Artistic Drive: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Salvatore Scarpitta's S.A.L. Haist

It’s hard to say whether art imitates life or vice versa, but the best of both worlds is on full display every time the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) throws a party. The museum in Grand Center is known for its fresh, colorful, avant-garde fundraising celebrations, replete with wildly costumed guests and inspiring visual imagery.

CAM’s next mind-bending bash is its DRIVE Gala Feb. 24 at Palladium and Joule in Lafayette Square. Its theme is a nod to the life and work of late New York artist and auto racer Salvatore Scarpitta, whose Racing Cars exhibit is at the museum through April 22. Scarpitta is known for his three-dimensional representations of travel and motion, including automobiles, sleds and other pieces. “This show is broadly appealing,” executive director Lisa Melandri says of Racing Cars. “Even if you’ve never seen yourself as a contemporary art fan, this exhibit offers a wonderful opportunity to learn about it.”

The fundraiser will offer its own avenues for creative expression, according to Melandri. Past patrons can attest that CAM gala guests aren’t just attendees, they are part of the show. This year, everyone is encouraged to don racing gear to fit the DRIVE theme, but they can wear cocktail attire if they prefer. “I envision people in pit crew uniforms, racetrack overalls, leather, boots, even helmets,” Melandri says. “We’ve reached out to various auto clubs and are sure racing enthusiasts will be just as excited about attending as art enthusiasts.” The gala theme dovetails perfectly with CAM’s mission of ‘driving the future’ through visual culture and art education, Melandri adds. The museum is producing a video about Scarpitta to be shown at the gala, and guests will enjoy dinner and an auction while they learn more about his work.

The event also supports CAM’s efforts to help students find their creative voices. “We love being good neighbors and working with high schools and universities,” Melandri says. “We’re especially proud of relationships like the one we have with Vashon High School. It had no arts program for about five years, so the staff asked if we would help with a new curriculum.” CAM staff visits schools and also brings students to the museum for intensive education programs. In fact, the work of Vashon students is on display during the Scarpitta exhibit, and they were included in its opening reception. “It’s thrilling for the students to have their work handled by professional installers and shown alongside well-known artists,” Melandri says. “They get to see what it means to be mentored and take their place next to talent of Scarpitta’s stature.”

Melandri describes the late artist as an innovator and risk-taker who forged his own path. “He also was an important teacher and mentor for young artists, so he embodied all of the attributes that are central to CAM’s mission,” she says. “Like him, we are creating resources for the next generation of artists, and bringing young people and the public into the future with us.”

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is located in the Grand Center Arts District and presents changing exhibitions and programs that inspire artists and art lovers. Pictured on the cover: Gala co-chairs Amy Soper and Libby Goldstein with executive director Lisa Melandri. Styling by Neiman Marcus at Plaza Frontenac. For more information about the Drive Gala Feb. 24, call 314.535.0770, ext. 213, or visit

Cover design by Cydney Moore | Cover photo by Bill Barrett

Pictured at top: Salvatore Scarpitta’s S.A.L. Haist—Railduster SPL., 1966
Photo: Stella Alba Cartaino

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is located in the Grand Center Arts District and presents changing exhibitions and programs that inspire artists and art lovers.
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