Midway through a conversation about the state of Artica in its third year, co-founder Nita Turnage laughs at the suggestion that although she and her group of artists have done everything "wrong," everything turns out right for Artica (www.artica.org). Is there a lesson to be learned in Artica's borderline-guerilla existence, eschewing frills such as official sanctions from the City of St. Louis, corporate sponsorships and any hope for material gain? Can city revivalists learn something from Artica's "make something beautiful, and they will come downtown" ethic?
"If there's a lesson in here, please tell me what it is," Turnage pleads.
The two-day celebration of the creative spirit (Saturday and Sunday, September 18 and 19), held along a twelve-block stretch of the Mississippi riverfront bordered by Mullanphy and Biddle streets, and Broadway and the river, exists mainly because of the drive of the participants. And when entering Artica, one becomes a participant. "Even though we have artists creating art there, almost everything done there encourages people to participate and not just be entertained," says Turnage. From the Boat of Dreams Parade that opens the festival at noon on Saturday, where people construct biodegradable watercraft, fill them with their dreams and then release them in the river, till 7 p.m. Sunday, Artica will exist as a city within the city. Citizens of this new city are urged to be responsible for themselves, to respect the area and each other, and to have a good time by taking part in the art. Turnage wonders if this last part isn't the most difficult for people to accept.
"People are a little nervous about coming in and being responsible for making themselves happy," she notes. Perhaps it is the friction caused by people who don't consider themselves artists interacting with works designed to awaken their souls that makes Artica successful. Imagine a city where one encounters Leef Armontrout's Contemplative Space, a meditation area encircled by flame, and Jennifer Shull's Juniper's Pancake Palace, where one helps makes pancakes over an open fire, while the Celestial Theatre performs their two-day-long epic play, Crisis of the Sol, throughout the city. Everywhere is art created to dazzle your eye, to engage your spirit and to help you be happy. Is this better than high-cost lofts and single-purpose stadiums? Can Artica promise so much and deliver? Do we as a community deserve it? The past two years have proven Artica can create this city and that we do deserve it.
Turnage credits more than just the artists, Artica's hard-working board and the volunteers and participants for the success. "There's something esoteric about it. I don't wanna get too cheesy," she claims, "but I'm going to. I really think that, somehow, this was meant to happen, and that something is on our side. Whatever it is, I don't know. It'll have its time. I mean, it may not last forever there, but for some reason, all these artists were meant to come in and put a good, positive energy in that space. And so I think everything has remained positive. And we've remained positive. And we've tried to keep from polluting it with commercialism, which I think tends to turn things negative right away."
There's your lesson right there.