Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

Nancy Fowler

Arts & Culture Reporter

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

She’s an avid reader of memoir and a big fan of all true, compelling stories, which is why she loves public radio.

Nancy received a regional Emmy Award for news writing at WXYZ-TV in Detroit, and the Pride St. Louis' Felton T. Day Award for service to St. Louis' LGBT community. Her numerous fellowships include USC Annenberg’s NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater, and the Wake Forest University Addiction Studies Program for Journalists.

Email her: NFowler@STLPublicRadio.org

Follow her on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Hundreds of people participate in a die-in at police headquarters in downtown St. Louis during the fall 2017 protests against the Stockley verdict.
Eric Pan

Updated at 4:12 p.m. with clarification — When early photos of the 2014 Ferguson protests flashed across photographer Eric Pan’s phone and computer screen, he mainly saw active confrontation — and wondered if there was more to the story.­

Pan brought his camera to Ferguson, where protesters took to the streets after then-officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot and killed Michael Brown, a black man. Three years later, he joined marches against a judge’s acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who is white, in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith.

Pan’s perspective on both protests is the subject of an exhibition opening Saturday at the Griot Museum of Black History and Culture called “Civil Unrest in Review.”

Carmen and Isabel Garcia with a Clydesdale, on location in September 2017 at Grant's Farm for a promotional St. Louis Blues video.
Carmen Garcia

Updated Sept. 13, 2018 - Since we originally published this story, the mother-daughter duo of Carmen and Isabel Garcia have continued performing in musical theater separately and together.

In June they played a grandmother and granddaughter in Mustard Seed Theater’s “Luchadora”, a drama about Mexican wrestling.

DeRay Mckesson poses in the trademark blue vest that he first wore in the early days of the Ferguson protests.
Adam Mayer

An educator who quit his job to join the Ferguson protests, and then became a nationally known activist is coming back to St. Louis on Thursday.

DeRay Mckesson will appear at Union Avenue Christian Church to talk about his book, “On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope.”

Jess Dugan took this photograph of Caprice, 55, in Chicago in 2015.
Jess Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre

From the beginning, St. Louisans Jess Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre were in step.

They met in 2012 while country line dancing, a shared passion, and it wasn’t long before they discovered more complementary interests. As their romance deepened, they began collaborating on a photography project and book featuring portraits of older transgender subjects. After moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 2014, they continued traveling the country to meet with subjects.

They’re celebrating the August publication of "To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults." An exhibition of some of the portraits will open Thursday at projects+gallery, 4733 McPherson Ave.

In 2015, LouFest brought a record 50,000 people to Forest Park. 2018 will be a different story.
Jess Luther | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. — Music fans, vendors and service providers startled by the cancellation of this weekend’s LouFest in Forest Park are shifting from disappointment to worry as they try to figure out how to recoup the cost of tickets, fees and other expenses.

Festival organizers early Wednesday called off the ninth annual event, three days before it was set to begin. Last year the two-day festival was at full capacity, drawing 32,000 fans each day.

Jean-Michel Basquiat poses in front of some of his work in the apartment he and Alexis Adler shared.
Alexis Adler

When Alexis Adler lived with New York painter Jean-Michel Basquiat in an East Village apartment, she never knew what she might wake up to.

Where most people saw walls, floors and even refrigerators, the emerging master of social commentary saw canvas. Basquiat often painted throughout the night, the ideas in his head spilling out onto almost every surface in the run-down space.

St. Louisans will soon have a rare glimpse into the life and early work of Basquiat, a one-time New York street artist whose paintings eventually sold for more than $100 million. “Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979–1980” opens Friday at the Contemporary Art Musem and runs through Dec. 30. It displays the nascent creations of the artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican roots, who died in 1988 at 27, reportedly of a heroin overdose.

Jen Kerner plays a Bird Girl in Christ Memorial's 2016 production of Seussical.
Cindy Tiefenbrunn

St. Louis actor Jen Kerner has played dozens of characters, but in recent years she’s taken on a new role: making the theater experience enjoyable for people who are overwhelmed by loud sounds and bright lights that are part of the typical theatrical experience.

Kerner works in job placement for people with developmental disabilities who often have sensory issues. Four years ago, she began to pay more attention to her own sensitivities during rehearsals for “The Music Man," in which the orchestra seemed noisy and abrasive. Shortly thereafter, a doctor diagnosed her with autism.

Tihara Mari rehearses with Grupo Atlantico at the home of founder Carmen Dence.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

When Carmen Dence was growing up in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia, she danced to cumbia, porros, gaitas and other traditional sounds of her country.

Dence left Colombia in 1969 to attend graduate school at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Nine years later, she and her husband moved to St. Louis, where she became a radiology professor at Washington University. But she never lost her passion for the music and dances of her homeland.

Mourners gather to remember Kiwi Herring in August 2017, in this file photo.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Members of the LGBTQ community and others will gather Friday at Transgender Memorial Garden to commemorate Kiwi Herring, a black, transgender woman killed last year by police.

Two police officers shot Herring last August while they were investigating a reported stabbing in the apartment building where Herring lived with her partner and three children.

Brandon Bieber played a number of different roles in the recent touring production of "Something Rotten."
Brandon Bieber

When Brandon Bieber was a toddler, his parents took him to his older sisters’ dance recitals.

Soon, he was riveted to the sight of their sequins and sashays. When a call went out for children to be part of a Westport Playhouse production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” his sister tried out.

“They said, ‘We like her — and we’ll take the boy, too,’” Bieber said.

For more than a decade, Bieber has worked as a Broadway and touring dancer and actor. He’s back in St. Louis to direct a St. Lou Fringe Festival play about a stock-car racer challenging traditional female stereotypes, called “Race Cars and Romance.”

Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove. She married at 14, then came to St. Louis at 20, after her first husband died, to join her brothers who worked as barbers.
Madam Walker Family Archives/A'Lelia Bundles

In 1888, a young, African-American woman left Louisiana to join her brothers in St. Louis.

The future Madam C.J. Walker earned a living by doing laundry, then began selling beauty products. Eventually she founded her own company and went on to become one of the nation’s first black, female millionaires. Warner Brothers is producing a TV series for Netflix about her life.

Walker’s time in St. Louis was transformational, according to her great-great granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, who wrote the book on which the series is based.

Stephanie Regagnon, far right, poses for a photo in 2014 with some of the Ava's Grace scholarship recipients.
Stephanie Regagnon

When Stephanie Regagnon of Kirkwood was in her 20s, a jury found her mother guilty of a federal crime and sent her to prison for four years. The family maintains that she is innocent.

The first time Regagnon visited her mom, she noticed small children stocking up on vending-machine snacks for their parents to enjoy when they came out to see them.

“It seemed like they were trying so hard to create a nice environment,” Regagnon said. “It was pretty soul crushing.”

Regagnon imagined the children waiting to see their parents would likely have a hard time getting to college. In 2010, she started a scholarship fund called Ava’s Grace to help young people whose fate brushed so closely against her own.

RhonniRose Mantilla, wearing a red dress, rehearses Thursday night for an upcoming community production of West Side Story.
Monica Mileur | COCA

A few weeks ago, St. Louis provided a flashpoint in a national conversation about theater casting and cultural heritage.

A group of visiting theater artists booed a Muny performance with a white actor playing an Asian role, before walking out. They also objected to Caucasian actors playing Puerto Ricans in a segment from “West Side Story.”

This weekend, COCA is performing “West Side Story” at the Edison Theatre at Washington University. Half the characters in the story are Puerto Rican. But with a few exceptions, they’ve historically been played on stage and in film by white actors.  That bothers some of the young people in the COCA production.

Incoming Rep artistic director Hana Sharif will spend a year shadowing retiring director Steve Woolf and connecting with various communities.
The Rep

The incoming artistic director of Repertory Theatre of St. Louis believes that growing audiences involves much more than simply issuing one-time invitations.

Director, playwright and producer Hana Sharif will spend a year getting to know the area and The Rep before stepping into the post after longtime artistic director Steven Woolf retires in 2019. She comes to St. Louis from Baltimore Center Stage, where she worked as associate artistic director.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Nancy Fowler talked with Sharif about the work ahead and the experience she’ll bring to The Rep.

Shayba Muhammad crafted a 12-week course to help artists and artisans start or grow a small business. 7/26/18
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

A few years ago Shayba Muhammad started making jewelry for herself, and was inspired to start a business, Mahnal, to sell her work.

Now she wants to help other artists and artisans who would like to do the same. The Makers Program, which she started with help from a $10,000 prize from Arts and Education Council, will offer guidance to help participants navigate the business end of their craft.

Hana Sharif will begin working with The Rep this fall and become artistic director in 2019.
The Rep

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has named Hana Sharif  as artistic director to replace Steven Woolf.

Sharif, who is associate artistic director at Baltimore Center Stage, will take The Rep post at the end of the 2018-2019 season. 

Sharif’s career includes working as a director, playwright and producer. She is the first African-American woman to head a large professional theater organization in St. Louis.

Former Mayor Raymond Tucker (at right) and then-civic leader and bond issue chairman Sidney Maestre look out over an area of Mill Creek Valley slated for clearance in this photograph from 1956.
Missouri Historical Society

Lois Conley of St. Louis grew up in Mill Creek Valley, where everything was in walking distance, and neighbors kept a close eye on each others’ children.

“You felt safe; You felt protected. Everybody knew everybody,” Conley said.

But in the late 1950s, the area between Union Station and Saint Louis University was condemned in the name of urban renewal. Families moved away and lost touch.

Now St. Louis is a finalist in a national contest that would help fund a public art project documenting the destruction of Mill Creek.

Among the things on Owen Ragland's calendar are a monthly residency at the Dark Room and a slot at this year's LouFest.  6/28/18
Carl Wickman

Owen Ragland is a musician on the move. In the last year, the 17-year-old pianist, producer and bandleader has played the LouFest in support of local artist Mvstermind, released a debut album plus follow-up EP and launched a monthly residency at the Dark Room

Some of the next items on his agenda include a performance with his quintet at this year’s LouFest and graduating from Webster Groves High School.

He spoke with Cut & Paste about his path to music, which he started at age 3 — and his efforts to fuse elements of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music into a style all his own.

Coffee Wright founded the St. Louis Inner City Cultural Center Enterprise 20 years ago. This year, the organization is partnering with the Missouri History Museum for a Friday night Juneteenth event. This photo is from her group's second annual Juneteenth
Derrick Phillips

St. Louis is known for its elaborate Fourth of July events, with fireworks bursting in dozens of municipalities and most famously, over the Arch.

But many St. Louisans want that kind of attention also focused on a significant day for African-Americans and the nation: Juneteenth. It commemorates a June 19, 1865, Texas order that freed all enslaved Americans, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Several local events mark the occasion. Many take place this weekend, including one organized by Tracy Johnson of south St. Louis, who said he can’t overemphasize the day’s importance.

“Besides an African-American’s birthday, that should be the next day they celebrate,” Johnson said.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis' most recent Shakespeare in the Streets production, Blow, Winds, will be on stage this weekend at the Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library.
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is one of the most prominent theater companies in town, yet it doesn’t own a stage.

The organization shares its various stages — Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park, local schools and even city streets — with the public. With programs like Shakespeare in the Streets, which tells a community’s story, that sharing comes with great responsibility.

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