3 ways local arts groups are making changes for the better


Image courtesy of Jazz St. Louis

Nancy Kranzberg, Special to the Jewish Light

There are many special and unique art programs in our city. I’d like to highlight three 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 St. Louis Art Museum, Jazz St. Louis’s hiring of Keyon Harrold as its creative advisor, and St. Louis Story Stitchers founded and run by Susan Colangelo.

Past Director of the St. Louis Art Museum Brent Benjamin says, “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.”

Renee Franklin, chief diversity officer at the St. Louis Art Museum, says the fellows work across the entire museum and can actually see curators and other professionals at work and can begin to 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. As founder and executive director of the Story Stitchers Artist Collective, she has brought very positive attention to our city. The charitable organization is known for its high quality and innovative practices in creative youth development and gun violence prevention. 

Collective artists work alongside 20 African American young adults (ages 16 to 20) 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.

Colangelo 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 $500,000 to make positive changes to our community.

St. Louis Story Stitchers run a storefront studio in the historic Loop at 616 North Skinker Blvd. The collective performs for 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 hired Ferguson native Keyon Harrold to be its creative advisor. Harrold blends jazz and other music genres to bring the audience bold, new sounds. He is an activist who sees music as a microcosm of democracy as well as a trumpeter, song writer and vocalist. 

Harrold uses these talents to communicate and has worked with such greats as Beyoncé, Snoop Dogg and others. He played in a Miles Davis biopic starring Don Cheadle. He 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 Jazz St. Louis’ educational programs. He is coming in soon for a residency and to curate some more performances. He also hosts radio show, “The Next Set,” which airs live from Jazz St. Louis.

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, making waves and showing the world that we are an art filled city heading in the right direction.