St. Louis Blues Society Joins the 20th Ward’s Musical Community

bluessociety_logoRecently, with the release of the latest edition of the St. Louis Blues Society’s “BluesLetter,” Mary Kaye Tonnies and Jeremy Segel-Moss sat in their new basement office at Nebula. Together, they folded hundreds of the issue’s copies for mailing. About 300 members get the informative newsletter sent to them, and many more are distributed throughout the city’s blues-friendly clubs and taverns, along with coffeehouses and record stores.

Tonnies, the communications director of the Society’s board of directors, remembers that “this was a job for my kitchen table.” And that table served a valuable role for years, thought it’s now retired from the Society’s official use and is back to being a humble kitchen piece.

These days, Tonnies and Segel-Moss enjoy in a nice, large office space inside of Nebula. Segel-Moss says that the organization was ready for a move to an actual office environment; overdue, really.

“The Blues Society,” Segel-Moss says, “needed a home. For all of our stuff and as a place to organize. We’re in our 32nd year as an organization. With a resurgence in the last couple of years, we’re now involved in over 40 events and educational programs a year. We need a homebase. Nebula was very generous in offering us a home at a reasonable rate.”

Over those many years, the Blues Society relied on generous backers who offered free, temporary spaces;, though those rooms sometimes came at a cost not measured in dollars. For example, “we used to have board meetings in the back room of the old Riddle’s. On any given day, it could be a madhouse, or was very hard to park near there. Having access to meeting rooms (at Nebula) is priceless to us.

“A grassroots organization,” Segel-Moss continues, “should be run of out people’s houses for a while. But after that while, it should have a space.”

Having secured donor funding specifically for the move, Segel-Moss, hopes to maintain a space at Nebula for the forseeable future, digging into all the opportunities available.

“I’m continually impressed with the people who have offices here and I enjoy being part of this community,” he says. “With an organization that firmly into supporting blues music, which is based in black music, we should be in a diverse community. With some time, maybe we can bring some blues music into this neighborhood, which would be a win-win for all of us.”

In addition to publishing the “Blues Letter,” hosting and promoting events, working with educational institutions on programming and generally promoting the music throughout the St. Louis community, the Blues Society has a mission of curating and maintaining its own three-decades-plus history. In fact, part of the next phase of work will involve a heavy dose of archiving. All along one wall of the Society’s subterranean office space, boxes and frames sit, ready for organization and, eventually, display. Here are dozens of posters from dozens of years of blues music in St. Louis, a treasure of local blues imagery.

Segel-Moss, a seasoned guitarist with his act the Bottoms Up Blues Gang, says that “ultimately, we are tasked with taking care of the history of the Blues Society. We have like 30 years of posters here; the Blues Society founded the Big Muddy festival back in 1986. So we have to organize this.”

Looking at the stacks, Segel-Moss sighs, in a good way and even suggests that “there won’t be enough room in here to do all of that” organizing, but at least “here, we have the beginning of it.”

And, here, the Society will have a chance to attack the core of its mission statement: “The St. Louis Blues Society is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating blues music in and from St. Louis, while fostering its growth and appreciation. The St. Louis Blues Society provides blues artists the opportunity for public performance and individual improvement in their field, all for the educational and artistic benefit of the general public.”

Find out more info on the Blues Society at its website: http://www.stlouisbluessociety.org/home.

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Cara Spencer Makes St. Louis Mag’s “The Power List”

0CqE6wBwCara Spencer is among four Aldermen included in a new list of 100 St. Louisans making a difference in their fields. And, yes, wielding a bit of power in said fields.

Wrote the magazine:

Elected in a ward with high vacancy and crime rates, Spencer, with fellow Alderman Chris Carter, launched the mow-to-own program, which lets residents take over vacant properties by maintaining the land, including mowing and debris removal.

Along with Spencer, “New Wave: Politicos to Watch” included fellow Alders Shane Cohn, Scott Ogilvie, Megan-Ellyia Green and the City’s newly-appointed resilience czar, Patrick Brown.

You can read the full list at St. Louis Magazine’s website.

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Pikazo Moves to Newly-Remodeled Schoolhouse on Jefferson

Amy VanDonsel, via Pikazo App.

Amy VanDonsel, via Pikazo App.

Pikazo is among the first businesses to move to the Schoolhouse, a complementary office complex to the nearby Nebula. Here, Amy VanDonsel, Program Manager of Pikazo, discusses both the history of that project, which had been headquartered at Nebula, and the company’s move to the former St. Matthew’s Schoolhouse, 3449 South Jefferson.

(We’ll also note, before learning of Pikazo, that there’ll be an open house at the space, built in 1889. Here’s info.)

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For starters, maybe we could get the shorthand, 101-version of the history of Pikazo and how you came to be part of the project?
OK, so… I don’t want to get too technical, but the story begins a bit technically… I’ll do my best!

In August 2015, a team of computer scientists published a paper called “A Neural Algorithm of Artistic Style.” The paper presented a new artificial system based on a Deep Neural Network. In this context, as applied to computer vision, Deep Neural Networks are biologically inspired vision models, meaning they are designed to perceive in the same way which we do using the visual cortexes in our brains which process the visual information that we see. Prior to that time, just over a year ago, Deep Neural Networks had recently demonstrated near-human performance in object and facial recognition. But with the publication of their work, Gatys and his colleagues sought to deepen these achievements with an “algorithmic understanding of how humans create and perceive artistic imagery.” Their system uses neural representations to separate and recombine the content and style of arbitrary images, for creating artistic images in the same way that humans create and perceive visual fine art using their biological vision. Immediately following publication, several technologists began experimenting with this system and published their projects in open-source repositories.

This paper, and related work, caught the interest of Karl Stiefvater. Karl is a computational artist with more than 25 years experience in the field of computer graphics. For example, he created effects for the Nebuchadnezzar destruction sequence in “The Matrix: Reloaded” and the procedural generation of the bottomless pit in the movie “300.” In 2015, he began experimenting with neural art and neural style, building on the open-source algorithms and concocting a “special sauce” which eventually congealed into the Pikazo app.

Last autumn, Karl shared his findings with friend and colleague Noah Rosenberg, who was immediately enthused. After a 10-year career running international ad agencies for Ogilvy and IPG, Noah began founding his own companies, including happyMedium, which “invented for brands,” performing innovation as a service for Warby Parker, AB/Inbev, Maritz, and Edward Jones, and Ochre, launching startups from zero to one for innovation-challenged enterprises.

Together, Noah and Karl formed Pikazo, Inc., in November of last year, along with Karl’s wife Lisa Donahue, who brought her background in project managing for visual software tools, and Software Engineer (and local musician) Ryan McNeely. I’ve known Karl and Lisa since 2007, often pestering Karl with questions relating to my harebrained ideas about art and technology. When they needed to add a utility player to their team they asked me to join Pikazo, and I now use my background in the arts, event planning, and administrative support, as well as my interest in tech, to work as Program Manager.

Pikazo staffers, inside the Schoolhouse, during construction.

Pikazo staffers, inside the Schoolhouse, during construction.

What are the next notable benchmarks for the app?
We just released our third version of the software for iOS, which integrates Siri in conjunction with Apple’s latest operating system. Next week, we’ll begin beta testing the second version of the app for Android. We’ve been invited to demo our product in Photo Booth form at several exciting events lately, including a reception at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and next up we’ll be doing our second event in partnership with Intel. We’re also thrilled to be working with several local artists to add their unique styles to our app, and looking forward to potential collaborating with other creative agencies on world class art installations, maybe even internationally.

Why and how was Nebula chosen as a good place to work?
Nebula is great for us because of the community, the location, and the flexibility. Karl began here with his cool basement laboratory dungeon, and we expanded with five full time employees and a handful of interns working in various spaces at Nebula as the need arose.

What’s good about working at a site like yours, as opposed to being in a tech zone like Cortex?
We love the location. We all live within walking and biking distance of Nebula, and also enjoy walking to our favorite coffee shops and lunch spots, as well as being a part of the art and business community on Cherokee Street.

How much are you able to tap into Cherokee’s artistic and creative community?
It makes spontaneous, organic collaboration simple and efficient. On a coffee break, we’ll run into an artist we’ve been wanting to collaborate with, work out the details, and in a couple of days we’re popping over to their studio, which is just around the corner, to photograph the work.

Noah Rosenberg's first Pikazo selfie.

Noah Rosenberg’s first Pikazo selfie.

Can you speak, early-on, about working in a closer-in pod at the Schoolhouse, as opposed to being spread out over Nebula? What’s nice about proximity to one another?
Just like the proximity to Cherokee’s artistic community, our proximity to one another makes spontaneous, organic collaboration within our group simple and efficient. We like being able to open our office doors sometime and listen to the same music or chat with one another, while the space still gives us privacy when we need it.

What do you like about the current space, whether functionally or aesthetically?
It’s gorgeous! We’re art people, designers and creatives, and while aesthetics aren’t always essential, we appreciate them so much. The details of the space are fantastically finished, and the natural light is wonderful.

How does the space differ from a “this will happen” perspective to the “wow, we’re really here” setting today?
Well, our move corresponded with a lot of travel for our team, so we haven’t all been in the space together immediately quite as much as we imagined. We’re looking forward to getting more settled in and having guests visit us later this month during the building’s official unveiling celebration.

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Hometown Superheroes

unnamedCongratulations to Bruce Franks, the Democratic Nominee for 78th District State Rep. and Wendy Campbell, our newly elected 20th Ward Democratic Committeewoman who will serve with Dale Sweet, re-elected D-Committeeman.

You may have seen our neighborhoods in the news for a couple of disturbing incidents. I am taking this very seriously and working with our 3rd District Police Captain to improve the safety of our neighborhoods. We will be looking to residents to help by identifying privately owned cameras in the community. Please register your cameras by clicking here to coordinate with police who can save time by leveraging this network to investigate criminal activity.

As your Alderman, I have been outspoken in the news about issues that affect our communities. One is division. Divisive rhetoric breaks down the fabric that should unite us. It has no place in this country, this city and most certainly not from the people we trust to protect us. Our city needs bridge building. Bruce Franks does it, the Ethical Society of Police does it. I believe we would be better served by a spokesperson for the St. Louis Police Officers Association who unites us instead of divides us. For my perspective, read more here.

I have also stood up to an industry that perpetuates one of the root causes of crime: poverty. We have allowed payday lenders to run amok, with over 11 percent of Missourians taking out a payday loan every year. We have the laxest laws in the country regulating an industry that has more storefronts in Missouri than McDonalds, Starbucks and Wal-Mart stores combined. It is not without surprise that the payday lenders have fought back with lawyers. I will stand unwavering.

While we have serious issues before us, we also have exciting developments and progress in the 20th Ward. Please join us at our upcoming Fall 2016 20th Ward Meeting: Oct 12, 6:30pm @ Thomas Dunn Learning Center with the following agenda:

Traffic Study Results: CBB Engineering, BPS
STL City’s first Calm Street Project: Louisiana Ave: Trailnet
Lutheran Development, Planning Process and 2016 project: Chris Shearman
Derelict and Abandoned Cars: Director of Streets Kent Flake
Crime Update: 3rd District Captain Shawn Dace
Future 78th District State Rep: Bruce Franks
LRA and vacant building Petition: Sean Thomas

As always, don’t hesitate to call with any specific concerns you might have.

Alderman Cara Spencer
314-556-7379

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20th Ward Flashback: Slim & Zella Mae Cox

For years, a small-but-packed home goods shop sat at 2831 Chippewa, a couple blocks west of Jefferson.

The Slim and Zella Mae Cox Furniture Store was exactly what the name would indicate, a store filled with second-hand beds, chest-of-drawers, shelving units and a shocking amount of bric-a-brac. But the Coxes were also television and radio evangelists, with a big following all around the Midwest. They recorded their radio show, in fact, inside the store, bringing together their lives at work and in faith.

Here’s a Riverfront Times story, from way back in 1999, about the Cox family’s life in the ward.

And you can beat visuals. Here’s a YouTube clip, from the KNLC studios, featuring the pair, with guest vocals by Larry Rice:

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Thomas Dunn Learning Center Hosts Environmentally-Conscious Festival

emap2-poster-final-01ST. LOUIS (September 8, 2016)-The Missouri Prairie Festival kicks off its first year Saturday, October 8, at the Thomas Dunn Learning Center (3113 Gasconade). There will be live music, art, environmentally-focused workshops and presentations, food from Subterranean Homemade Foods, and complimentary Schlafly beer.

A $10 donation is required for entry, and additional donations will be accepted in advance through the festival’s Generosity fundraising page.

The goal of the Missouri Prairie Festival is to raise $2000 for the Missouri Prairie Foundation, which will fund the protection and maintenance of 40 acres of original prairie land for one year. People interested in attending should make sure to check out the newly launched Generosity page to pre-order tickets and to get more information on the Missouri Prairie Festival.

Featured performers include Traveling Sound Machine, Bates, Unifyah, Arshad Goods, and Letter to Memphis (see poster for full lineup).

Missouri Prairie Festival is a collaboration between Kevin Koehler, locally known for his work as the guitarist from iLLPHONiCS, and Jake Maness, drummer from The Maness Brothers and co-organizer of the Whiskey War Festival. Their shared love of music and the environment is what led them to start working together to create an environmentally-focused music festival.

In the words of Jake Maness, the purpose of the event is “to spread the consciousness needed to fix the dilemma we’ve gotten ourselves into as a species.”

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Carnahan HS Beautified Through Student Artwork

These days, Ellie Balk splits time between St. Louis and New York City, finding work and inspiration in both locales.

“I built my career in New York and was there for 12 years,” she says. “Here, I’ve lived for almost two years; it’ll be two in October. The work is still coming in New York, which is where I established myself.” In New York, she was also running a non-profit which focused on taking school kids to work on striking public art projects in their communities, as well as raising funds for residencies for other artists to do similar work.

IMG_0457Moving to St. Louis, she wanted to to “continue my efforts, not only as an artist, but as an organizer.”

She says that she found Springboard here and “was interested in how they structured their organization. And I wound up as a program artist.”

Her work came through a program titled VIsualizing Mathematics Through Perspective, which took place at Carnahan High School of the Future. She coordinated efforts with John Grapperhaus of Springboard, who works a multi-tiered job, including a role as the liaison between Springboard and the St. Louis Public School system, particularly relating to arts enrichment programs.

The pair, Balk says, included a “site a visit and we teamed up with a math teacher who teaches algebra and geometry.” Incorporating visual art, they “worked a lot with triangles and pulled in this idea of two-point perspectives. We talked about color and color theory.”

For Balk, the program, which mostly included 9th and 10th grade students, was solid, in that they were already working on art and mathematics. This program simply brought the two concepts together in a style that was engaging and lasting, in that the art works they were creating were meant to stay at the school, posted on walls.

IMG_0011Balk says that working through Springboard, which was begun in 1965, is “a totally different approach to the core curriculum. Art teachers are teaching important skills. I bring in a different experience, a visual language to help the academic curriculum. It’s an interesting niche that we’re working in.”

What’s left at the school – a series of bright, big pieces of art.

“It’s creating this works of art,” Balk says, “that hopefully will still be there in five years.”

Those visual reminders augment what the each student takes with them.

“I’m really passionate about this work,” Balk says. “And I really do believe in the impact that classes like this can have on students that are struggling. It gets students connected to good experiences in the classroom. They’re making friends and wanting to come to school.” She admits that those already excelling will just be given that much more motivation by such programs.”

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Everyday Heroes Cited

It is not often at the Board of Aldermen that we recognize regular citizens, the actions of every day heroes. I introduced a resolution at the Board this past Friday, recognizing the heroic actions of: two young heroes; as well as the incredible actions of our Fire Department who arrived within three minutes; the Park Ranger who acted swiftly; and many others in the recent Marquette Pool incident.

A resolution is the highest honor that that Board of Aldermen can bestow and I am proud that every single Alderman added their name to the resolution. It is not often that the board is unanimous.

For those of you interested in watching, starts at minute 31 of our regular board proceedings:

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Thursday/Sunday Yoga Practice Offered on Chippewa

13441602_10208790375493209_1392041294_oEvery Thursday evening at 6 p.m. and Sunday morning at 9:30 am, josh (wolf) instructs folks from a wide variety of backgrounds in the tradition of Kundalini yoga, via Yogi Bhajan “who introduced kundalini yoga to the West in the late ’60s.” Under the title SoSLo BAB (South St. Louis bliss and bodyworks), the classes last longer than many, each session unfolding over roughly two-hours, with the effects definitely felt for hours afterwards.

The work, according to the Facebook page “is a safe & healthful combination of movement, breathing & meditation… classes are open to all levels, from absolute beginners to the well-practiced.”

While there’s definitely a goodly dose of physicality involved, the class has a heavy component of breath work, as opposed to disciplines that emphasize intense stretching/poses. For those interested in trying the form, a good primer on Kundalini can be found at 3HO.org.

Though you can certainly bring your own mats, towels and water, everything needed for a single class is available onsite (2738 Chippewa, 63118) for those new to yoga (or those who are just forgetful). In lieu of a specific donation,  josh (wolf) suggests that “a fair exchange of energy is appreciated.”

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Iowa Buffet Cited for Burger Excellence

SLM_Cover_June_06_2016A recent round-up of the best burgers in St. Louis highlighted our very own Iowa Buffet. The St. Louis Magazine blurb on the classic joint reads:

“This is a place where the bartender doubles as a line cook—opening a bottle of Busch while building an affordable burger that might just be the best-kept secret on the South Side. On any given night, the round table in back hosts older patrons playing cards while Law & Order flickers silently on the TV. The menu offers myriad options, but stick with the Hankburger (single) or Tankburger (double), made in a tabletop oven that sizzles and smokes behind the bar. These succulent patties are small but thick and have the desired density that retains heat, juice, and flavor in each bite.”

Regulars, of course, know that the bar’s been a staple in the neighborhood for years, with a surprisingly large patio for smoking and socializing. It’s the inside of the tavern, though, that reminds you of days gone by, a real, classic, South City bar feel.

The burgers might be the hook that brings people in for the first time, giving this tucked-away, neighborhood gem a steady dose of new visitors, even as the business has maintained a core of regulars, some of them decades-long customers. Watching the two groups come together, talking over a beer, or two, is one of the highlights of every visit.

Happy to see this 20th Ward gem get some region-wide love.

Address:2727 Winnebago St.,63118
Phone: 314-776-8000
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, closed
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