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Venus Envy: a grassroots success story


Oscar Wilde was probably only half-serious when he wrote, "All art is quite useless," but unfortunately, there are many who agree completely with his statement. Public funding for the arts has declined over the years, and any politician brave enough to bring up the issue in this conservative, post-9/11 climate would be committing political suicide. So it seems that if local arts communities are going to flourish in the coming years, it's going to take hard work from everyday citizens -- it's going to take a grassroots effort.

A perfect model of this effort is Venus Envy. What started as a small, eleven-person invitational art show back in 1999 has since grown into a year-round organization that puts on a giant annual arts extravaganza. The show has also spread to three other cities up and down the Mississippi River (events are held in Baton Rouge, Memphis and Davenport, Iowa, which was just added this year). And last year, Venus Envy instituted a board of directors to plan year-round programming and fundraising efforts, some of which benefit St. Louis-area crisis shelters. Obviously, this art is far from useless.

But because of Venus Envy's clever, feminist name -- and the fact that the show includes only women artists -- some people might dismiss the events outright. Venus Envy spokeswoman and participating artista Dianna Lucas wishes to clear up any misconceptions: "Venus Envy does not exist because they are anti-men. It's just that we've functioned in a man's world for so long [that Venus Envy] gives women an opportunity for a venue and a voice."

And quite a voice it turns out to be, according to Lucas' figures. "[People should go] because it's the biggest art show in St. Louis -- about 5,000 people will attend," she says. "One of the criteria is that the artists have to be within a 150-mile radius of St. Louis, so it's all local work. This year about 150 submissions were made to the exhibition's jurors, who then narrowed it down to 49 visual artists, 30 performing artists and 5 culinary artists."

And all of this varied art is squeezed into three days of exhibitions and events in "The Grove" (4140, 4146 and 4162 Manchester Avenue). The first event is the preview party on Thursday, April 14, during which attendees may view the art that will appear in Venus Envy 2005, meet the artists and even purchase the works. This party runs from 6 to 8 p.m. and carries a $50 price tag. On Friday and Saturday nights (April 15 and 16), Venus Envy 2005 is held from 7 p.m. to midnight; admission is a suggested donation of $5 to $10. And what should you expect to see during these three days? Anything. Past shows have included sculpture, painting, collage, belly dancing, music, poets and even fire-breathers. Lucas is a photographer and says her work this year is about the possibilities and opportunities that she had growing up, versus those her daughter will have.

For more information about Venus Envy, call 314-865-0181; also has more details about the events, including a complete list of artists and a performance schedule.

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