by Alison Ely
We’ve all heard of “writer’s block” or “artist’s block.” Anyone who utilizes the arts, or finds themselves in any predicament really, faces this problem from time to time. But take this advice from a very innovative person of our local history: “Don’t play what’s there; play what’s not there.” – Miles Davis *
One of my high school art teachers told me something similar, when I faced artist’s block: “It’s not that you don’t have enough ideas, it’s that you have too many ideas.” This sounded absurd to me at the time. How can I have too many ideas, when I haven’t thought of any at all? But now I get it: He meant that I’m having trouble just trying SOMEthing; I was putting up boundaries for myself because I was insecure about my ability and how the project might appear when finished. I was putting too much pressure on myself to start out great.
But Miles Davis (as I observed during my recent tour at H.O.M.E. in East St. Louis, IL) had a much more holistic approach to creativity during his vibrant life: Just try something new, and see what happens after you practice, even if you aren’t sure of yourself at first. And don’t stop there. Miles is quoted to have said, “Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” How true that is, for many of us reading this. And yet, Miles changed up his styles frequently! Apparently, this served to anger many of his fans – they’d enjoy his current work, but then he’d change his style, and they didn’t like the fact that he’d changed. But their disapproval didn’t stop him – he knew he’d become boring if he only kept repeating what seemed to be successful.
H.O.M.E. – House of Miles East St. Louis – was founded on these principles (and more) of Miles Davis. Miles Davis was much more into building his creative outlets than pleasing others just to keep their money coming. It takes real faith to continue doing what’s true to your inner soul after you’ve “made it” in the public’s eyes. And now that there is an entire museum (situated in Miles’s childhood home, no less) dedicated to promoting his holistic approaches, it’s proven that he made the right choices in continuing to change despite pressure to stay the same. This museum exists so we, and especially children, can apply his wisdom to our own lives – furthering his vision. Remembering him for what he means today and not just yesterday. Miles was an accomplished and world-renowned jazz trumpeter, band leader, and composer, but he also picked up fine arts when he took a small break from making music. His sketches are available for viewing at H.O.M.E., including a large tapestry of one such sketch that used to hang in his New York home.
Miles’s foundation of creative expression doesn’t even stop with the arts. Growing up at the museum’s location in East St. Louis, he would walk down to Lincoln Park to practice boxing. Many of today’s East St. Louis youth hang out there now. There are many ways to retrace his steps in this area, and it’s inspiring to know that he was here, taking the small steps toward what he later became. And those small steps are what inspire H.O.M.E.!
President of H.O.M.E., Lauren Parks, has this to say about why H.O.M.E. exists: “We work to paint a positive picture for our youth by tying in their future to their immediate present. We help them through holistic programs to get where they need to go. We are trying to ensure that our kids have the opportunity to succeed.”
H.O.M.E.’s vice-president, Jas Gary Pearson, adds: “This is a no-fault, no-fail zone for kids. The kids in this community are living in a very impoverished, urban area, and most of them have a humble beginning. There can be exemplary endings: We want to teach them they can accomplish the same things as Miles Davis from where they are, too. He did it here.”
Gary continues with the words of wisdom that have “built” H.O.M.E.: “Don’t be confined to what people say about you, let them have the last word – as long as you have the last act. We teach our youth that anything’s possible. Miles thought outside the box. And that’s what we teach our kids.”
Lauren and Gary agree that Miles Davis was a visionary, and they have their own vision as well: When kids arrive to H.O.M.E., they will not be bombarded with being told how to do anything. H.O.M.E. wants to promote and facilitate personal growth, through positive exposure to different elements, in the same atmosphere as Miles used to thrive.
Therefore, H.O.M.E. works hard to develop every type of program a child could need in order to create a well-rounded platform of experience; skills they can take with them wherever they go. They cover the arts, music, gardening/healthy living, physical strength, and leadership. They also have a Mutt-i-grees Curriculum program in which they foster social and emotional development through the use of shelter dogs. All this was put together in this location where Miles used to live, to advance the legacy he began. With H.O.M.E.’s help, his wisdom will live on.
H.O.M.E. divides its program attendees into age groups to help each other. Children 8-10 are called “milestones,” and they are mentored by the middle and high school students, called “young ambassadors.” The young ambassadors are in turn mentored by “young adult mentors,” people aged 18 to 40’s-ish. Young adult mentors are in turn mentored by seniors and retirees, called simply “ambassadors.” Multi-generational interaction is considered a key to success.
Lauren says, “Just conversing can be educational. Spending time with people is very important. Seniors are the pillars of our community – people who were here the same time that Miles was a boy; they have visited and have stories to share and some knew his family.”
Learning about Miles Davis has revealed to me that his life story is a wealth of information for everyone who gets to hear about it and takes time to unpack. It can be easy to feel intimidated by the astonishing accomplishments of others, but if we look at the beginning of their story, we often find they simply started SOMEwhere, and made it great with time. Miles Davis appears to have been born into a well-to-do family. No one made him work hard in so many different ways except himself; no one gave him the talents he had. He had to hone them like everyone else must if they want to make something great.
Lauren and Gary know a lot more about Miles Davis than I do, and they have understood for a long time that his legacy can help us if we are willing to listen and consider it. His legacy meant so much to them that they pulled from their own pockets (and a generous donation from Dr. Lillian A. Parks) to get H.O.M.E. started. Located at 1701 Kansas Ave, East St. Louis, IL, Miles Davis’s childhood home sat unoccupied for 15 years, and Lauren and Gary lovingly worked to restore it as a place to showcase Miles’s gifts to humanity, and keep his messages and contributions moving through the future. It’s not all about how wonderful his music sounded, how great his artwork looked, or how popular he was while he was alive. It’s about his approach to life. He is one such example that deserves our attention, even if we already know his wisdom for ourselves – this experience will further encourage you on any creative path. Plus, it’s simply interesting to see!
H.O.M.E. is being used to engage the entire community and help shape lives in a positive direction. Kids need outlets for creativity, and H.O.M.E. is one of the answers. In the same place where Miles Davis practiced his musical and art interests as a young child, other children now can go there to be inspired and try something new. Parents are a huge part of making this possible for their kids, simply by being present and taking them there. Many fine musical instruments have been donated to the cause for kids to use during their time there – there is an entire room upstairs dedicated to providing creative tools, both in musical and in fine-arts. Miles Davis had a tiny room upstairs where he used to practice music in, and it’s still in the same general condition as when he did. It’s very cool to witness that space! In an age when many schools are cutting funding to arts and music programs; at the House Of Miles East Saint Louis, kids can come to participate in creative activities to fill that gap, whether or not they have such opportunities at home. The more exposure you have to artistic solutions, the more you can become aware of how to apply creativity in any situation. This is especially important while you are young, so that you can take these skills into adulthood with greater force than your own limited exposure may have provided.
The mission of H.O.M.E. is described as this: To nurture, empower, and embrace the talents of upcoming generations by reclaiming, restoring, and revitalizing our values, identity, and Cool. “Cool” is all about what’s happening next, and it stands for Constantly Operating On Love. H.O.M.E. itself is described as the cultural epicenter impelled and dedicated to cultivate, connect, and celebrate the community through music, heritage, and art. Though it began with self-initiated effort, and sacrifice, many organizations and other individuals have since come forward to help propel this station of innovation. And this is very evident as soon as you arrive at the building! Having been transformed from such a degraded state of existence over years of neglect and vandalism, this building now displays so much love having been restored greatly in the past nine years. Before-and-after pictures are available for viewing. And fortunately, the “bones” of this house have been declared structurally sound, so with a breath of relief, Lauren and Gary have had every reason to make this house a real HOME again. Whenever someone visits, it’s their goal to ensure visitors feel at home. Also, I was excited to see that so many original house details remain from when Miles’s family lived there. Makes it that much more authentic! But the most important facets to consider are why this museum was created: To nurture the new generation by addressing historical, cultural, and educational needs.
“Some other guys and me played all kinds of little gigs in East St. Louis: Social clubs, church affairs, any place we could play. We used to practice in my basement too. Man did we play loud.” – Miles Davis
That very basement at H.O.M.E. is under construction and is not yet available for public display. But with support and volunteerism, they will get there! How cool it will be to stand in an exact space where Miles practiced his legacy of creative training. A great place to be silent for a moment and consider what such humble roots became. And how we can do the same.
Lauren elaborates, “Miles defined himself. That’s what we encourage with our young people. You use your beginnings to help build who you are. That’s what Miles did. His formative years in this house and this community… he learned a tremendous deal educationally and in other areas. He was able to take that wherever he went. That helped him to define himself. That’s what made him an innovator. Explore different things. And be careful not to let situations or others define you. Constructive and productive outlets are important.”
H.O.M.E. is open for tours, by appointment only. Contact information is provided below. This is the same contact information you’ll use to get your kids -or yourself – involved in their programs! You’ll be made to feel at home as you explore Miles’s life and how he has impacted others to explore their inner selves. And if you can, bring along a package of any brand-new socks, as they have an ongoing “Box of Socks” initiative that provides new socks to those who are in need, warming both soles and souls.
Miles Davis would probably be happy to know that to this day, his legacy is not only helping others to express themselves, but also enriching his old community through their basic needs. All he ever had to do was start SOMEwhere, and that somewhere was what later became House of Miles East St. Louis, H.O.M.E. He may not be around to see it, but you will no doubt see it in yourself when you visit.
* – Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Born in Alton IL and raised in East St Louis IL. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in a five-decade career that kept him at the forefront of many major stylistic developments in jazz. (Wikipedia)
Sept. 5th, 2019: H.O.M.E. is hosting a meet-and-greet HOMEstyle. It’s an invitation-only event to welcome the family of Miles Davis. This will be their first time seeing the house since it’s been renovated. The purpose of the meet-and-greet is to celebrate and acknowledge Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, a new documentary outlining all the highlights of how Miles became who he was.
Sept. 6th, 2019: Opening night for Birth of the Cool! Documentary will be showing September 6th-12th at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis, MO. Show times are available online.
As a special treat, Miles Davis’s family & Documentary Director, Stanley Nelson, will be there to answer questions after showings, as follows:
Fri, Sept 6 – 7:00 PM
Sat, Sept 7 – 4:30 PM and 7 PM
Sun, Sept 8 – 4:30 PM
Sept. 26th, 2019: The 4th annual Kind of Blue Fundraiser will be held at the Village Theatre in Centreville, IL from 6-8pm. Cost per person is a donation of $20. More information is available at H.O.M.E.’s website.
House of Miles East St. Louis, H.O.M.E.
1701 Kansas Avenue (Miles Davis Way)
East St. Louis, IL 62205
For more on Miles Davis: MilesDavis.com