Vacancy is part of the everyday in North Saint Louis where vacant buildings and lots dominate chunks of neighborhoods and interrupt blocks. While living with vacancy can have negative effects on the surrounding communities and the city as a whole, to observe beyond this blight has the potential to inspire dialogue, build community and develop a vision for the future.
The former Pruitt–Igoe site is currently an impressive urban forest that grew over the 33-acres that remained after the housing project was leveled. Through my exploration of the history and space, Pruitt-Igoe began influencing my art practice in 2010. Researching the ecology of the Pruitt-Igoe forest inspired me to transform a vacant site in the Old North neighborhood into a green space to serve as a safe haven for bees with plenty of sources of nectar from growing flowers. This action created an ecosystem on this vacant site, and now serves as a living classroom for community art and educational workshops. Once residents, visitors and passers-by could see all this activity taking shape, the site itself began to engage the public by encouraging conversations and interactions with the potential to strengthen the community. Observing vacancy in this manner can begin to reveal interventions like this as public art.
Creative Placemaking, Socially Engaged Practice, or Community-based Art can all be used to describe an artist working within a community to address issues or needs. Much like our lot in Old North, the Pruitt–Igoe site today can also be viewed as public art by redirecting the conversation surrounding its history to both memorialize the past and embrace the future. Together as a city we have the ability to transform one of the worst failures of public housing into a leading example of revitalization.
Juan will be one of the panelists at the upcoming Monument / Anti-Monument Conference, April 10-12 in St. Louis.
Photos by Juan William Chavez