OLD NORTH ST. LOUIS – From the outside looking in, the 14th Street Artist Community at 2701 North 14th Street looks like a regular establishment. But behind its four walls, the art gallery transforms into a space with standing room only for about two hours every Friday afternoon.
Rhythm and Blues in the Afternoon, a weekly program hosted by the art gallery, gives people the chance to come together to laugh, dance and mingle.
For some St. Louis residents, showing up to the Zuka Arts Guild every week has become a tradition.
St. Louis native Edwina Simon says she has been a part of the celebration for the past four years now.
“It’s a group of people that comes every Friday faithfully,” she said. “We’re full of love for each other, and we just come together as a group and we just really party every Friday afternoon … enjoy each other’s company and show each other love.”
Simon acknowledged that hearing the Renaissance Band play was what initially drew her into the art gallery. But then she began to fall in love with the artwork that adorned the gallery walls.
The Zuka Arts Guild is composed of 25 to 30 area artists, the majority of whom are native to the greater St. Louis area. For this very diverse group of people, three rooms of art on display in Old North St. Louis is the glue that keeps them together.
“More than anything else, it’s about building community … finding the glue that pulls the community together and putting it in place in this building,” said the owner, founder and director of the 14th Street Artist Community, Peter Sparks.
Sparks went on to say that Rhythm and Blues in the Afternoon is an example of what could be done in other neighborhoods.
“I think we’ve succeeded in certain ways in figuring out what it takes to build a community and keep it going,” he said.
Sparks said he did not promote the event anymore, because the space was usually filled to capacity every week.
“Something really special is going on here,” Sparks said. “If it never grows any bigger than it is, that’s fine. For those of us who are a part of it, we know what it’s done for us. For that alone it’s worth a lot.”
The organization also offers several different social outreach programs including Cafe Hope, which provides meals to the underserved.
On the first Friday evening of every month, the Zuka Arts Guild exhibits the work of several of their members. Patrons are serenaded with live jazz by the James Matthews Trio.
“People say we’re the best-kept secret in St. Louis,” said Andrea Hughes, president of the Zuka Arts Guild.
“If you think you’re an artist but you’re not sure, this is the place to come,” Hughes added. “If you are an established artist and you haven’t really gotten your work out there, this is the place to do it. We welcome all artists here.”