the work through our programs for young and adult audiences.
We must do through art what others haven’t done through schools, public policy, and business in St. Louis. We’ve spent enough time surviving in their world of tolerated oppression, profitable exploitation, commercial art, muted voice, and limited opportunity structure. We must destroy their St. Louis and create ours.