A Hyde Park community-art project and the people who brought it to fruition

Sanders and Buddenhagen received the grant of $5,000, double the usual amount, but then had to raise an additional $15,000 in a month. "We learned fundraising on our feet," says Sanders.

A donation from Mallinckrodt proved to be a catalyst for others. "After that, it was magic," says Buddenhagen.

The representative of the ward, Ald. Freeman Bosley Sr., used his clout to find them a place to work, a shelter in the middle of the park, which served the ideal purpose of "a public space that is available to everybody," says Sanders.

Brendan Young Jr. and other members of the Hyde Park community survey their handiwork.
Jennifer Silverberg
Brendan Young Jr. and other members of the Hyde Park community survey their handiwork.

In a society that has grown increasingly obsessed by organizational structures, one of the appealing qualities of the Magic Carpet Mosaic project is the lack of structure. Anyone could come in and participate in whatever way he or she could. "The 4-year-olds were the first to come," Sanders remembers. Early participants were children from the poorest families in the neighborhood, those who roamed the park from the time school was out until the sun went down.

At first, people in the community were uncertain about who these women were and what they were doing. "Where's the boss?" was a common question, says Sanders. "It was hard for people to think we were artists, running our own job, and that we were getting paid for it. The best we could come up with, which people understood, was that we were teachers." Children, who came and worked on the mosaic of their own volition, would ask the artists for permission to leave.

Mosaic is a slow process, one that by its nature is communal and encourages interaction. "We've heard so many stories," says Buddenhagen. "When you put down mosaics, people talk and tell stories. We've been acquainted with the community in a real intimate way."

"The piece has been a challenge for people," Sanders adds. "A picture on the ground was a new idea. The business of mosaic is challenging as well. It teaches you a lot about color just looking at it. It's a thing that's unexpected in its form. It's something that draws people's attention."

"Even now," says Buddenhagen, "people drive by and stop and ask, "You made that with separate pieces?'"

"Because it's such a physical process," says Sanders, "you work first on a level of touch. It slows you down. All the kids slowed down when they worked.

"Even though there's this nice sense of independence, none of this has been solitary in any way. We couldn't have done this without local people who gave us continual support. This piece took its shape because of all the people who contributed to it."

The next day, under stormy afternoon skies, some 100 people who make up that community are huddled beneath a tent in the park for the mosaic's official dedication and unveiling. The television media is in attendance, too, and people are shaking their heads at the artists' ability to garner such attention to an area that usually only receives it when tragedy strikes.

Sanders and Buddenhagen are passing out golden apples affixed to black cords for participants in the project to wear about their necks, a memento of the 200 pounds of apples a local orchard donated for sustenance during the eight-week project.

"How did we do this, Saaba?" Sanders cries with exasperation and wonder.

At a podium under the tent, many, many people receive thanks from the artists. Young Chris Venuto gives a testimonial: "I was there from the first day to the last. I first saw it just as a project. I looked at it as a feeling of sadness and happiness, a feeling most people don't really get."

Ralph Bradshaw, a community resident, speaks of how "a lot of people believed it wouldn't work.... This community is not dead. It is not just fires and killing. We made something positive through this group."

The mosaic is unveiled, two figures caught in half-turn, departing while at the same time turning back. Buddenhagen explains the design concept: "We know one of the problems of St. Louis is people leaving the city, and in the poor parts of the city, when people succeed and leave, they never come back." So the figures serve as a gesture of unity, separate yet bound.

For a long time, people stand around silently, just looking.

"We're committed to Hyde Park," says Sanders. "You can't really abandon kids who let their guard down. They were there every day. If you just disappear for a couple of weeks, they feel it.

"As they saw the project was going to finish, they started expressing anxiety. Everybody from 50-year-olds to children don't want us to leave."

Sanders says she can't yet talk about future plans for the next project, but they'll be working on it in Hyde Park sometime soon.

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