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Meet Susan Colangelo of East Delmar Loop, Grand Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Colangelo.

Hi Susan, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Once upon a time, a stitcher liked to embroider stories from the news. One day she was stitching about two sisters who were shot while sitting n their front porch. One girl died, and two brothers were arrested for the crime. And the stitcher thought about stitching through history, of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and quilts used on the Underground Railroad. And she determined to join with others to make a change. In 2013 eight artists gathered and founded Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective to make a change.

I am Susan Colangelo, a social justice artist. She is best known as the founder and volunteer executive director of Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective, a nationally recognized and award-winning charitable organization known for high-quality art and innovative practices in creative youth development and gun violence prevention. I am one of four leaders chosen for the prestigious 2021 Accelerator Award from The Lewis Prize for Music, selected from a nationwide pool to receive $500,000 each to bring about meaningful change in their communities. I am a Woman of Achievement, Class of 2021, recognized for impactful volunteerism. I founded Women and the Kemper at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in 2009 and served as president of the Woman’s Club of Washington University in 2011. And I am the stitcher in our story.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
I don’t know of any road in life that is smooth. Life is a journey, with bends and potholes and stunning sunsets. At Story Stitchers, it can be challenging to manage everything as we lack sufficient salary lines for the growth we are experiencing. I have been fortunate to work with the fantastic artists at Saint Louis Story Stitchers. We endure disappointment and loss and celebrate joy together. We work with young people who may be secure and happy or struggle with fundamental survival issues. Sometimes, youth experience loss of family or friends to violence, food insecurity, hunger, depression, or loneliness. Story Stitchers provides a safe space where regular staples are friends, music, art, and mentoring. We work collaboratively to meet and solve challenges together.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am an artist. I work collaboratively with others on social justice issues. I am trained in drawing and printmaking, with a BFA from Eastern Michigan University, ’82, and an MFA from Louisiana State University, ’84. My family is also full of creatives. I met my husband of 37 years, Carmon Colangelo, at LSU. He is now dean of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University. Our daughters and their spouses are all creative, too. Our family lives and breathes the arts.

My media is currently photography and videography. For Story Stitchers, beyond administrative work and artistic direction, I am one of the artists who do video editing, including work on one of our multi-year projects called Peace in the Prairie. It includes a 1-hour video that chronicles stories about violence experienced by black residents in the city and experiences of peace in nature. Peace in the Prairie began in 2017. It asks us, “Is the path towards peace through Missouri’s endangered prairies?”

I grew up in Pittsburgh in a family that went camping a lot. We traveled in a van camping across the country 5 times before I turned 18. While working with youth at Story Stitchers, I thought about the perspective that being in nature brings people, and I wondered what impact such experiences might have on young people. We first took the youth to Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit overnight. We are very creative and relaxed on these trips. We also see big changes in youth. They may feel energized, safe, curious, or joyful. It changes them, just as it changed me as a young person. You realize you are a part of something much bigger, and maybe that math test you failed isn’t the end of the world after all. You gain perspective, and it spills into how you might approach your life back in the city.

Almost everything I do is building and putting one more block on the tower step by step. I’m like the tortoise, not the hare. Slow and steady wins the race. Over the six years, Peace in the Prairie has welcomed various artists to the project. We have documented prairies all over the state, made many new friends who care for prairies, created and performed songs, collected hours of video, hundreds of photographs, choreographed dances, held podcasts at campfires, and we have enjoyed the process of bouncing it back and forth over years and layers of artists. It’s an incredible living piece and an innovative approach to gun violence prevention. Organizations can request a screening to view it.

I am most proud of the young people who have built Story Stitchers and inspired me to do more to make a more equitable world every day. I join other artists to offer my education, energy, and time to build this platform.

At Story Stitchers, I am known as Mrs. C. I am a 63-year-old white woman who makes art with black youth and black artists. I guess that probably sets me apart, at least in pictures. We are one family of creatives working to strengthen our city and celebrate its people in our studios. We are an Artists Collective with the power to bring about change.

Before we go, is there anything else you can share with us?
I hope your readers will consider attending a Story Stitchers event this spring or summer. Or maybe invite us to your event. We are all over the City. Folks can find where we will be at on the UPcoming tab.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Image of Susan in group on stage: Troy Anthony for Saint Louis Story Stitchers Youth by the Arch: Quinsonta Boyd for Saint Louis Story Stitchers All other images; Saint Louis Story Stitchers

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