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Story Stitchers: Turning art into activism

They say they are turning their art into activism and hope it starts a movement that will catch on nationwide.

Last year was the deadliest year for gun violence in decades, and although the stats are not final for this year, it looks like things did not improve.

As the federal government and states try to figure out how to stop the killings, a group of painters, musicians, singers, songwriters, poets and dancers are using their talents to try to create positive change by turning their art into activism, and they hope it’s a movement that will catch on across the country.

Meet The Story Stitchers an artist collective that’s creating positive change throughout St. Louis. These young people who have grown up seeing their friends, family and neighbors impacted by violence have a powerful message to share.

“We’re tired of just seeing the same old, same old, and we want the change to happen,” Explains She’Kinah Taylor of why she joined the Stitchers.

“I’m an artist and I wanted to do something about gun violence,” Susan Colangelo, the founder of The Story Stitchers explains.

Colangelo and eight artists started Story Stitchers in 2013 by stitching panels chronicling the violence in their city. Her passion grew into a larger calling, creating a pathway for young people to break out of the cycle of crime and poverty.

“We try to change the world through storytelling,” Colangelo explains.

Sixteen- to 24-year-olds who live in under-invested neighborhoods hold socially conscious podcasts, create music together, hold community dance competitions and work to improve their neighborhoods. Each person who steps out on the stage gets paid for their performance.

“All of a sudden you get a $100 for learning how to be a podcaster. And you’re on apple music,” Colangelo said.

“The thing I love about Story Stitchers is not only that they provide you with a safe space to learn, create and excel, but it also helped like you get funded from them too,” Sean Taylor explained of his experience with the Stitchers.

“When they’re outside, they, all they see is like trash on the ground or police cars and they hear the ambulance going by, but in Story Stitchers, all they have to talk about is their emotions and different outlets,” AnnaLise Cason said.

“You’re getting more respect. You feel like people are recognizing that you do have important things to say, you do have ideas about what could make your block better, like, how can you get rid of that empty lot? Well, we can activate it. Why don’t we do a show there?” Colangelo said. “If you can just move them a little bit with strong mentors that are culturally relevant, give them a place where they feel secure, where they have friends, where they feel safe to gather. They’ll stick around and they’ll change.”

“I see a lot of transformed lives,” Cason said.

“For people in the community, that’s watching us grow, it gives them hope,” Emeara Burns said.

One of their youth council chairs, Branden Lewis said, “I believe that we’re saving lives.”

“I see it change people. I see it change young people.” Colangelo agreed.

Turning their art into activism, changing one life at a time.

The young people involved with Story Stitchers all have to audition to become part of the group. Many times, those auditions are done right on the spot at community gatherings.

The kids Ivanhoe Newswire talked to want to take this program nationwide and build community centers focused on the arts in underserved communities. Story Stitchers brings in professional artists to work with the youth. 

Although nobody on staff gets paid, it costs about $300,000 a year to finance paying the artists and kids. The money comes from grants and personal donations. If you would like to find out more, check out their website: https://storystitchers.org/.