Urban. The word is at the root of UrbArts (2600 N. 14th Street)
, the four-year-old multiple disciplinary arts organization and gallery in Old North. But the meaning may not be what you think.
“For some people it means black, but for us, it meant that we are operating in a urban setting and that we are here to support urban communities, and if they happen to be communities of color, so be it,” explains MK Stallings, the organization's executive director.
A St. Louis native, Stallings grew up in the Normandy area and ultimately went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The idea for the organization started with a small group of friends who ran an open mic event inspired by the R&B artist Maxwell. It was called Urban Hang Suite and held at north county’s Heritage Cafe. That led to Stallings becoming a partner in Legacy Books and Cafe, from 2000 to 2003. (Then located in the Loop, the business has now moved further east on Delmar.)
Stallings credits the popular rapper LL Cool J for his introduction to the arts, particular his song “I’m Bad.”
“I’ve always wanted to be in hip hop in some kind of way,” he says, adding, “I always saw myself as a writer, but I found that my greatest capacity for invention came through creative writing.”
Stallings founded a nonprofit organization in 2001, and as its mission grew, it searched high and low for place to call home. It later found that home in Old North St. Louis. UrbArts opened its doors there in 2014.
Since then UrbArts has created a safe space for creatives of all kinds to come together and showcase talents and network. It is home to a collective group called the Therapeutics, which hosts the area’s largest weekly open night, a Sunday evening event called Lyrical Therapy that combines hip hop, jazz , spoken word and other genres. UrbArts also offers a program called Urban Artist Alliance that supports artists financially who want to use the space for events, as well as making the venue available to the public for rental. “I wanted to figure out a way that we can organize our talents for the benefit of young people as well as each other,” says Stallings.
(C) HOLLY ROE
Work by Holly Roe, as photographed by Bukky Gbadegesin.
UrbArts also presents shows in its gallery — including, currently, Flowing on Rocks
, by local artist Holly Roe, which runs through June 24.
Stallings says the mid-career artist takes the controversial subjects of past and present day and brings them to the light. ”It might be a gut punch but its one that you can not resist, its one you have to experience,” Stallings says. (If you want to take a look before Roe’s show closes, the gallery is open Thursday, June 21, from 6 to 10 p.m. and opens Sunday at 6 p.m. It’s free on Thursday night and free for the first hour Sunday. Stallings notes, “Holly is our record-holder for the most sales during an opening night of $2,100.00. Small for other galleries but significant for us.")
For Stallings, the city’s art scene is one where the only constant is change. “It’s always refreshing itself,” he says. “You got a lot of artists that are young, and if they’re in town or decide to stay in town for a few years they can really shape what a scene looks like.”
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