Bread & Roses Missouri is a celebration of the arts in the lives of working people and their families. As the labor hymn for which the organization is named reminds us, “Hearts starve as well as bodies…”
Our mission is to organize and participate in arts and humanities events, exhibits, and workshops for and about workers and their families that address the root causes of poverty and inequality and that moves us toward an economic base that benefits the entire community. Bread & Roses believes in equality for all on and off the job. Using an arts lens, we are committed to fighting against racism, sexism, classism and other forms of discrimination and for affirmative action, cultural diversity and a more just society for all.
The impetus for Bread & Roses came initially from Jobs with Justice. A committee was formed in 2005 in response to JwJ’s work on 3 economic justice campaigns which were being crippled by the racism pervasive in St. Louis overall, even in our own social justice movements. The committee saw a need to “take a step back,” to identify and examine racial dynamics in our community. In a creative brainstorm, leaders decided that an art exhibition with a civil rights and peace theme could be a wonderful way to invite both current leaders and new voices to share their insights in a forum that could reach beyond die-hard activists. Almost 60 artists submitted work for the first exhibition, many of them union members and community activists that had not shared their artistic talents so publicly before. One of the most exciting parts of the developing Bread & Roses was the participation of many non-traditional artists – a house painter who takes photos, a postal worker who writes music, single mothers who were facing Medicaid cuts,…victims of police violence, …factory workers who had lost their jobs overseas.
Changing annual themes in the first five formative years (2005-2009) allowed Bread & Roses to continue to innovate and to tap into the current passions of the art and social justice communities. But as JwJ grew beyond Saint Louis into a statewide organization, the program proved too demanding for the coalition to continue in its’ original format. A happy coincidence allowed JwJ to continue Bread & Roses under the direction of Joan Suarez, a volunteer JwJ leader, who agreed to coordinate the Bread & Roses program. Suarez, along with two colleagues, Brett Williams and Dail Chambers, created a 30-week pilot project called “Community Exploration: Home, Family and Work” for Riverview Gardens High School students. After a second year at Riverview, the program moved to the City of Saint Louis Recreation Centers, all located in low-income neighborhoods, and was re-tooled for middle school students. Currently, the summer program now operates in four city recreation centers and three venues serving refugee and immigrant youth.
Today our work continues. To learn more about our current projects click here.