50 Years of Building Community

50 Years of Building Community

Boo McLoughlin

Boo McLoughlin, Craft Alliance’s executive director, at the opening of Susan Taylor Glasgow's “Communal Nest.” Photo: Courtesy of Craft Alliance

Craft Alliance
Delmar Loop
6640 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63130
314-725-1177

Grand Center
501 N. Grand Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63103
314-534-7528

 

In 1964, a group of 15 makers in St. Louis opened Craft Alliance as a venue for their work, and it grew into much more. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the nonprofit opened its second location in 2008; it offers classes for all ages and abilities, galleries, a retail shop at the Delmar location, and outreach efforts designed to serve the city’s racially and economically diverse population.

“Our programs bring together people who would never bump into each other at any other place. We create the opportunity for a unique kind of community,” says Boo McLoughlin, executive director since 2006. Her own connection to Craft Alliance is longstanding and personal: When she was little, her mother, the late Jody Kistner, was its first director.

It’s really something that you now hold the same position your mother once did.
I grew up around Craft Alliance. It’s an amazing organization that has had an impact on so many lives. People I met through my mother’s work formed my way of looking at the world. I learned about the transformative power of art, of making art available to people who might not have it otherwise.

Craft Alliance was founded with a vision of “Education for All.” What has that meant in practice?
The artists who started Craft Alliance were very progressive. They felt they needed to make classes accessible to kids who lived in the area but couldn’t afford tuition. So being inclusive has been a part of our mission from the beginning.

Tell us about Crafting-A-Future, one of your signature programs.
It’s a fabulous program for talented high school students. They work with artists in our studios, and at the end of the term they have an exhibition in our gallery. Many go on to art school and get big scholarships, because their portfolios are impressive and their ability to articulate what they’re trying to do with their art is highly developed. One of our ceramics students, Kahlil Irving, is now a senior at the Kansas City Art Institute, on a full scholarship. He’s won student awards all over the country, spent time in Hungary at a potters’ workshop. He’s doing amazing work.

When we opened our Grand Center facility, we started an artist residency program. The kids in Crafting-A-Future get to know the artists-in-residence, and it really affects their perspective on what’s possible. They see people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s making their way in the world as artists.  

At 50, how does Craft Alliance continue to change and grow?
We’re taking advantage of opportunities presented by technology. We opened a graphics studio in 2008 and added 3D printers last spring. There was a bit of debate, with some artists saying, “This is manufacturing.” But people in our studios want to work with whatever is there. If you’re a clay artist and you can create a more complex design using a 3D printer, why not?

In our galleries, we want to open up thinking. We stay connected to ancient craft traditions but also present work that is contemporary, conceptually and in terms of the use of materials. We conceived our Grand Center gallery as site-specific, to allow us to show installation work that animates the entire space, vertically and horizontally. It challenges what the community thinks craft is.

Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.