Arts Alliance debuts music series on front porches

First 'Stoop Session' is Aug. 19

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By Tom Holmes

The Gasse family will perform classical chamber music by Bach and Respighi on Monday, Aug. 19 beginning at 7 p.m., and they'll do it on the front porch of the home at 1529 Elgin here in Forest Park.

Sarah on violin, Daniel on cello, 14-year-old son Ernesto playing the oboe, and 11-year-old son Antonio on the bassoon will debut the series of front porch concerts the Arts Alliance is calling their Stoop Sessions.

Here's the concept: Imagine sitting in a lawn chair or on a blanket on the front lawn of a home in town with friends and neighbors on a pleasant summer evening while on the porch musicians like the Gasse family treat the crowd to a free concert.

The Stoop Series idea was generated at a community brainstorming session last year hosted by the Forest Park Arts Alliance (FPAA). "I really applaud the Arts Alliance," said Gasse, who is the co-owner and director of the Gasse School of Music in Forest Park, "for bringing the arts to the people rather than bringing people to the arts."

"Since we put the Stoop Sessions on our Facebook page," said FPAA board member Lin Baribak, "we've had people volunteer to be performers and others signing up to help out, so we're pretty booked through the rest of the year. Our goal is to do two Stoop Sessions a month, but that has been hard because we want to schedule around events like Ribfest and Groovin' in the Grove."

Following the Gasse family concert, a jazz pianist named Elio Adriano will perform on the front porch of the home at 908 Thomas on Aug. 29. Stoop Session #3 will feature Fleurs de Chanson on Sept. 16 at 540 Ferdinand. Later in September or in early October a recorder and harmonica group will perform, and a jazz saxophonist is interested but dates have not been set for either.

You might call the Stoop Sessions series "retro-progressive." FPAA board member Karen Rozmus explained the retro aspect noting, "My father used to say that society changed for the worse when people stopped sitting on their front porches, greeting people as they walked by and visiting with their neighbors. Stoop Sessions is partly about getting village residents out in a front yard, enjoying the weather and the arts, and being with their neighbors."

The label "progressive" fits because the FPAA is using social media like Facebook to get the word out. Rick Wagner, another board member, added that the Arts Alliance is giving exposure to artists who have remained under the radar. 

"There are so many talented people in Forest Park," he said, "in music, the visual arts, the spoken word and even cooking. We are trying to encourage them and give them venues to showcase their art."

The Arts Alliance has been trying to partner with the business community in town during the first two years of the group's existence. Rozmus recalls meeting business owners in Forest Park after the completion of the Cover Our Rust project who said to her, "Why didn't you tell me about it? I would have liked to support the project."

Wagner envisions the creation of more murals like the one on the west wall of Healy's. 

"We on the board feel very strongly about incorporating visual arts on Madison Street and along Roosevelt Road," she said. "We would love to have some of the bars showcasing people's art and having people come in and do murals."

Beribak believes that once the business community sees that art attracts customers, it will be easy for members of the FPAA to enlist members of the Chamber of Commerce to partner with them. "It is a win-win scenario," she said. "Art will bring more customers who will spend more money in town."

Gasse added that the collection of unique businesses on Madison St. attracts people from outside Forest Park to patronize the town's shops and restaurants, so the proliferation of art installations could make Forest Park a destination for the same reason. "Where you go," he explained, "depends on how you feel when you go there."

The FPAA grew organically, Beribak explained, out of the Cover Our Rust Project in May of 2017. Not only was the painting on the Circle Bridge an exercise in community art, but it brought together a critical mass of residents enthusiastic about the arts who realized that many of their neighbors felt the same way they did about encouraging art and artists in the village and who then had the chance to ask each other how to follow up that good experience.

In addition to the Stoop Sessions, the FPAA has a long wish list of possible projects. Among them is the hiring of a professional to complete the Circle Bridge project, the principal barrier being a lack of funding.

The Faux Pas comedy show held at Doc Ryan's on July 18 was a successful start to the fundraising needed, and a second Faux Pas will be held at the same bar just west of Constitution Court on Aug. 22. These shows are just one example of how the business community is able to support the arts in Forest Park.

To connect with the Arts Alliance go to the FPAA Facebook page.

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