art and culture

Public Safety

Community Arts STL

A Chat with Paige Walden-Johnson, Founder

How it started:

It started with a violent shooting. Yet in the aftermath, a community united behind a festival to raise support and awareness, and the transformative mission to “use the arts community to aid the anti-violence efforts” in Saint Louis. 

Now, four years later, CommUnity Arts is a robust community resource for ending violence through art. “The project grew way bigger than we ever imagined,” says founder and Executive Director Paige Walden-Johnson. “This is a problem that has been in our city for hundreds of years, and is nothing new.” 

“There have been lots of initiatives…the one I was guided into immediately was the Violence Prevention Commission Coalition,” a collaboration which works on community engagement, policy making, and works to address the root causes of violence. After talking with police officers, FBI, and various first responders, Walden-Johnson wanted to continue using the arts community to heal. Now, artists involved with the non-profit host performances, yoga, and workshops, and the original arts fundraiser has morphed into an annual festival.

What do programs look like?

One program developed by CommUnity Arts, called SHARe (Service Healing Arts Restoration), focuses on the mental wellness of the first responders who are dealing with violence and trauma in the line of duty. There are high rates of suicide and alcohol abuse amongst first responders. By learning strategies to deal with the secondary trauma in healthy ways– whether through yoga, or journaling, or dance — these first responders are better equipped to serve their communities. Violence doesn’t stop at a neighborhood, or a profession, Walden-Johnson points out. By engaging people from the entire spectrum of the community, we can create policies that fully address the complexities of violence.

New initiatives for 2021:

This year, one focus of the group is a community healing garden. Located in the Vandeventer district, it is currently a dirt plot waiting for the compost and seeds come the spring. “With that we hope to engage our law enforcement, Fire, EMS, and offer space for them to tend to the garden because that is a very meditative practice.” The healing space of gardening, combined with arts therapy programming, will be a great way for CommUnity Arts’ to continue safely despite Covid. Volunteers can help donate compost or donate their gardening knowledge as March rolls around, depending on the weather. The Vandeventer neighborhood is invited to be a part of the beautification of the garden alongside these first responders who are there to make the community a safer and more beautiful place. 

If you have gardening knowledge or donations, head to the website and be a part of the effort to mobilize art in the prevention of violence in Saint Louis!

community arts stl
community arts stl
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safe connections

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