The only way to explain why it has taken six months to bring you this post about CWEnder Boo McLoughlin, above, Director of the Craft Alliance, is that I haven't known where to start. My original intention was to introduce Boo, a friend for many years, as one of several directors of cultural institutions who live in the CWE ---the Central Library's Waller Maguire, The Repertory Theatre's Steve Woolf, the Art Museum's Brent Benjamin, St. Louis Actors' Studio's William Roth, etc.---but there is so much more of interest to know about her, and her connection to the neighborhood.
Boo, who has been director of the Craft Alliance since 2006, may be the only director of a cultural institution who follows her mother in the same role. Jody Kistner, Boo's mother, was the director of the Craft Alliance from 1965 to 1968 when the organization was located in the Central West End on McPherson east of Euclid. The institution moved to 6640 Delmar in 1969, and in 2008 opened a second location at the Kranzberg Arts Center in Grand Center.
Boo was four when her family moved from Chicago to 59 Maryland Plaza, a home her parents purchased from her maternal grandparents. Boo and her siblings attended City House, a short walk down Maryland (at Taylor). It was after the family moved to 15 Hortense Place, and the six children were between the ages of four and eighteen, that Jody Kistner became Director of Craft Alliance.
Boo describes the CWE in the '60s as being "The Golden Age." Stores such as Saks, Montaldo's, and Peck & Peck were on Maryland Plaza; Norton's Gallery and Ferrario were in the Terrace Building on Euclid; two galleries, the Sculpture Gallery at 388 N. Euclid (a co-op owned by 22 artists), and The Painter's Gallery, were located next door (where Kopperman's is). And the bohemian Europa 390 bar occupied the space where Duff's "annex" is now.
As Boo said, she was "drawn into the thread of the art-making world by the artists her parents entertained on Hortense Place." The Kistner children were encouraged to visit with the guests; one of the artists Boo remembers well was weaver Muriel Nezhnie Helfman, one of six founding members of the Craft Alliance. Eventually, Boo said, her father felt he had lost his wife to the Craft Alliance so, sadly, her mother resigned from that role in 1968.
I snapped Boo, above, mingling with attendees at the 2012 Hot Tea exhibition (see below) at the Delmar Craft Alliance location in early March. The annual teapot exhibition is the most popular of any of the shows the Craft Alliance organizes each year. Over the course of a year 63,000 people visit the two facilities.
Before taking the helm at Craft Alliance, Boo worked for a short stint at CAM (Contemporary) as Director of Educational Outreach. When she heard about the opening at the Craft Alliance, she applied on a whim. Nine months into her tenure as director, Nancy and Ken Kranzberg, whom she had met when she was working at CAM, approached her about opening a second Craft Alliance location in Grand Center. The idea of a location on Grand captured Boo's imagination because it would serve city residents. She believes that art provides a way to reach out to the community. The Kranzbergs offered a space in the Kranzberg Arts Center and spurred the capital campaign to raise $1M to make the move and build-out possible. Construction began at 501 N. Grand in January 2008, two years after Boo took the helm of Craft Alliance.
The gallery at the Kranzberg Arts Center is site-specific, meaning that visiting artists create art to fit the space. The art lives in that time and space, and the artist never exhibits the same way twice. I have shown several of the exhibitions that have been created there on these pages (see one example here). Craft Alliance at Grand Center has fabulous classroom space in the lower level for its many art classes, day-long workshops, and family events. The Art Department at St. Louis University also holds classes in the metal and fiber studios there. Those sessions fill up fast. Craft Alliance Grand Center also has individual studios for its popular "artists in residence" program, see earlier post here.
Boo McLoughlin learned at a young age that art has a transformative power to inspire. I find Boo's many accomplishments more than impressive, though she is quick to say that she has a wonderful staff who make her look good. I am also sure, because I knew her mother, that Jody would be so proud of her daughter for all that she has achieved as director of Craft Alliance.