Architecture and Acrobats
By Jessica Hentoff, Artistic/Executive Director, Circus Harmony
Circus Harmony is a non-profit social circus organization that uses circus arts to motivate social change. We are also St. Louis’ only complete circus school and pre-professional circus training location. Circus Harmony is both an arts education and a youth development organization. By inspiring individuals and connecting communities with our circus education and entertainment programs, we have a positive impact on the St. Louis area and beyond.
Located inside of City Museum, we hold classes and present shows there year-round. Our mission is to teach the art of life through circus education. We work to build character and expand community for youth of all ages, cultures, abilities, and backgrounds. Through the teaching and performing of circus arts, we help people defy gravity, soar with confidence, and leap over social barriers, all at the same time. Our programs teach valuable life skills like perseverance, focus, and teamwork. Learning circus with others teaches trust, responsibility and cooperation. Perhaps the most important experience we give our participants is the opportunity to meet and interact with children from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds than their own. Circus Harmony promotes peace through pyramids, joy through juggling and harmony through handsprings!
Circus Harmony has provided young people throughout St. Louis a passport to opportunities and experiences they would not have had otherwise. Our latest project, Architecture and Acrobats uses circus arts to tell the story of historically and architecturally significant sites in St. Louis through live and video performances created and presented by Circus Harmony youth circus performers and neighborhood children.
This project is a story of access, information, opportunity, ability, and hope that exists right next door. Especially in these times when people’s mobility has been restricted, we think it is important to know that you can find amazing parts of history and doorways to the future, right in your own neighborhood. Many people live in a neighborhood and don’t know the history of buildings they pass every day or even what goes on inside those buildings. We intend for Architecture and Acrobats to become a cornerstone program (pun intended) of Circus Harmony for years to come.
In the words of Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us.” The locations we choose will inform our site specific acts. The point of Architecture and Acrobats is to bring attention to some of the beautiful and historic architecture in St. Louis that many people are not aware of and perhaps would never visit. It will also bring live arts education and shows to people who are in that area who may also not be aware of the historical significance of these landmarks. At the same time, it gives local St. Louis youth an opportunity to be creative in terms of presenting circus arts and also learning about video production. We will use the history of the sites and what has happened there to inform and inspire the performers and the audiences. We also share the strength and power of the neighborhood with those who don’t live there. The live shows in the neighborhoods and the video shows featuring these communities are both important and connected ways of telling the stories of the place.
Architecture and Acrobats is a new program for us. We have already started the first chapter which will be focused on O\Fallon and Fairground Parks in north St. Louis City. Our next chapter will share the history of the visually stunning Fort Belle Fountaine in north county. We are thrilled that the Missouri Humanities Foundation is supporting our third chapter about the St. Louis Public Library.
The St. Louis Public Library does a lot more than just lend out books. Many people are not aware of the history of libraries or what they currently offer to communities. We think telling the history of why libraries are free in America matters. What does it mean that St. Louis has Carnegie libraries? What does the library offer access to in addition to a wealth of knowledge through books? People use libraries to access the internet, apply for a passport, vote, cool down, warm up, send a fax, have something notarized, and more. Libraries serve as safe spaces, shelters, and community archives.
There is a strong alignment between the missions of Circus Harmony, St. Louis Public Library, and Missouri Humanities Council. Circus Harmony creates a community that exchanges, explores, and expands understanding and acceptance of different cultures, while using circus to soar across boundaries literally and figuratively. St. Louis Public Library works to nurture and connect people while finding innovative ways to share information. They also look for ways to serve their community. Andrew Carnegie, the man responsible for creating free libraries in America, believed that “A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people.“ The buildings themselves are beautiful examples of architecture that were made as places where scholars and lay people alike could find connection, information, and inspiration.
Libraries, circuses, and the humanities all bring people together in a way where knowledge and interchange leads to opportunity. Architecture and Acrobats intertwines the teaching of circus arts, life skills, and history while we share the past, present, and potential of the space where we are working. People will learn the stories of these libraries and why they were and are important community centers. While teaching about these places’ past and present, we will also be teaching young people who live in these neighborhoods now. In the end, knowing the past and working in the present will help inform the future of these communities.