Youth voices are often left out of important conversations about public safety and the public health crisis. But the Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective — a mix of professional artists and minority youth — having been busy creating podcasts this year to encourage social change with a focus on gun violence prevention.
Since 2013, the group’s main outlet has been live performances. But in October, the collective applied for funding to create a youth-led podcast program called StitchCast Studio — not knowing that digital expression would be the collective’s only creative outlet for most of the following year.
“We didn’t know it was going to happen in COVID,” Susan Colangelo, president and executive director of the collective. “It’s been a good way for the youth to be active and safe.”
Colangelo learned they received the City of St. Louis Public Safety Youth at Risk Crime Prevention grant in January, and they had just started getting the podcast studio up and running right before the pandemic hit.
The podcast program really started kicking up right around the time that the protests began in May, she said. Youth artists use dialogue, original poetry, and music to highlight their personal experiences with topics including gun violence, life transitions, and mental health. Several of the youth have lost family and friends to gun violence, experienced homelessness and are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We want people to feel safe coming into this neighborhood, whether they’re students or your family or your grandmother,” said one participant in the StitchCast Studio trailer. “This is a show about gun violence, what’s happening in our inner-city streets and finding solutions to issues that are coming at our youth hard.”
The collective is looking for participants ages 16 to 24, particularly youth from St. Louis city by December 31. Youth may earn a $100 stipend for participating in four workshops in small groups, concluding in a podcast recording about issues of concern to them.
Sessions are done in Zoom. Youth alumni of the program can also then do more two-week podcasts, earning $50 stipends for each.
The collective will run four podcast workshops a month through December. Aside from the city’s grant, the project also has support over three years from Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund.
Youth are at the center of the collective’s work and have expressed the need for mentorship and community to support them.
“Gun violence is a pressing public health crisis that consumes the attention of the engaged youth,” according to the collective’s website. “Youth have the opportunity to work through their pain and loss and be a force multiplier, impacting families, schools and neighborhoods.”
There were many issues weighing down the youth before the pandemic, and now that has been compounded, Colangelo said.
“We want their voices to be heard,” she said. “It also gives them some kind connection with other youth.”