Let Them Eat Art street party

by Nancy

face painting

face painting

Let Them Eat Art, an apparently annual event in Maplewood, Missouri, an inner ring suburb of Saint Louis, is among the best street parties we've attended. It's on a Friday night, advertised as 6 pm-11 pm.

Strong features include open stores and businesses, and a music stage as well as street musicians at various points along the main street in town and a side street that serves as a secondary hub.

I'm not sure about the origin of the name, but obviously people understand it to allude to Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake" statement. There's a costume contest judged at 9 p.m., and I've included a photo of some of the ladies who give big hair a whole different meaning. The percentage of people coming in costume in mid-July is low, but even a few people add character to the event.

Artists work on the spot either on the street just outside of businesses, or sometimes inside businesses.

Oh, and did I mention free nibbles inside many busineses, an effort to energize the windows of offices and stores whose windows usually aren't inspiring, and food and drink for purchase from sidewalk carts operated by the business behind them?

In a pocket park, an area has been set aside for selling art and crafts from a clotheline, and nearby there is more art, more music, and a homemade ice cream wagon that shoots flame out of the top! Pretty spectacular after dark, and very good ice cream in any case.

A church gave out free water, and some businesses or non-profits make it a point to have some inexpensive food or drink choices.

Entertainment this year also included belly dancers on the sidewalk and hoop dancers both in an underutilized shop window and on the sidewalk.

The area covered seems to vary from year to year, based on which businesses want to open their doors. While not providing any free food samples that I found, at least the spice shop stayed open this year--an important contribution.

The neighborhood reputation is changing from blue-collar and down-at-the-heels (with some justification) to a hip, young, urban place to be (with some justification). While stores are going out of business all the time, it seems, new businesses also are birthing, so it is a good place to pioneer a business. I actually think the business churn is helping the street party, as people come to see what's new.

One interesting challenge and lesson for other communities is that they keep all streets open to vehicular traffic. This makes for having to be careful as a driver, but I don't know of accidents. There is quite a bit of public parking in the area already, and all spaces were full pretty early this year. This requires people to walk in from pleasant residential areas, which is actually good for community reputation.

Yes, there's face painting, and this year an artist giving away small pieces of art. At least until the last hour or so, a family atmosphere is well maintained, despite the sale of alcohol on the street. There is enough to do and see and listen to that people seem to move along, rather than parking themselves at a bar permanently all night or drinking beers or margaritas one after another.

So, the lessons are well-dispersed music, well-dispersed art being done and sold outside (as well as at one very serious gallery), food both from restaurants and street carts and the occasional free snacks inside businesses, and something a little offbeat. In this case, the offbeat is dream interpretation, which was offered under makeshift tents right on a sidewalk. This year I saw about three separate little huddles, so I don't know if that was three different professionals or just people talking afterward about their dreams.

Behind this event is the city government's great system of resident e-mails by request, a really good poster up in the all the businesses well in advance, a postcard size version, and some more ordinary kinds of event advertising. Word of mouth has to be strong too, because it truly is one of the best street parties of the year.

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