Talk of the Towns

Talk of the Towns: 5.20.20

There is little doubt St. Louis once again will be the vibrant, active city we all love. But we don’t know when, nor do we have any idea how the pandemic will have changed our lives. Here is the second in a series of responses from The Lou’s best and brightest to this question: What have you learned during this time, and what are your hopes for St. Louis in the months ahead?

Bill DeWitt III
Team president, St. Louis Cardinals
“The shutdown has made me appreciate things that I used to take for granted. For example, with the Cardinals, we’ve always been focused on winning on the field, developing fans and building the next improvement downtown. I realize now that while those things are very important, the most important thing is the basic ability to gather as a community and celebrate moments together. We are missing that now, and I look forward to getting back to those moments.”

Carol Weisman, MSW
CEO, Board Builders
“My clients who have a contingency/resiliency plan are sleeping at night. Shannon Laine, executive director of Healthworks!, wrote a brilliant plan, assuming that the museum would not open for the rest of the year. Her board was thrilled. Rainbow Village made almost as much money with a virtual event as they did with an in-person gala. It is noteworthy that they had corporate donations in place before the pandemic. St. Louis businesses stepped up and paid their pledges (to GO! St. Louis, for example). I am still upset that I once again did not win the raffle to Paris, but it looks like international travel is off the table, so I’ll try again next year.”

Jane Ellen Ibur
St. Louis poet laureate
“In this sad time with people sick and dying, I hope we’ve kept in touch with friends and family, especially those who are alone. I hope we’ve learned to not delay, to take nothing for granted. I hope we have learned patience and gratitude—for health care workers, for friends, for love. I hope the positive drowns out the negative, that we are more loving than we were before.”

Sam Page, M.D.
St. Louis County executive
“So many heroes have emerged during this crisis: Our health care workers. Our first responders. Our bus drivers. Our grocery store workers. The volunteers at food pantries. The list goes on and on.

“Without a vaccine, we have to rely on each other to get through this. That includes staying home when possible, social distancing when out and wearing fabric masks. Through all of the anxiety and fear, we are working together. This virus has hit our community hard, but not at the levels we’ve seen in other parts of the country and the world.

“My immediate priority is getting more people tested with funding through the federal CARES Act. Until we have more testing and a better understanding of the scope of this virus, we cannot relax some of the restrictions we have in place. I’m working closely with our municipal leaders and business groups to help us craft a gradual reopening of our county. People need to get back to work as soon as safely possible so we can get our economy rolling again.”

Jim Wipke, Ed.D.
Superintendent, Ladue School District
“As adults, the most important attribute we can demonstrate right now is the importance of finding balance in life, in hopes that our children will follow our lead. There is so much for us, as adults, to balance—our need to be the teachers/counselors, to manage our home life, to try to maintain a job and put food on the table, and to deal with the anxiety of the unknown.

“We all need to find the balance that fits our own family, our own children and our own home. Balance out the pressures with smiles, laughter, a walk in the neighborhood, a text to a friend or family member to tell them you are thinking about them, and moments for yourself. Yes, we are all in this together—however, our individual needs can be quite different, and the need to create balance in our lives, as well as in the lives of our children, is a necessity.

“Educators have changed and adapted more in the past two months than they have been called to do at any other time in the history of public school education. As a result, we are sure to serve our students even better going forward.”

Patricia Richards
Owner, Embroider the Occasion
“We have learned that it is important to take care of your customers like family; we always have, and the outpouring of their support during this crisis has been nothing short of amazing. We also have learned that you have to look forward, focusing on the positive as you rebound. We made a pivot during this crisis to launch a new sister company called Above the Brow Hats as a means to generate new revenue and develop a product that allows people to show gratitude, hope, kindness and style in an innovative way. Our hope for the future is that ‘togetherness’ continues and we all work hard to support our local businesses.”

notable neighbor
It may seem strange that a man with a legendary career in rock ’n’ roll is quite the jazz aficionado. Steve Schankman is the creative juggernaut who has brought thousands of rock shows to the metro, so one might think he saw The Beatles or The Stones first. Yes, he’s a certified baby boomer (and musician, of course) who really hit his stride in the late ‘60s, founding his renowned Contemporary Productions 52 years ago, in 1968. But his first-ever concert wasn’t a wild and crazy rock show. He took in the relatively mellow, sophisticated jazz stylings of The Dave Brubeck Quartet. He likely tapped his foot to Take Five—and didn’t stand up to scream for them to return with Blue Rondo à la Turk. And, no, he didn’t flick his Bic overhead for an encore. (Well, disposable lighters wouldn’t come on the scene until the early ‘70s.)

Schankman had already brought in The Four Tops and Chicago for high school dances. Then, in what seemed like all of 20 minutes, Schankman was up to his elbows promoting and staging rock concerts, more likely spending time with an artist in the green room, not shoulder to shoulder with a sweaty crowd. These days, that would be too, well, real. Back in the day, there certainly wasn’t 6 feet separating fans. And no one wore a mask (even Kiss only had on kabuki makeup).

Now, and for the foreseeable future, Schankman is creating state-of-the-art virtual events. Yes, many are concerts, as artists have had to skip arenas and clubs for online performances. Often, the sparkling jewel at any event is the entertainment, from comedians (Cedric The Entertainer, Dennis Miller) to top artists (Idina Menzel of Wicked; John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival). “Live-streaming is more like watching a movie, but it has all of the elements of a live production,” Schankman says. An aside: Worst-case scenario, in April, trade publication Pollstar predicted the concert industry could lose almost $9 billion if quarantines don’t lift by year’s end—and that figure doesn’t include associated businesses such as transportation, production, marketing, concessions, security and sponsorships.

Against that backdrop, Schankman is proud there have been no furloughs or layoffs at his company since COVID-19 struck just two months ago and he pivoted to significant virtual capabilities. Schankman notes solutions are at hand for full-spectrum messaging, event and entertainment services: virtual business meetings, large conferences, interactive charity platforms and virtual reality—not to mention national recording artists. Contemporary has quite the portfolio. Take, for example, its framed 1977 contract for Billy Joel’s services … for $1,250! “We brought The Grateful Dead to St. Louis, hosted the first SUPERJAM in 1976, and gave Riverport Amphitheatre to us all,” Schankman says. “We’ll continue to lead the way in the virtual landscape.”

Based at Carondelet Plaza in Clayton, with offices in L.A. and Naples, Florida, Contemporary has produced upwards of 22,000 concerts and events worldwide, many for top-tier clients such as Disney, SSM Health, Worldwide Technology, Wash. U. and the American Cancer Society.


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