Cover Stories

A Grand Culture: Grand Center Inc.

When the pandemic hit this spring, we were cut off from many of the cultural experiences that make St. Louis such a uniquely vibrant city. As things begin to reopen, it’s the perfect time to revisit and re-engage with Grand Center Arts District. The Midtown neighborhood is a destination for artistic experiences of all varieties. It’s the mission of Grand Center Inc., the developer, facilitator and connector for the district, to create an environment where that creative community can thrive.

Next year will mark the nonprofit’s 40th anniversary. What started as a real estate organization has evolved to become a support system for culture and the arts in the city. “The district is home to more than 60 organizations,” executive director Rich Simmons says. “This includes internationally renowned institutions like the Contemporary Art Museum and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, but also amazing smaller venues and groups that people may not have discovered yet. There is so much to explore here.”

The landscape of the district is constantly changing. Simmons notes that it is currently expanding in every direction. Exciting developments include the new Angad Arts Hotel. “It offers a one-of-a-kind experience that focuses on providing art at every juncture,” he says. Another new addition is The High Low, which is dedicated to the written and spoken word. The two-story building includes a cafe, library, gallery, performance space and workshops. Music lovers can look forward to the opening of The Sovereign, a 1,200-capacity venue.

While the neighborhood has a long history as an entertainment and arts district, it has been experiencing a revitalization since the 1980s thanks to Grand Center Inc. and other organizations such as The Fabulous Fox Theatre and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. “There is a unique blend of buildings, and the area has evolved and been redeveloped in interesting ways,” Simmons notes. For visitors looking to learn more about its history, he says there are regularly scheduled tours. Presented in partnership with the Missouri Historical Society and led by experienced guides, they explore the rich concentration of cultural and arts-related landmarks in the district. Information can be found on the Grand Center website.

To make all the district has to offer even more accessible to visitors, Grand Center Inc. is working on several projects, says Simmons. This summer, a new wayfinding and banner system is being installed, and plans are being developed for street and pedestrian lighting systems in blocks that currently are less trafficked. The organization’s website also is being updated. “It will be easier to learn what’s going on,” he explains. “The site also will help people make the most of their visits. If you have tickets to a show, you can see the great restaurants and bars in the area that you can visit before or after.”

Simmons notes that Grand Center Inc. always is looking for volunteers to help with its efforts to engage St. Louis culturally. “Sheltering in place opened a lot of people’s eyes to the importance of art in their lives,” he says. “Grand Center is a jewel of creative diversity in the city. We appreciate the support of the community to make it the best it can be.” 

For almost 40 years, Grand Center Inc. has been helping the creative community thrive in the Grand Center Arts District. Pictured on the cover: A view of Grand Boulevard circa 1925, the St. Louis Theater (now Powell hall) and the district today. For more information, call 314.289.1500 or visit grandcenter.org.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photos courtesy of Grand Center Inc.

Pictured at top: Strauss Park
Photo courtesy of Grand Center Inc.

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