Local Artist Damon Davis’ Work Is Designed to Drive Discussion Around St. Louis’ Past While Building a More Connected, Inclusive Future
Big changes are coming to Market Street in the City of St. Louis. Currently being designed, the one-mile stretch of the Brickline Greenway from Harris-Stowe State University to the St. Louis CITY SC Stadium is one the newest additions to the network of paved, accessible pathways from regional public agency Great Rivers Greenway. Linking this section of the greenway will be a powerful public art installation from St. Louis resident and nationally-acclaimed artist, Damon Davis. Informed by a four-year community engagement process, Great Rivers Greenway is spearheading the effort to elevate the Mill Creek Valley story through Davis’ art with support from its community partners.
Davis’ work will honor Mill Creek Valley, which was a predominantly Black neighborhood whose residents were displaced during the city’s demolition of the Midtown area in the late 1950s. The greenway and artwork in St. Louis CITY SC Stadium District from 20th to 22nd Streets will begin construction this fall and open with the stadium in 2023. The project’s many partners are collaborating to invite people to connect with, and share stories from, the past while envisioning a more connected and inclusive future.
The once-vibrant Mill Creek Valley neighborhood was home to 20,000 residents, 800+ businesses and 40+ houses of worship before city officials declared that the 450 acres (size of five Arch rounds) would be fully demolished in the name of “urban renewal”.
“Mill Creek Valley was a thriving Black community, with businesses and nightlife, arts community and a range of socio-economic classes. The narrative of it being a blighted community – it was neglected for a reason, slum-ified so that the excuse could be used to pave over it,” explains post-disciplinary artist Damon Davis. “I’m designing a series of pedestals and portals to represent hourglasses that hold time (represented by soil) still, displayed at the top. Just like the soil, we can excavate the stories of these people and put them on literal pedestals for the whole world to see, acknowledge and start a conversation about their stories.”
The greenway segment along with Market from Compton Ave. to 20th Street is in design now, to be constructed in phases over the next two years, linking major institutions and small businesses along the route.
“We are so grateful to have these wonderful, willing partners all along the way,” said Susan Trautman, CEO of Great Rivers Greenway. “St. Louis CITY SC is building and caring for a significant portion of Damon’s artwork on their plaza and the landscaping will outline where the homes once stood on that block. The Taylor family further invested in the rest of the greenway with a challenge grant to support our fundraising efforts, which is critical to our success. Harris-Stowe State University will host and care for a portion of the installation on their campus and of course, we’re partnering with the City of St. Louis throughout the project, as the greenway is in their right of way.”
The new Major League Soccer stadium is providing a key platform to drive exposure and discussion around the artwork as the Southwest corner of the stadium will house eight of the pedestals and a display with a map and quotes from Mill Creek Valley residents.
“St. Louis CITY SC has always been committed to being an exceptional club and neighbor, and with our stadium district overlapping the footprint of the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood, we knew it was important to acknowledge the hard truths of the past,” said Khalia Collier, VP of Community Relations for St. Louis CITY SC. “We have to learn from what came before so we can envision a better way toward growth and revitalization together that includes all St. Louisans.”
Davis’ permanent installation will be part of the Counterpublic civic arts exhibition in 2023 which drives national discussion and attention around a number of St. Louis’ contemporary art projects, as well, with a series of programs and events to interpret the stories and activate the space. This installation will stretch throughout that one mile, linking to historic sites on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University, some of the only remaining structures from Mill Creek Valley. These include the Henry Givens Administration Building, (formerly Vashon High School), renovated Stars Park (former home of the Negro baseball league), and Vashon Community Center, being renovated into the Don and Heide Wolff Jazz Institute and National Black Radio Hall of fame.
“This was one of only four Black-only recreational centers in 1936 segregated St. Louis; it was a source of joy and play, cultural events and community gatherings,” said Dr. Terence Finley, Vice President and CFO of Harris-Stowe State University. “This greenway and art project are a natural extension of what we’re doing on campus to connect to and celebrate our collective past.”
This segment – from Harris-Stowe State University to the St. Louis CITY SC Stadium – is one part of the overall Brickline Greenway, which proposes up to 20 miles of pathways, linking up to 17 neighborhoods connecting Forest Park, Gateway Arch National Park, Fairground Park, Tower Grove Park and hundreds of destinations in between. Great Rivers Greenway’s mission for the project is to work with partners to ensure that the path is a catalyst for equitable economic development, creating a vibrant space for people to gather, explore and connect to the city and each other.
“The Brickline Greenway, both the project and the process, is driven by what we’ve heard from thousands of community members about rebuilding civic trust,” said Susan Trautman. “With Damon, our design team and partners like author Vivian Gibson, The Griot Museum, and Missouri Historical Society, we have been listening to many former residents and researching the history to make sure we get this right – and we would love to hear from anyone with connections to this neighborhood!”
Residents of the region are invited to engage with virtual resources and programs to learn more about the past, present, and future of this area and share their stories of connections to this place. For more information about the upcoming virtual book discussion on November 17, to schedule a listening session or to subscribe for project updates, visit www.BricklineGreenway.org.
“St. Louis has an opportunity to do things differently with the Brickline Greenway,” said Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, City of St. Louis. “I encourage residents across the region to learn about Mill Creek Valley and participate in all of these projects – your voices matter to this work.”
Visit stlcitystadium.com for more details and renderings.