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How The CommUNITY Arts Festival Uses Art Therapy To 'Heal' A City Scarred By Violence

Rain Stippec (at left) and Paige Walden-Johnson joined Tuesday's talk show to talk about the third annual CommUNITY Arts Festival.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Rain Stippec (at left) and Paige Walden-Johnson joined Tuesday's talk show to talk about the third annual CommUNITY Arts Festival.

Paige Walden-Johnson originally founded the CommUNITY Arts Festival out of the need to support her friend Rain Stippec, a dancer who was shot eight times in the back while in a parked car in the south city Soulard neighborhood. Stippec survived, but it severely affected her mobility. 

In the first 48 hours after being shot, Stippec was given a 5% chance of survival by doctors. But now, with support from the community and physical therapy, Stippec will perform for the first time in the two years since the shooting. 

“It was not so much a question of if I was going to get to dance again, but just, ‘When?’” Stippec said. 

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Stippec and Walden-Johnson joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about Stippec’s journey to recovery and how the arts festival has grown to be an asset to the city by addressing gun violence.

The festival "started as a fundraiser for medical costs,” Walden-Johnson explained. “And then there was so much support from the arts community and community organizations that we wanted to not only support Rain, but also share the issues that are contributing to the violence that is plaguing our streets. So it became beyond Rain – it was for St. Louis as a whole.”

The CommUNITY’s efforts to provide arts therapy to those directly affected by trauma and violence also caught the attention of singer John Legend. He featured the organization as part of his #CantJustPreach campaign, which raises awareness and funds for community leaders who are making a difference.

Stippec originally reached out to the campaign team and nominated Walden-Johnson for being a community leader in St. Louis.

“You cannot just preach about the things that you want to see change the world,” Stippec said. “You have to go out there and do something about it, get your hands dirty and make a change happen for yourself and for your community.”

Listen to the full discussion: 


Related Event

What: CommUNITY Arts Festival
When: Sept. 7-8, 2019
Where: Intersect Arts Center (3636 Texas Ave., St. Louis, MO 63118) & .ZACK Theater

(3224 Locust St., St. Louis, MO 63103)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.