FERGUSON — On South Florissant Road, surrounded by small local restaurants and shops, Sister Glynis McManamon runs the Good Shepherd Arts Center. The center is hosting SPARC, a showcase focusing on black artists and art as activism, Aug. 3-24.
Good Shepherd Arts Center opened at 252 South Florissant in 2015, the year after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent protests. McManamon, a member of the Catholic order of Sisters of the Good Shepherd, originally opened the gallery to showcase her own art and promote healing and peace. As the center has grown, however, it has developed its mission “to be a voice in the community in support of peace, justice and racial equality.”
The SPARC showcase easily fits into this mission. Taylor Deed, the curator as well as one of the artists of the show, spoke The SouthSider about the nature of the show and what it means to feature this kind of art in Ferguson.
“The gist is that we are a group of young, black creatives, so if I’m the curator, these are people that I’ve connected with over time of being an artist in St. Louis,” she said. She said an important part of SPARC was “affirming that the creative expression of young, black creatives in art is relevant and is impactful and powerful and a contribution to the movement that was ignited in Ferguson, emphasizing that the arts and creativity are a driving force of revolution and action.”
Deed herself was not part of the protests in Ferguson in 2014, nor was any of the artists featured in this show. But she said that the events in Ferguson were felt by everyone — not just in St. Louis, but nationally and internationally.
She thinks it’s important to acknowledge that, although people everywhere were affected by the shooting and protests in Ferguson, the people in the neighborhood felt the impact differently.
“The people of Ferguson have been touched differently, and I think that it’s easy for a lot of people to capitalize – just to throw the name of the city without actually contributing,” Deed said.
That’s not the goal with SPARC. Instead, she hopes to offer a place to welcome the public, in a space where black artists can explore and share their activism and spirituality.
That conversation with people is why Deed likes to think of SPARC as an “active show.”
“The intention is to invite more of the community out, the community leaders, to see the show and then go from there,” she explained. “What can we do to incorporate more of the voices of those who are directly impacted? Because it’s too easy for people to throw together or throw around something about Ferguson without actually facing the people who live here, without facing the issues.”
McNamamon, who moved to St. Louis from Louisville, Ky., was originally hesitant to open a gallery in Ferguson.
“Whenever I talked about doing it, I said, ‘Not Ferguson,’” she said. “Because I looked at West Florissant [Avenue], and that seemed like an area you wouldn’t put an art gallery or studio in. It’d be very pioneering, but where am I going to be, next to the U-Haul or next to the McDonald’s?”
And there was another reason McNamamon was hesitant.
“I’m not really an activist,” she said. “And I also thought, ‘What right have I to come into the space, having no investment whatsoever in Ferguson, never having been before, and suddenly here I am, I’m gonna do something?’”
But, McManamon said, she felt called to the area.
Shortly after opening the gallery, she began featuring work from artists around the area, both Ferguson and north St. Louis County as a whole. Part of her hope, she said, is to present a different image of Ferguson than what the media has often presented.
A show by photographer Henry Chaney in 2017 did just that, featuring photos he had taken during the Ferguson protests.
“[Chaney] took these pictures because he saw people coming together,” she explained. “These weren’t pictures of looting and fire. These were pictures of people reaching out to comfort one another, to support one another but also to speak out and say, ‘Hey, come on,’ but it was nothing hateful in his pictures.”
Deed and McManamon agreed that the narrative surrounding Ferguson had often been corrupted. Both Good Shepherd Arts Center and SPARC hope to deconstruct this narrative by offering a space where visitors can observe, contemplate and sit with what makes them uncomfortable.
“Kind of the opposite of the forum of Facebook,” McManamon said, “where somebody puts out a thought or a feeling, and everybody goes back and forth and attacks it. We’re putting out some art, and just let it in.”
SPARC runs Aug. 3-24 and is free and open to the public. For more information about the show or Good Shepherd Arts Center, visit https://www.goodshepherdarts.org/.