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Improvising for a Better St. Louis

Mallory Nezam

Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders.

Name: Mallory Nezam
Current Occupation: Director, STL Improv Anywhere Social Media Manager, Elasticity & Public Artist
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Current City: St. Louis, MO
Twitter Tag: @activatethecity

I drink: coffee & tea both
I am an: extrovert
I get to work by: bike & car
The area I grew up is: city, suburbs & one year on a Caribbean island

What was your first job? I was a receptionist at a nursing home early — starting at 6 a.m. — on Sunday mornings. I learned to appreciate the old and wise, and how to run a ship, or at least put on a good show of it. Thanks to a 90-something prankster who enjoyed pulling alarms, I also learned how to cordially turn away firefighters about once a week.

What is your favorite city and why? I love Lisbon, Kolkata, Paris & Budapest. I love cities that wear their histories and current stories on their sleeves; cities that are honest about who they are and where they come from. I’m on my way to Colombia, South America, so ask me in a week and I might have a different answer!

What do you do when you are not working? When I’m not at my day job, I’m working on all my other self-appointed jobs: running art collaboratives, applying for cool things, making artwork, collaborating with other creative folk and teaching yoga. I love to hop on my bike and let an adventure take me over.

What is the coolest project you worked on? The Poetree Project takes the cake here. This combined public interactive work, poetry, the magic of happenstance, installation, site-specificity and a sprinkle of environmentalism all in one project. I dreamt it up six years ago and kept it to myself. It wasn’t until miraculously meeting the right partner at the right time did the project grow legs, a heart and a pulse. I am so grateful to have found a special artist to help me bring it to life.

What is the biggest challenge facing cities today? Call me crazy, but rampant individualism, which decays into ugly fear, seems to be the ill the underlies a lot of negative behaviors of cities and citizens.

What makes a successful leader? Integrity, brains, heart, the ability to zoom in and zoom out — to see big and small — at the same time. Selflessness.

What’s your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? To start an organization in St. Louis strictly dedicated to public art. We would fund work, train artists who want to move into the public sphere, and provides public programming to educate people about the power of public art. I would also eventually like to make site-specific public artwork in other cities around the world and collaborate with unexpected, interdisciplinary conspirators.

What’s the best professional advice you have received? “No tengas prisa” was a message a colleague in Spain delivered to me. This means “don’t hurry”. Coming from a brilliant, accomplished, born-and-bred Spaniard, this meant a lot.

What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? Always maintain and practice the ability to be hyper-focused on your micro-world and its details within a given project, job or organization, but don’t lose the ability to zoom out and look at the larger context within which you reside. Context, context, context. Nothing can be effectively sustained if done in a vacuum.