Saturday, October 24, 2009

Art For Art's Sake

What do you do with a mall that has a lot of empty storefronts? You turn it into space for artists!

Crestwood Court used to be known as Crestwood Mall. It was built in the 1950's and at its peak had a Famous-Barr (AKA Macy's after the chain was sold a couple of years ago), a Dillard's, a Sears, and dozens of smaller stores. However, Dillard's left a couple of years ago and the Macy's closed this year. There's only a handful of retail stores left in the sprawling facility.

At some point the owners say the whole mall will be redeveloped, but they don't know when. While they're waiting, they decided to rent the vacant space to art groups. The storefronts are now home to painters, photographers, jewelers, dance studios, and theater groups.

I've been there a few times before, but the spaces don't seem to be open consistent hours so I couldn't see everything. However, tonight they had a special event and all the vendors were supposed to be there, so I made a trip to the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court.

About 2/3 of the stores have something in them-either a retail store or an artist's space. I picked up a directory of all the artists (there are more than 30), which listed the hours each space was open that will be good for future reference. It looked like all of the spaces that sold things were open for business tonight. Many of the theater companies and dance studios hadn't opened their doors, but it was still interesting to check out their display windows to get a sense of what they were about.

It was great to see how the stores were being repurposed. One store that had wooden floors turned out to be the perfect space for a tap dance and Irish dance studio. A place that used to be a beauty salon now had pieces of sculpture on the beautician's sinks and stations. There was a former jewelry store that still sold jewelry; however, it was now handmade out of glass beads and silver wire. Another jewelry store had the display cabinets filled with hand-made bowls.

I had fun talking with all the artists as I moved from space to space. They seemed eager to tell me about their work. Although I didn't spend any money tonight, I got some good ideas for Christmas presents.

There was also a bit of entertainment to be had. At one end of the mall there was a traditional country music band; the four middle-aged men wore Western-style embroidered shirts and cowboy hats. The other end showcased a blues group. Outside the Sears store a ballet studio had set up a portable stage to give demonstrations.

I believe that ArtSpace has this open house format once a month on Saturday night. If you live in the St. Louis area and haven't been there yet, you should go.


  1. I wonder if my landlord would go for me posting art (and cards!) in the windows?

  2. If they did you could be a one-stop shop!

  3. That sounds so cool! They need to do that with one of the malls here that has like 2 stores left in it! We call it Dead-Dale!

  4. That sounds like a really innovative idea for dead space. Our big malls in Toronto always seem to be packed with eager shoppers, no matter what time of year...but our crummier malls have a lot of empty storefronts. The one closest to me [that I visit several times per week] is particularly scummy with the same-ish clothes stores opening and shutting within a couple of months. This sounds much better!

  5. This is a pretty innovative use for "dead mall" space-they actually had a delegation from a Japanese TV station here over the summer documenting it!

  6. It sounds like the kind of transition our local mall has recently gone through. As the big chains moved out, artists and crafts people moved in and for a while it took on a new vibrancy.

    Alas, it was not for long and the mall has now been torn down and replaced with a new commercial centre.

    Enjoy it while it lasts.

  7. I enjoyed your description of the stores very much. What a great idea. So, will you be showing us some of your Christmas inspirations when the time comes? :)

  8. Barry-I'm sticking my head in the sand and hoping they NEVER replace the building :-)

    ...mmm...-It depends. I'm pretty sure everyone I'd be buying a present for reads this. Don't want to reveal any secrets!

  9. Very cool. It reminds me of First Thursday in Portland, OR, where people walk between galleries, sipping wine and munching canapes.