Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Bigger ZMD?

A Bigger ZMD?

According to and Jo Mannies Political Fix, four African-American history and culture groups may be added to the Zoo-Museum District, as a new "African American History Museum and Cultural sub-district" if voters approve in April 2006.

This is long overdue. Kansas City celebrates its black heritage in many ways; and while other cities like New York and Chicago have much more famous representations, St. Louis is still a crucial part of the African-American experience, as one of the destinations illustrated in Jacob Lawrence's "The First Wave of the Great Migration (1916-1919) - part I".

The four organizations proposed to benefit are:
–The Black World History Museum on St. Louis Avenue;
–Better Family Life Inc., an already pretty well-funded agency (but with no web site?) that has long talked about developing a cultural center at Union and Cabanne;
– The Juneteenth Heritage and Jazz Festival;
— the Harambee Institute, which teaches jewelry-making and various performing arts.

Here are my concerns:

- How will the funds be distributed? Lois Conley has, over the past decade or so, struggled to developed the Black World History Museum into an interesting attraction. I think she deserves some help. However, would Better Family Life, with their greater organizational capacity and weight to throw around, end up getting the lion's share of the funding? Would the Juneteenth Festival only get funding for the annual weekend festival, or would they be able to do more educational programming?

- If this is on the April '06 ballot, what's the turnout likely to be? I expect if there's nothing else major on that election ballot in the City or the County, it'll probably pass easily because of low turnout. However, if there's a tax increase in, say, Mehlville or Lindbergh, a lot of racist, anti-tax white voters might come out and vote "no" on everything that involves a tax increase.

- How will African-Americans who live in North St. Louis County or South St. Louis City be served by these organizations? They all seem to be pretty much based in the near north and west sides of the city. And to the extent this can promote redevelopment of those communities, it's great. But the entire community needs to be considered as well, if their support is to be garnered in the election.

Two related issues that might cause concern are:

- The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra eventually may want to hook into the ZMD, too. They've failed at it once before, but perhaps this is a better time for it. Or perhaps not.
- There's been talk of expanding the ZMD to surrounding counties, particularly St. Charles and possibly even Illinois. Would voters in those jurisdictions - who, let's face it, include a lot of pretty racist people - be disinclined to support a ZMD that included an African-American cultural center?

Overall, I think this is a great idea; I just am concerned that campaign logistics and strategy need to be developed more thoroughly.


Anonymous said...

So now we open the flood gates to any and all institutions to this tax. Why not also the SLSO, the Fox, the Rep, the Black Rep, the City Museum, the Magic House, Laumeir Sculpture Park? Where does it end?

Locals pay this tax in part to attend things like the zoo and science center for free or at least reduced rates for city and county residents. Will these added recipients at least charge their taxpayers less in admission?

Joe said...

Well, the voters in both the City and the County would still have to approve this, so I wouldn't exactly call it "open[ing] the flood gates."

I would support adding the Black Rep to this particular group. As for the City Museum, it's a for-profit now. So is Fox Associates.

Laumeier is already partly funded by St. Louis County itself. In fact, I think somebody several years back proposed adding several St. Louis County institutions to the ZMD, such as the Faust Park Carousel, Museum of Transportation, etc. I don't think that would be a bad thing, either.

SLSO has already been proposed for addition to the ZMD, as I mentioned. I think the enabling legislation was passed something like 20 years ago, when Slatkin was still conductor.

Many of the orgs mentioned also get Regional Arts Commission funding or Missouri Arts Council funding. This is just an effort to establish a dedicated revenue stream.

And, although most of the current ZMD institutions are free admission, the Missouri Botanical Garden is not free. Except, of course, on Wed. and Sat. mornings.

Anonymous said...

MOBOT isn't free except the times mentioned, but the Garden does charge less admission to City and County residents living in the ZMD.

Why doesn't this group of proposed additions first seek out other funding sources just as non-ZMD institutions have for years?

The non-inclusion of the Black Rep shows how narrow this new grouping truly is as representative of African-American cultural institutions. The new black St. Louis is in the County and South City. And by adding more City institutions to a tax mostly funded by the County won't sit well with voters.

Joe said...

All good points. I am concerned about the role of Better Family Life, in particular. They've been talking about this cultural center for years, with little to show for it. Admittedly, I don't know what's happened behind the scenes.

Ultimately, it's up to the voters to decide whether they like this idea. We'll see what happens. I suspect if it does pass, it won't be by a huge margin. The advocates of this proposal will have to campaign aggressively to get their message out, especially in the County.