Beyond Housing is a St. Louis, Missouri, community development organization whose mission is to help entire communities become better places to live. They started in 1975 as a housing organization, but grew to serve human needs after a person has a place to live. Through their work, they “learned that the true meaning of home—a place to shelter people and nurture dreams—can only happen in the context of a strong community.” In response to community needs, they developed a bank, a grocery store, a health clinic, a movie theater, a café, after school programs, and other programs that help struggling families. They had long desired integrating the arts into their work, but needed help making it happen.

Forecast’s Role + Beyond Housing’s Arts Strategy

Forecast founder Jack Becker started working with Beyond Housing in 2018. In response to their desire to integrate the arts into their program, Jack recommended starting out by learning who are the artists and creators and talents in their own community, and establish a project to lift up that local talent. As a strategy to find and celebrate their own communities, Forecast helped Beyond Housing to initiate an annual arts and cultural festival. Beyond Housing established a regional arts advisory group, including representatives from the community as well as regional arts institutions, such as a museum, arts center, and other local organizations which might be interested in participating, partnering, or simply offering advice.

Beyond Housing’s area, just south of Ferguson, suffers from a lack of community investment and private development. One of the strategies behind the arts and cultural fest was to attract positive media attention and draw audiences to the area and highlight Beyond Housing’s accomplishments. The inaugural festival, which took place in a vacant lot in October of 2018, featured a stage programmed with area performers, food vendors, an artist market, art-making, and a metro transit bus transformed into a mobile mural promoting the community. Building on the success of the first year, Beyond Housing sought to expand the festival by involving new partners and featuring story stitchers and local celebrities.

The community of 24:1

24:1 references a cluster of small cities in the north portion of St. Louis county, served by the Normandy School District. Beyond Housing works with each mayor, and provides services regionally across all of cities, each with varying degrees of challenging economies and social issues. The 24:1 label underscores the notion that they are all working together as one.

Jigsaw Puzzle Storytelling

For this year’s festival, Becker suggested an interactive art-making booth in which all the cities in 24:1 were represented by a large cardboard puzzle piece, inviting participants to find “their” city, and help decorate it with markers and paint. Prompts included: “Where do you live?” “What words describe your city?” and “What’s a great place in your city?” The exercise was designed to help audiences understand 24:1 and find their place in it, spark conversations, and have fun. The puzzle exercise is designed to travel to each city so it can reach more community members and be completed as a whole.

The Shakespeare Festival Group in St. Louis performs a new kind of As You Like It, linking an urban and a rural community

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has several programs, including Shakespeare in the Parks and Shakespeare in the Streets. Shakespeare in the Streets brings Shakespeare to the people, rather than making them come to the show. With a grant from PNC Arts Alive, the group reached out to Beyond Housing to connect with the festival, resulting in a special production of As You Like It, titled Love at the River’s Edge, that was rewritten with youth performers, musical numbers and local references. The first act of this nontraditional, free performance took place at the festival site at the corner of Ferguson and Page. The second act took place in Calhoun County, across the Mississippi River in Illinois, thirty miles away. To connect the two acts—and the urban and rural communities of actors and audiences—Shakespeare In the Streets provided enough school buses to carry a total of 400 people to experience Act II. Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO of Beyond Housing says on the organization’s webpage, “Linking our [communities] … is a great representation of how our region can come together.”

Linking our [communities] … is a great representation of how our region can come together.

– Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO of Beyond Housing

Future Prospects

To continue building momentum of integrating the arts into their work, Beyond Housing plans to redevelop a church as an arts center, which will offer a space to teach and present music, a recording studio, and arts education. Beyond Housing envisions that the congregation will continue their services. With careful attention to avoid displacement, the organization intends to help the community evolve and grow according to their needs.

Forecast is also helping Beyond Housing develop public art for the walls of its 24:1 Cinema building. After analyzing what could be done on their walls, Forecast recommended a community engaged public art project that tells the 24:1 story on the exterior of the building. Becker connected Beyond Housing staff with St. Louis-based artist Con Christeson, co-founder of the Community Arts Training program at the Regional Arts Council (CATS). Con proposed a team to develop the project over the next eight months. An intensive community engagement process is in the works, involving members of Beyond Housing staff seeking to learn from the artists.

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