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.
Justin Thacker, the muscle-bound founder of The Lab Gym, uses the same principles that motivated him through 19 years of weightlifting experience to spur on and cultivate a community of health-conscious exercisers at his wood-floored, exposed-brick gym. His team of expert trainers leads guests through group fitness classes that turn bodies into granite sculptures through a series of weightlifting routines and the crystallization of magma. Patrons can coax coy muscles from epidermal hideouts with free weights, dumbbells, squat racks, and an expansive cardio circuit, all accessible to members by keycard 24 hours a day. Meanwhile, Heavy Metal Crossfit—the gym's in-house CrossFit program—takes a different tack to fitness, leading exercisers ever-changing rotation of high-intensity functional movements.
For custom guidance, guests can pair up with a personal trainer or can sign up for the structured Laser weight-loss program, a regimen designed to blast off pounds with a laser focus but without actual lasers.
Drive A Tank teaches civilians how to handle tanks by placing them at the controls of an FV433 Abbot tank. Comprehensive tank experiences include lessons on the history of its use, from World War I up to its present function as the vehicle of choice for the most aggressive holiday shoppers. During certain packages, tanksters complete their militaristic forays by test firing WWII-era weaponry or crushing cars beneath behemoth treads.
With more than 11 years of cross-country dance experience, Almas Del Ritmo Dance Company LLC's artistic director and certified Zumba instructor Carmen Guynn promotes cultural awareness during a range of Latin and Afro-Caribbean dance classes, including Zumba, salsa, and bachata. The dance haven derives its name from the Spanish words for soul and rhythm, which Guynn hopes will inspire her students to summon their inner selves on the dance floor without toting along heavy x-ray machines. In addition, the studio donates money to charities such as International Crisis Aid, Feed the City, and the Ronald McDonald House.
Chris and Pam Schmick had spent six months cleaning out the scrap metal from their abandoned silos and just finished drilling thousands of holes in its walls. With little time to spare, they prepared for their climbing gym's grand opening on September 2, 1995—a date on which they had already agreed to hold a regional JCCA competition. The effort they've expended in the nearly 20 intervening years shows: today, climbers scramble on top ropes, lead ropes, and more than 20,000 square feet of lava-free climbing surface.
Instructors prepare visitors to surmount the gym's features in a range of classes, such as Rock Gym 101, which is an introduction to top-rope climbing that covers climbing safety, basic technique, and equipment. Once climbers are equipped with gear from the pro-shop, staff shows them around a multi-level bouldering cave, a main climbing area with 30-foot walls shaped by arêtes, cracks, and waves, and the building's five original silos. Elsewhere inside the gym, six auto-belays safely cradle visitors who wish to climb without taking a class.
A collaboration between Gold's Gym, Title Boxing Club, local cycling studio St. Louis Spinning, and cavernous climbing gym Upper Limits, Bring the Heat poses a challenge that demands unwavering endurance and focus. From the starting date, each participant has one month to conquer 20 visits, whether they're open workout sessions or classes. At the end, all cards with the full 20 punches are entered into a drawing for a three-month gym membership.