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Commentary: Unique arts programs make positive changes in St. Louis.


There are many special and unique arts programs in our city. I'd like to hi-light three of them that I believe are making positive changes. Things don't happen overnight, but I've been around long enough to see some wonderful change coming from the work of a few great people and institutions.

The three programs are the Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellowship at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Jazz St. Louis's hiring of Keyon Harrold as Special Advisor and Saint Louis Story Stitchers, founded and run by Susan Colangelo.

Brent Benjamin, past director of the Saint Louis Art Museum said, "Nearly 30 years ago, donors Adelaide and Daniel Schlafly had the foresight to establish, and later partially endow, the Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellowship. The Schlaflys wanted to ensure that early career
professionals who were underrepresented in the art museum field had an opportunity to gain work experience that would position them to pursue professional positions in art museums nationally. The graduates of this program went on to work in museums, the arts and academia."

Renée Franklin, Chief Diversity Officer at the Art Museum, said that the fellows work across the entire museum and can actually observe curators and other professionals at the museum at work and can begin to see and plan their career paths.

The Bearden Fellowship provides a comprehensive salary and benefits package, comparable to that of an entry level museum position in the St. Louis region, as well as financial support for professional development and travel. Because SLAM recruits from a national pool of applicants, the fellowship also provides financial support for relocation to St. Louis.

Susan Colangelo considers herself a social justice artist and as founder and Executive Director of the Story Stitchers Artist Collective has brought very positive attention to our city. The non-profit organization is known for its high quality and innovative practices in creative youth development and gun violence prevention.

Collective artists work alongside twenty 16 to 20 year-old African American youth living in urban economically disadvantaged areas to collect stories, reframe and retell them using the arts and storytelling to promote a better educated, more peaceful and caring society.

Susan was one of four leaders chosen for the prestigious 2021 Accelerator Award for the Lewis Prize for Music. This prize was selected from a nationwide pool and the organization received 500 thousand dollars to make positive change to our community.

Saint Louis Story Stitchers runs a Storefront Studio in the historic Loop District at 616 North Skinker Boulevard. The collective performs and presents to the public in parks, community centers, schools and cultural institutions throughout the region.

Story Stitchers’ work captures a very important piece of African American history and archives it through printed word, performances, art and recordings while training the next generation to become actively engaged citizens.

Jazz St. Louis has hired Ferguson native Keyon Harrold to be its creative advisor. Harrold blends jazz and other music genres to bring the audience bold, new sounds. Harrold, an activist, sees music as a microcosm of democracy.

Harrold is a trumpeter, songwriter and a vocalist. He uses these talents to communicate and has worked with such greats as Beyoncé, Snoop Dog and others. He's played in a Miles Davis biopic starring Don Cheadle. He's also played with regular jazz greats such as Christian McBride and Roy Hargrove.

According to Bob Bennett, Artistic Director of Jazz St. Louis, Harrold is working with the organization’s educational programs and is coming in soon for a residency and to curate some more performances.

I've noticed that Harrold's presence has brought more diversity to our jazz club and I don't mean just the racial mix. The age group in the audience has grown broader and more exciting.

St Louisans are really in tune with the arts and making waves and showing the world that we are an arts filled city heading in the right direction.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than forty years on numerous arts related boards.

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