Oh, My Landlord! The Luminary Center of the Arts is not a religious organization. But it's housed by one. Mystery solved.

Oh, My Landlord! The Luminary Center of the Arts is not a religious organization. But it's housed by one. Mystery solved.
Jennifer Silverberg
The Luminary's James and Brea McAnally

For the past few years, the vast second floor above the former Globe Variety Store at Cherokee Street and Ohio Avenue has been a hive of activity — a jungle of color and clutter and cheap beer, an artists' loft, a music venue/rehearsal space, a shelter for itinerant misfits in need of a place to crash for the night. Ergo the nickname its tenants bestowed upon their ragtag studio space:

Pig Slop.

As of August 1, though, Zak Marmalefsky, Chloe Bethany, Jonathan Muehlke and their fellow Pig Sloppers must vacate the 22,500-square-foot building to make way for a more ambitious and deep-pocketed tenant, the nonprofit Luminary Center of the Arts.

James and Brea McAnally
Jennifer Silverberg
James and Brea McAnally

Most members of the Pig Slop crew are accepting of their fate: It is, after all, the time-honored waltz of gentrification, a dance led by starving artists who accept sketchy environs in exchange for rock-bottom rents, elevate a neighborhood's cachet by their very presence, only to be given the bum's rush when the price per square foot exceeds their meager means.

A few, however, see in the current situation a deceitful scenario, fueled by a local-culture rumor mill that casts the Luminary as a religious outfit costumed in artsy garb, led by a missionary whose secret motive is to bring hipsters over to Christ's side.

The Luminary's current home is a former convent near the intersection of South Kingshighway and Arsenal Street, at the southwest corner of Tower Grove Park. The nonprofit group is the brainchild of twentysomething husband and wife James and Brea McAnally — he a deadpanning redhead from Mississippi, she a bubbly brunette from Sullivan. (You may have caught their rock duo, US English.) Together they established the Luminary in 2007, aiming to build a residency program to supply local artists with material and studio space. Within a short time, they'd become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that had reached that goal and then some.

By the summer of 2011, they'd exhibited work borrowed from the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York City. Although their basement performance space accommodates only 299 people, they lured indie-music darlings Of Montreal, who regularly sell out venues more than three times that size, to play a Fourth of July show. And they worked with the civic group Downtown Now! to present a series of concert-art hybrid events on the plaza across Locust Street from the Old Post Office.

They even forayed into print: In March 2011 James McAnally founded the Temporary Art Review, a journal of criticism, profiles and essays, whose June issue featured interviews with the artists at Pig Slop.

Last fall the McAnallys quietly toured the space, accompanied by owner Will Liebermann.

Then, on December 2, James McAnally e-mailed Pig Slop with an announcement: The Luminary intended to purchase the building and move in.

"I can't speak for everyone in the group, but we felt that [the McAnallys] went behind our backs and talked to our landlord," says Jonathan Muehlke, one of ten artists with studio space at Pig Slop.

The announcement was, to say the least, premature. In order to buy the building and commence a renovation, the McAnallys figured they'd need to raise a minimum of a half-million dollars. For an upstart nonprofit with an annual budget under $200,000, that's a big chunk of change.

The McAnallys claimed to have secured funding from well-heeled donors, seven of whom contributed in excess of $1,000 apiece. They also launched a campaign to raise $20,000 on Kickstarter.com, an online fundraising platform that brings eyeballs from around the world to otherwise obscure projects. In the allotted 60 days, the Luminary's proposal netted $22,244 from 341 backers.

Though well shy of $500K, the nonprofit seemed well on its way to carving out a space on Cherokee.

"It was really troubling for me personally because I'd spent two years cultivating that space," says Muehlke, who was one of the first artists to sublease a studio there. "It was really psychologically stressful for a lot of us."

Muehlke had heard through the grapevine that the Luminary was operating rent-free in the old red-brick convent on Kingshighway. With a little online digging, he learned that the space was a donation from a recently established church called the Journey, which is headquartered next door. When he discovered that the McAnallys were members of the church, Muehlke wondered just how deep the relationship went.

On April 1, Muehlke unearthed a video on the Journey's website. Dated November 2010, the video included an interview with James McAnally, whom the host introduced as one of "the men who lead our nonprofit ministries here at the Journey." A 40-minute Q&A followed, in which McAnally fielded questions about how his day-to-day interactions with artists mesh with his mission to communicate the Gospel.

Muehlke says he was so taken aback by the dialogue that he watched it twice. "The first time I thought: 'What is this?' The second time, I thought: 'This is kind of serious.'"

Muehlke interpreted the exchange between McAnally and his interlocutor as evidence that the Luminary's cofounder might be a covert prosthelytizer. He posted the video on his Facebook page and commented: "Pig Slop is getting displaced by a funding organization with Christian roots.... I have nothing wrong with Christians; my father is a pastor. I just have something wrong with passive aggressive forms of religious jingoism."

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