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.)


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

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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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Wednesday at 5 p.m.: “R3 Prelude: The Vessel” at Nebula

basi_reclamation_wrap_3An event taking place inside one of the new storefront’s of Nebula got some attention through St. Louis Public Radio earlier today, as Willis Ryder Arnold highlighted the theatrical work R3 Prelude: The Vessel.

The work’s described on its Facebook page thusly: “St. Louis Reclamation Arts, in collaboration with LOA Presents ‘The Vessel’ a performance art prelude to the work unfolding in chapter 3 of The Reclamation Project (R3) taking place here in St. Louis with direct focus on our shared lived experience. This free ‘pop-up’ art show welcomes St. Louis into the world we create from the material that is discarded throughout the city. “

From Arnold’s piece:

When visual artist Basil Kincaid looked for a way to complete the Reclamation Project, a 4-year-long art project that creates art by remaking elements of St. Louis’ black heritage, he turned to his grandmother for inspiration.

A quilter who passed her knowledge to her children, Eugenia Kincaid taught her grandson a lot about preserving cultural traditions. He decided to put the same focus into his work.

“When I would wear one of my grandmother’s quilts you just feel that love,” Kincaid said. “So we wanted to do something about healing and about community and unity. The idea of stitching these materials from all around the city felt simple and direct.”

13239110_742115032596610_6268142167945131784_nThe performance will feature Kincaid, Audrey Simes, Eric Prospect White & Shea Brown, with sounds by Damon Davis. A post-show reception will take place at the neighboring St. Louis Hop Shop.

R3 will run from 5-7 p.m. at 3405 Jefferson, 63118. The full event invite page can be viewed here.

Those wishing to downloads tracks tied to the Reclamation project can visit:


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Wednesday Morning “Reboot” Yoga Now Offered on Jefferson

11084142_957095420975888_3007410871668966632_oFor the past few weeks, yoga teacher Constance Steinkamp has hosted Reboot, a 50-minute, mid-week refresh session, held on Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m. The class is a free perk for Nebulites, allowing them engage their mind, body and breath in the Great Room; those not belonging to Nebula can also take part, by ringing in at the front door before the start time.

“I would say that Reboot is just that,” Steinkamp says, “a recharge, a midweek pick-me-up. It helps you to get into your body, into embracing your fullest potential. I think of this style as a fluid meditation. The more tension that we can release from the body intrinsically releases tension from the mind. So that’s why the physical practice is so important. The fact of the matter is that we have bodies and if we’re holding a lot of tension in our body, it’ll create blockages; mentally, emotionally, socially. When we can work out the physical tension, it causes this visceral effect that enlivens the mind the creative process and your ability to feel inspired and enthusiastic about what you’re doing.”

She adds that “Another thing prominent throughout my teaching career is making yoga accessible to everyone. I find that my teaching varies from space-to-space. I’m always interested in teaching to the people that are right in front of me. I don’t have a preconceived notion of ‘this is what it is.’ I feel like a bit of a chameleon in that I want to make it accessible and appropriate to the people I’m teaching that day.”

For Nebulites, she feels that “maybe we won’t get into chanting in this space, for example; it’s more about releasing. I’m thinking of people who are sitting at a desk all day; a lot of techies. I know when I’m sitting at a desk, I’m building tension in my neck and shoulders. So, at Nebula, my focus is on guiding a practice which releases tension from a person who is sitting at a desk much of their time.”

Steinkamp’s been practicing yoga for a dozen years, starting out with an ashtanga practice at the old Marbles studio in Lafayette Square and moving through a variety of coursework, studios and teachers since. She became a teacher, herself, in 2012, after a year-plus spent living in ashrams in India. She’s also practiced and taught in the American west, in California, Oregon and Arizona, as well as a summer spent living in New York. Noting that she’s been “bouncing” through St. Louis for the past few years, she also co-operated a collective/yoga space called Annex, just around the corner on Cherokee, now home to the TOCO Shop.

“It seems that basically since I’ve found yoga, I’ve been in-and-out of St. Louis wandering around doing what feels right, following directions that feel good,” Steinkamp says. “I’m starting to feel inspired to make something a little more substantial. I’m doing the full-time yoga thing now; I’m studio manager at Shanti Yoga in Maplewood, as well as offering a full schedule of classes.

1965542_726891867351513_2061285882_oClasses in other settings may be longer than the class at Nebula. Yet she says that while the session at Nebula may be compact, it can be a part of a larger whole of healthy, aligned living. And good work can be done in three-quarters of an hour.

“The ultimate goal of yoga is to become the observer,” she says. “The experiencer of the experience, if you will. When you’re in alignment – your body, muscles, bones — you’re able to work more efficiently, you’re at a more-peaceful place in your heart and mind, you’ll connect with the world in a way that’s more-cohesive.”

With Wednesday’s Reboot session, Steinkamp also feels that she’s adding something to the culture of Nebula.

“I think it’s important, in this kind of space, to bring people together in a community aspect,” she says. It’s good to have healthy engagements together, to have that balance. This is what I’m trying to bring to the table: a way to connect to one another on a different level..”

“That’s what’s great about Nebula,” she adds. “It’s a co-working space that’s all about connecting with each other and working on whatever it is you’re working on, and seeing if there’s a possibility for collaboration. That is yoga, in a sense: the union of people in harmony with each other to create larger vision. You can’t do that as an individual satellite floating around in outer space. You need to be connected.”

The next Reboot is Wednesday, May 25; a limited number of mats are provided, or bring your own. Class starts at 8 a.m. sharp and is over by 9 for those drop-in members using the Great Room. Non-members can also join in for a minimum $5 donation.


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