The St. Louis art festival you may not have heard about

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  • Published on September 29, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In Guest Writers

Explore Paint Louis 2022, highlighting graffiti and street art. Global artists gather near the Gateway Arch to paint along the Mississippi River.

The Lyft driver in St. Louis burst with enthusiasm when we told him where we were from, “ I love New York! The people! The energy!” My partner and I were visiting the “Gateway City” over Labor Day weekend for an event called Paint Louis.

Our driver shook his head and gave a blank stare.

“Haven’t heard of it,” he said.

Paint Louis is an annual event that has been taking place in St. Louis since 1997, and its focus is graffiti and street art. Hundreds of artists from around the world converge upon the 15-foot tall flood wall that extends for almost two miles behind the Gateway Arch monument along the Mississippi River. Numerous graffiti crews paint murals on the lengthy wall in various styles.

Paint Louis_art piece
Art piece created by Stef Skills in honor of P-Lee, Chicago graffiti legend who passed away in 2021. Courtesy of Gina Arias

But Paint Louis is not solely focused on providing the city and its visitors with a beautiful (and free!) outdoor pop-up museum. In addition to the visual art, there are music performances by hip hop artists; this year the legend himself, KRS-One, performed. Three days of rain dampened, but did not stop, hundreds of international artists blessing the walls with their talent and creativity.

Paint Louis has a somewhat contentious history with the city and was canceled for several years due to alleged acts of vandalism that followed the 2001 event. Still it was a bit surprising to find that our Lyft driver, a native son of St. Louis, had never even heard of the event. He responded without skipping a beat, “If it’s not about the Cardinals or Blues, the city doesn’t promote it.”

Nevertheless, after our visit we can attest that Paint Louis is well worth a trip to St. Louis next Labor Day weekend for those who love art and hip hop culture.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

This story was originally published September 29, 2022 9:00 AM.

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