Imagine you’re stepping out to take a stroll. You walk past the building on the corner, stopping alongside a few others who have gathered to admire the latest mural right in your neighborhood. Across the street at the park, families are cooking out while kids play on the vibrantly painted futsal-soccer court.
On the next street over, an architect is collaborating with an artist and a sustainable designer on plans to turn that vacant property into a community garden and gathering space. You hop on a rented bike and cruise in the protected bike lane to the pop-up market where there’s a local music showcase on a stage powered by solar panels.
Now imagine this is the vibe throughout your entire city. An uninterrupted stretch of thoughtfully designed spaces created with you and for you, informed by the way you need and want to live your daily life. This is Loutopia.
It’s not entirely a real place – yet. But when you talk to St. Louis creative Jayvn Solomon, it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see how this conceptual art series could become a reality.
“A few years ago, I started taking photos of spaces around the city,” said Solomon. “Then I would digitally superimpose elements that I thought would be cool to see and beneficial to the local arts and economy.”
Solomon, who is a graphic designer by degree and trade and has earned the title of muralist, worked for an architecture and design firm for over seven years. In that role, his job was to carefully consider how people would use and enjoy a particular space and then design experiences around that.
There’s an emphasis on understanding and honoring what a community needs and wants in Solomon’s approach. The result is a vision for community development and placemaking that simultaneously centers both practicality and creativity.
“Loutopia focuses on balancing three main areas: public art [murals and sculpture], nature [trees, plants, moss walls, and so on.], and sustainable systems [wind and solar power, dedicate bike lanes, etc.],” Solomon explained. “What’s necessary throughout this whole process is embracing the collaborative elements and saying ‘yes, we can support each other to make this a reality, and this is how’.”
As Loutopia continues to materialize, Solomon sees his predominant role as a convener, pulling up chairs to the table so residents and professionals of all backgrounds have a place in the conversation and an invitation to play their part.
Sure, it’s an ambitious undertaking. But Solomon is under no illusion that Loutopia will come to fruition overnight. In fact, one could even argue that there’s no specific conclusion to the project but rather it’s a necessary effort to innovate on an ongoing basis. Constant iteration for the sake of including more voices and being responsive to the lived experiences of an entire community is a big part of the appeal and what makes Loutopia so accessible to everyone.
It’s a hopeful vision we need right now, and the grounded approach makes it feel attainable, which is refreshing. And as Solomon points out, there’s a precedent in St. Louis for this level of national and international leadership. From the founders of Square Inc. and Twitter to the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll Tina Turner to the 1904 World’s Fair, Solomon discussed how transformative action has long been a key St. Louis export.
Loutopia, in its own way, follows in the footsteps of that creative exploration, and the next phase in its metamorphosis is here.
Solomon is introducing the first pop-up exhibit of its kind – Loutopia: Exhibit A. This temporary, interactive wonderland will merge beautiful exhibits with gamification, community events, and augmented reality to inspire visitors to embrace art, nature, and sustainable systems in their daily lives.
Loutopia: Exhibit A, backed by presenting sponsor Block and proudly supported by the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, kicks off October 5, 2023 at 6195 Delmar Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63112, and will run through December 31. Consider it an open invitation to contribute to the future of what your community could look like, watering the seeds that have been planted for Loutopia.
You can see some of Solomon’s mural work at the co-working space, TechArtista, Swade in The Grove neighborhood, at CityPark, home of St. Louis City SC, and on the futsal-soccer court in Marquette Park.