Nancy Fowler

Arts and Culture Reporter

Nancy Fowler is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, with a particular delight in the stories of people working in that intersection.

She 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.

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Follow her on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Dozens brought shovels and rakes to an Oct. 18 tree-planting event. The sign reads, "They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds."
Transgender Memorial Garden organization

A symbol of new life will officially launch in St. Louis on a day set aside for commemorating violent deaths. Organizers and the public will dedicate the new Transgender Memorial Garden on Friday, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Ballet class at St. Louis' Juvenile Detention Center, Daniel Blount aka Orange Crush and guard tower at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific
Nancy Fowler and Willis Ryder Arnold / St. Louis Public Radio

For 22 years, a St. Louis organization has helped prisoners and youthful detainees project words like "thee" and "thou" and practice pliés and arabesques.

Prison Performing Arts instructors work with inmates on projects like performing Shakespeare, perfecting ballet routines and creating hip-hop poetry. It's an effort whose success is told more by anecdotes than analysis.

Sabina England, Priscilla Block and Denise Thimes
Photos of England and Thimes from their websites; Block from UMSL

A popular vocalist, a well-known activist and an up-and-coming filmmaker and playwright are among six women honored with a 2016 St. Louis Visionary Award.

The awards, which began in 2003, returned last year after a one-year hiatus and reorganization.

Elizabeth Herring leads the girls in St. Louis' Juvenile Dention Center through the five ballet positions.
Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

What does a dancer and former debutante born in 1926 have in common with teenagers at St. Louis’ juvenile detention center?

A lot, as it turns out, according to Elizabeth “Bunny” Herring.

Herring, 89, sees striking similarities between herself and the young women in the ballet classes she teaches inside the locked facility, as part of the Prison Performing Arts (PPA) program.

Students from the Science Center's YES program examine the slave hold at the Griot Museum of Black History. Notice the rat near the baby on the upper right-hand side.
Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

Fifteen-year-old Chassidy Buckner thought she had already learned all about slavery from school and her mother. But at the Griot Museum of Black History, the lesson became personal.

"Because it is my ancestors,” Buckner said.

Looking at the life-sized figures chained together in the hold beneath a slave ship is different than seeing pictures in a book.

"I didn’t know it was that cramped and with, like, blood everywhere," Buckner said.

Antionette Carroll in a Faces of the Movement portrait
Antionette Carroll

St. Louis designer Antionette Carroll doesn’t know what might resolve thorny and multi-faceted problems like racism, stereotypical thinking and gentrification. But she thinks design professionals — and others like you and me — might have bits and pieces of solutions within ourselves.

Naked Chess by Jennifer Shahade references a 1963 photograph of artist/chess player Marcel Duchamp playing against a nude woman.
Jennifer Shahade and Daniel Meirom

Women may not rule the world of chess but they do dominate an upcoming art exhibit around the game.

The World Chess Hall of Fame in the Central West End opens “Ladies’ Knight: The Female Perspective on Chess” Thursday evening. It includes the work of 12 female artists. Some pieces are regulation chess-board size. One is eight feet square with 13-inch-high pieces. Others are video installations.

An exhibition at the Griot Museum of Black History shows a mutiny on the deck of a slave ship.
Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

A new $5 million donation will help the Missouri History Museum collect and exhibit St. Louis’ African-American history. But not everyone trusts a large, mainstream institution to tell these stories.

While the History Museum thrives through such contributions and with Zoo-Museum District funding, the Griot Museum of Black History struggles to even pay its utility bills. In the weeks ahead, we’ll have a detailed report of this languishing establishment.

UMSL theater professor Jacqueline Thompson, second from left, with local actors Tiffany Knighton, Kenyatta Tatum and Reginald Pierre in a 2015 social-justice workshop
'Every 28 Hours' project

The city of Ferguson will be a muse for a gathering of playwrights from across the country. Two dozen theater artists will tour the area Wednesday to get ideas for 90 one-minute plays about police shootings of African Americans across the country.

The theater project is called “Every 28 Hours.” It references a widely quoted but also disputed statistic for how often a black person is killed by police in the United States.

Visual artist and musician Stan Chisholm
Durrie Bouscaren / St. Louis Public Radio

Having a conversation with Stan Chisholm is like looking through a kaleidoscope.

He seems somber and provocative. Then suddenly there’s a turn; oh wait, there’s a glimmer of humor. Another turn, and he’s somewhere in between.

St. Louis Dancers Step-Up co-founder Keith Williams works with performers for Dance Speaks Volume I.
Sara Burke

For more than a year, St. Louis dance professionals have worked to create a performance responding to the death of Michael Brown.

On Friday at 7 p.m., the public can see the result of their efforts at Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive St., in Grand Center. “Dance Speaks Volume I" is presented by St. Louis Dancers Step-Up, in cooperation with the Grand Center Arts Academy Theatre Department.

Kelly Lee and her mother Barbara Hill examine a sculpture inspired by the artist's homeless sister inside the garage studio of JE Baker
Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

Barbara Hill of Fenton will do almost anything to support her four daughters. A decade ago while visiting one daughter in the African Republic of Mali, Hill shut her eyes as her car's driver backed down a narrow mountain road to let another vehicle pass.

So simply riding a forward-moving bus to four St. Louis artists’ studios this past Sunday was a breeze. And an eye-opener, as it turned out.

Organizer Leon Braxton at the site of the Transgender Memorial Park.
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

A sliver of land in St. Louis’ Grove neighborhood is getting a makeover to become what may the country’s first Transgender Memorial Park.

It’s a cooperative effort between the city and community members. Leon Braxton got the idea when he heard about the city’s “Plant4Peace” project, a program that gives out free trees for local gathering spaces.

“I thought about this would be a great opportunity for something in the LGBT community,” Braxton said.

Jonathan Mueller | Flickr

There’s a lot of talk about “privilege” these days: “white privilege,” “heterosexual privilege" or “male privilege.”

It’s not uncommon to have some kind of privilege and not even know it. Many of us in St. Louis and elsewhere don’t know how to define it. But some people learn about male privilege in an unexpected way. They know what life is like for men and for women because they've lived both.

Larissa White, Sicily Mathenia and Cameisha Cotton as the Heathers in New Line Theatre's "Heathers"
Jill Ritter Lindberg / Provided by New Line Theatre

When Scott Miller founded St. Louis’ New Line Theatre in 1991, his mission was to present edgy musicals. Problem was, hardly any were available.

“So in the early years, we did some shows that I wrote and we did some re-imagined shows, like ‘Camelot’ with a really small cast, that kind of thing,” Miller said.

Twenty-five years later, it’s a very different story.

Provided by the Contemporary Art Museum

What if you held a pub crawl but replaced the alcohol with art?

You’d have the Contemporary Art Museum’s Open Studios Tour. Or at least one of the many ways you can experience the Oct. 3-4 event, according to CAM director Lisa Melandri.

A scene from R-S Theatrics' "Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play," showing at the Ivory Theatre through Sept. 20
Michael Young / Proivded by R-S Theatrics

In a post-apocalyptic world, what do you have in common with the other survivors? Finding food? Making fire?

Doh! It’s your love of “The Simpsons” show, of course. Specifically, a 1993 episode called “Cape Feare,” according to a drama called “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” by St. Louis’ R-S Theatrics. It’s a Russian Doll of a play, a spoof within a spoof, showing through Sept. 20 at the Ivory Theatre.

Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

For Portfolio Gallery and Education Center founder Robert Powell, it’s now or never.

At the age of 70, Powell’s long-time dream of a dedicated African-American arts organization is no closer to reality. But his daily reality just got a little closer to making it happen.

Provided by Lifting Up Lila event

Hundreds of St. Louisans have pledged to rally around Lila Perry, a transgender student at Jefferson County’s Hillsboro High School.

A gathering called “Lifting up Lila” was set for 5 p.m. Sept. 4, in Hillsboro City Park. Supporters want to have their say after a group of students walked out in protest Monday when Perry said she planned to use the girls’ bathrooms and locker room. On Thursday night, a group of parents asked the school board to create a policy about who can use what restrooms.

ArtWorks apprentice Tyson Johnson taking apart a bike to later make coat racks and coat hangers
Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 3:31 p.m., Jan. 26 with photo in slideshow of finished sculpture - St. Louis teenagers are using pliers and hammers as well as paintbrushes and pens to make money by making art.

They’re creating coat racks from bicycle parts, sculptures from sticks and canvases from rain barrels. It’s all through a program called St. Louis ArtWorks, now celebrating its 20th year and a new home on Delmar Boulevard.

Outgoing PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman
Provided by PROMO

The executive director of Missouri’s statewide organization for LGBT equality is leaving his post at the end of October. But it's possible he might later continue his work in a different arena: Jefferson City.

A.J. Bockleman has been executive director of PROMO since 2007. He announced today he’s stepping down after eight years of what often felt like an uphill, non-stop fight for LGBT rights.

Fred Onovwerosuoke
Durrie Bouscaren / St. Louis Public Radio

As Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans 10 years ago, St. Louis composer Fred Onovwerosuoke hurried to the attic with cardboard boxes.

But it turned out, upstairs would be the worst place to store them. Shortly after he and his wife and two small sons drove away from their temporary New Orleans home, Katrina tore away the roof, exposing reams of musicals manuscripts to the pounding rain.

From the June 2015 Pride Parade
Sayer Johnson

They’re last in the LGBT acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and they were nearly last in this year’s St. Louis Pride Parade. Now the local transgender community is taking the lead.

They’re making themselves known and making plans to open a community center. It's an effort spearheaded by an organization called the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, or MTUG.

One of Beverly Sporleder's line drawings in the University City Public Library exhibtion.
Nancy Fowler

With school starting, many local kids are looking back on long summer days of watching movies or playing video games. But the Sporleder children spent their summer getting ready for a family art show at the University City Public Library.

Eight family members including three of Beverly Sporleder’s grandchildren are in the exhibition, open through Aug. 30.

Actor Ben Nordstrom
Durrie Bouscaren

He’s a two-time Kevin Kline Award-winner, and a well-known star of the Muny’s “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" and numerous Stages St. Louis shows including “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.” Plus, he has years of New York and regional experience.

But actor Ben Nordstrom doesn’t hesitate to play second fiddle. Or third. Or a mere chorus guy named “Mike” in the The Muny’s current production of “Oklahoma,” which is also his home state.

A scene from "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf," presented by the Black Rep in 2014
Provided by the Black Rep

The events of Ferguson have resulted in an explosion of arts activism in St. Louis. Painters, performers and arts movers and shakers have created a tremendous body of work around racism and other barriers to social justice.

But activism is nothing new to the Black Rep.

Felicia Shaw, new executive director of St. Louis' Regional Arts Commission, said she had a sense that this community would now "be open to change" after the events of Ferguson.
Nancy Fowler

When new Regional Arts Commission (RAC) executive director Felicia Shaw realized her job at a San Diego foundation might be eliminated, she wondered what that might mean for her life.

“I was thinking about what new direction I wanted to go in,” Shaw said. “And then, Ferguson happened.”

Embarrassment, sadness, anger and guilt

Last August, when Shaw listened to the news coming from her hometown of St. Louis, she went through a gamut of emotions: embarrassment, sadness, anger and guilt. What she heard loud and clear were the very same issues that drove her to move San Diego — more than three decades earlier.

This painting of an officer and an artist wearing a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" shirt, by Solomon Thurman, shows the thin line between police and protesters, according to gallerist Freida Wheaton.
Solomon Thurman

In a single moment and with a half-dozen gunshots, St. Louis was shaken to the core on Aug. 9.

The shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police office Darren Wilson unleashed continuous waves of local and national protest that significantly shifted the St. Louis arts scene. Since then, musicians, dancers, and visual, performing and literary artists have sung and performed, and written and painted the issues revealed by the tragedy.

Clockwise from top left, Damon Davis, Freida Wheaton, Michael Castro, Brian Owens, Lee Patton Chiles, De Nichols
St. Louis Public Radio file photos

For the past year, a tragic and powerful muse has fed the energy and work of St. Louis-area artists.

The shooting death of Michael Brown and the unpeeling of issues that followed have inspired a bounty of work with a social-justice mission. As we near the Aug. 9 anniversary of Brown’s death, we talked with a number of arts professionals about their work in the wake of the turmoil:

Sara Sapp as Child B, Sarah McKenney as Child A and Steven Castelli as Clown in Theatre Nuevo's "This Is Not Funny"
Theatre Nuevo

A clown, a poet, two children and two newscasters walk … onto a stage.

It’s not a joke (although it has jokes). It’s a play called “This Is Not Funny,” by a new company named Theatre Nuevo, opening tonight at the Chapel off Skinker near Forest Park. But the name’s a contradiction, said founder and director Anna Skidis.