Pecha Kucha St. Louis features 2 UMSL artists

Jennifer Tappenden, a graduate student in MFA in Creative Writing program and Dan Younger, professor of art and art history at UMSL, gave presentations on their art at Pecha Kucha St. Louis, part of a global celebration of creativity.

Nearly 200 people packed the basement of the Bridge Tap House and Wine Bar Thursday night to experience Pecha Kucha Night in St. Louis. Two artists from the University of Missouri–St. Louis were among the 11 chosen to participate in this, the eighth PK Night in St. Louis.

Devised in Tokyo in 2003 as a way for young designers to meet, network and show their work to the public, PK Night has become a huge celebration of creativity with events in 469 cities around the world. They are meant to be informal gatherings held in fun places.

Jeanette Thompson, one of the founders of St. Louis’ PK Night said the impetus grew three years ago out of “all the negative talk about St. Louis.” Thompson, a freelance writer and some of her artist friends had heard about PK Nights. They applied and won approval. The “cast of characters” organizing the required four events a year vary between five and 10 – all volunteers.

“There is no charge and we never plan to charge any of the presenters or the audience,” Thompson said. “The different venues we have held this event in have been wonderful and have never charged us. Local graphic designers design the posters, photographers and videographers donate their time and talent.”

On Thursday evening, Jennifer Tappenden, a student in UMSL’s MFA in Creative Writing program, and Dan Younger, professor of art, adhered to PK’s 20 x 20 format – 20 slides, each lasting 20 seconds. It’s a simple idea, but a challenge.

“I guess you could get up and wing it,” Tappenden said. “But I had been to a PK night and knew how well attended they are. So, I spent a lot of time in the beginning with the timing. It was either much too short or much too long. It was a real challenge to come up with a good narrative arc. I practiced a lot. All I had to do was keep my nerves in check.”

Tappenden’s 20 x 20 story was that of creating Architrave, a unique literary press specializing in “beautifully printed poems, sold individually.” She spoke of making poetry, good poetry, accessible to non-poets who are not apt to go out and buy a book. Using antique printing methods she prints poems on individual pages.

“Readers purchase only the poems they like and curate their own book, much like music lovers create playlists,” she said.

Architrave Press has an online shop and its work can be found a local independent bookstores.

Younger, who teaches photography at UMSL, used his six minutes and 40 seconds to tell the story of the year he spent photographing the interior of the abandoned Cleveland High School in south St. Louis. The St. Louis City School Board had closed the building in 2006. By 2009-2010, the school that had been a landmark since 1915, sat on South Grand Blvd. dying of neglect

“Time and broken water pipes had taken their toll,” Younger said. “But some rooms seemed as if the students and faculty had just left and were planning to return.”

One slide showed a wall speckled with black mold and peeling paint. Another flashed the empty pool, filled at the deep end with dirt and debris.

“I returned to the building in the fall of 2009 and there was a lot more vandalism and graffiti than I saw in the spring,” he said.

The photos told the story. Stuffed birds are sitting on shelves in a science classroom, some foxes in another room, all rotting from water, dirt and neglect. Younger brought his students along on one of his visits to the school. Their work is available in a book, “Cleveland High School: Exploring an Abandoned Landmark.”

The energetic audience rushed to ask questions of the presenters at intermission, most of them happily celebrating the creative spirit of the room.

“We are so fortunate to have this kind of success here in St. Louis,” Thompson said. “It says everything about who we are.”


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