The Art of Community

Marianne Laury, MFA14, co-founder of BANK Projects art gallery in St. Louis.

Marianne Laury, MFA14, applies public engagement knowledge at her gallery

Posted by Alumni & Development Programs December 10, 2014

This story originally appeared on the Alumni & Development website.

While other Master of Fine Arts students were considering employment at a variety of schools and museums after graduation, Marianne Laury, MFA14, already knew exactly what she'd be doing: managing the community art gallery she and fellow artist Mitch Kirkwood opened in St. Louis last year. It's an endeavor close to her heart, and one for which the Sam Fox School has prepared her well.

During Laury's first year in the Graduate School of Art, she and Kirkwood found an old bank near Cherokee Street in south St. Louis. The building had sat empty for years, but the resulting dilapidation was far outweighed by the architectural details that would make for a unique gallery, such as the bank's original drive-through windows and speakers, which will likely become part of the gallery shop.

The atypical space appealed to Laury and Kirkwood, as did the control a do-it-yourself renovation would afford them. They arranged to rent the building, accomplished a massive restoration, and set up the gallery, which they named BANK Projects.

Their choice of location was based not only on the building's potential, but also the neighborhood's. Having struggled with crime, foreclosures, and other symptoms of economic depression, the Cherokee Street area has been undergoing revitalization in recent years. Artists and arts organizations like BANK have fueled much of the neighborhood's redevelopment, and Laury and Kirkwood have designed their business as a central space for the community. They found hosting a showing and reception during the area's large Cinco de Mayo celebration and bringing neighborhood residents together for a potluck and discussion about connections between St. Louis and Kansas City to be particularly gratifying experiences.

BANK showcases young artists from the central United States, which Laury calls "an often overlooked region" in the arts. "Many places focus only on the East and West Coasts," she explains. Since BANK's opening last spring, Laury and Kirkwood have hosted five shows, including an exhibit of their collaborative sculptures.

Laury credits her Washington University experience with preparing her for an endeavor that matches creative expression with a community's redevelopment work. "My time at the Sam Fox School has taught me how to consider the public and how to work with people," she says. "The whole art program has such a community-based emphasis."

Laury also stresses the support she has received from faculty, especially adjunct lecturer Jessica Baran, who owns a gallery nearby and was "super helpful" in ensuring a successful start for BANK. "My professors have also been great role models in the art world and excellent sources of contacts," Laury says.

A scholarship student, Laury is grateful for the funding that allowed her to attend the Sam Fox School. "I wouldn't have been there without my scholarship," she says simply. The financial assistance not only provided access to an exceptional education and excellent professors, but it also provided a degree of freedom after graduation. Having a smaller debt burden has allowed Laury to make the financial investment necessary to pursue her gallery dream as a student and young alumna.

Laury's goal is for BANK to be financially self-sufficient and sustainable, and she looks forward to a future where she is able to work at the gallery full time. "The best part has just been how excited BANK's neighbors are," Laury says. "It lets us know that what we're doing is worthwhile."