The astronauts deftly dodge the oncoming trickle of rocks and debris from the meteor shower, and as the rubble clears they see the Moon up ahead. It is at this site that they’ll soon establish the first permanent human base. Though it sounds like science fiction, novice astronauts attempt this feat daily at Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis. Part of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education—a nonprofit founded by the families of the astronauts who died in the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle mission—the center educates visitors in science and teamwork with its space simulators. Whether navigating a spacecraft or abetting astronauts at a Mission Control modeled after NASA’s Johnson Space Center, student, community, and corporate groups must maintain a cooperative spirit while rocketing to Mars, assembling a probe, or stealing one of Saturn’s rings.
Cornerstone Corporation aims to provide new roofs and weatherproofing for two houses to ensure a warm, dry winter. The homes accommodate two single-parent families and a third cornerstone resident. The current roofs have been patched many times and are still weathered and leaking. A group of volunteers will tear off the existing roofs in preparation for Republic Roofing to install new ones. Cornerstone Corporation is in need of funds to purchase tools, tarps, and supplies and to rent dumpsters so the volunteers can remove the existing roofs.
In 1981, a group of North St. Louis residents gathered together to solve a problem: the decline of their historic neighborhood. Together, they formed the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the history and culture of North St. Louis, which dates back to 1816. Today, the group focuses its time and manpower on maintaining and restoring historically significant buildings. In addition to construction and demolition projects, the group's staffers hold annual festivals and events to raise money for surrounding businesses, support local artists, and fund a grocery co-op aimed at bringing locally sourced produce to North St. Louis.
Operation Food Search’s Operation Backpack program distributes nutritious weekend meals to chronically hungry children, as identified by their teachers or administrators. Each Friday for 32 weeks during the school year, each child enrolled in the program discreetly receives a backpack filled with simple recipes, nutrition information, and nutritious food that they can easily prepare and eat at home. Each backpack contains canned fruit, canned vegetables, two cereal items, two entrees, a dairy item, and two healthy snacks, providing enough wholesome food for two days' worth of meals.
Fire. Hammers. A pottery wheel. Some of humanity’s most elemental and primitive tools, yet into the 21st century they remain. And Craft Alliance Program Director Susan Donahue Yates attests that they’re some of the coolest. With each season’s catalog of classes, some of the most popular, according to Yates, let students play with fire, hammer metal into jewelry, or shape a lump of clay into something as fundamentally beautiful as a baby seal mimicking the Mona Lisa’s wry smirk.
At Craft Alliance, the focus is art in all its forms. Whether the tool is the raw flame fusing cut copper or a Mac loaded with Photoshop image-editing software, the intention to inspire and to create remains the same. Its two locations schedule seasonal terms with four- to six-week classes, as well as intensive workshops and children’s classes. Guiding each student along his or her adventure, skilled faculty instruct from experience. Most are working artists who exhibit their work and who have reaped their experience from the trenches of the art world.
Craft Alliance is not just empowering people with knowledge; they are also helping people make mugs, bowls, wooden spinning tops, rings, rugs, and digital photo albums. Many of these things are practical and serve a functional purpose. But many do not—they’re just beautiful things, like vestigial tails. A good number of these pieces are created by hand and are meant to remind us, as Yates remarked, that everyone can do something different from their everyday, workaday lives by adding beauty to a world that truly needs it.
The student and faculty artists backbone the Craft Alliance community, which in 2014 celebrates its 50th anniversary. The Grand Center location represents a regeneration of an arts district already pillared by the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Powell Symphony Hall, and St. Louis University.