Shortly after Susan Colangelo moved to St. Louis, two teenagers were shot and killed while sitting on their front porch in a neighborhood near Colangelo’s home. A mother herself, she could not help but feel a responsibility in preventing future tragedies like this from happening.

Inspired by social change movements and armed with a 30-year background in community-based arts, Colangelo knew the arts could be used to address gun violence in St. Louis.

“Think of the Civil Rights Movement without the music, without Bob Dylan, without ‘We Shall Overcome’, without the photography, or the videos that went into people’s houses,” says Colangelo. “That made people come to Washington, march with Martin Luther King, Jr. and create the voting act which changed everything.”

Colangelo hopes to facilitate similar change through Saint Louis Story Stitchers (an A&E grantee), which implements youth-led visual art, public performance, community panels and other artistic approaches in an effort to educate and inspire open conversation around gun violence in our community.

This summer, the Story Stitchers youth launched their first ever Pick the City UP Tour, funded in part by a grant from the Arts and Education Council’s Monsanto Creative Impact Fund. The tour took them to venues across St. Louis spreading their message through performances.

“We’re bringing the African American experience of urban living to the urban planning art community,” says Colangelo. “Our effort this year is really aimed at going where [the youth] hang out – going to their neighborhoods, going to their schools.”

Antonio, a 16-year-old intern and lead performer, says the tour’s stop at the Juvenile Detention Center had a special impact on him. “Seeing us up there dancing made them feel more comfortable,” he says. “When we first got there, they were all slouched and stuff, but by the end of the performance everybody was into it, so I feel like they need more stuff like that.”

Thanks to the support of Colangelo and the organization as a whole, these youth have been given the tools they need to not only make a positive impact on their community, but also to better themselves.

Kelsey, a Story Stitcher, highlights the environment the organization has created for them. “We can just come right in and you’re free, you’re uplifted, you’re getting help, you’re having the resources you need. This does feel like home.”

The Pick the City UP Tour Grand Finale is September 29 at the .ZACK in the Grand Center Arts District. Tickets are $15, $10 for students. For tickets and information, visit storystitchers.org.

For more information on the Monsanto Creative Impact Fund, visit keeparthappening.org/creative-impact