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Cherokee Street Reach pushes art as tool for developing life skills

Cherokee Street Reach participants collaborate on a painting
Provided by Cherokee Street Reach
Cherokee Street Reach participants collaborate on a painting

Last year a group of artists got together to form an arts camp. Initially they wanted to provide a place for kids to spend time between the end of traditional summer camps and the start of the new school year. 

“We just really wanted to find something, or find a way to help children utilize their potential for something productive, and since we’re all artists, that’s what we know,” said founding member Pacia Anderson, 36.  

The project has since evolved into a character-building and life-skills workshop quietly disguised as an art camp. Anderson runs what's called Cherokee Street Reach with Shareca “Shae Brown” Reynolds-White, 41, Eric “Prospect” White, 30, Erika Johnson, 42, and Basil Kincaid, 28. Each artist brings different skills to their workshops, everything from painting and singing to yoga and break-dancing. These contributions help the group enact a somewhat subversive character-building philosophy. They set kids up with art projects that lead to lessons in skill-sharing, money management and long-term goal setting. 

“You can’t sit some kid down and just say collaboration is important, and you should share with one another,” said Kincaid. “That’s the power of art, it’s just a vehicle for these intangible lessons.” 

At the end of week, the artists help the students form a pop-up gallery open to the public and they sell the work they’ve made. The artists try to teach the students about presentation and developing interest in the work through telling personal narratives related to the art. Last year one group produced a mural that sold for $250 and one girl sold a painting for $100.

Cherokee Street Reach's first participants
Credit Courtesy of Cherokee Street Reach
Cherokee Street Reach's first participants

“She kept a hundred dollars, and for an 8 year old, that’s like a million bucks,” laughed Kincaid.

Although this year will only be the project’s second year of operations, enrollment has more than doubled. Initially the founders funded the camp out of pocket. This year they received contributions and supplies from local businesses, independent donors and the Missouri Botanical Garden. The camp runs for the first week in August, which leaves a gap of a week before the St. Louis City school year begins.

The original camp session forged bonds between the attendees and artists, so much so that when the kids found out the artists lived in the neighborhoods alongside Cherokee Street, the kids woul show up at their front doors.

“We literally had to stop the kids from coming to the house,” Shareca Reynolds-White said, laughing.

Even participating artists take away new lessons from their involvement in the camp. They’ve had to learn to rely on trust while they build the organization from the ground up. 

“Trusting our experience, trusting our expertise, and trusting each other’s gut,” said Anderson.

Since they first embarked on the camp development, the artists have become a tight-knit group. If Anderson runs out of gas, she calls Reynolds-White. If Reynolds-White gets a flat tire, she calls Eric White.  This past year Johnson almost lost her house to foreclosure and the group helped her through the process.  Yet the artists know they aren’t the focus.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the kids,” said Johnson.

St. Louis Public Radio wants to know, how do you as a parent fill the time between the end of summer camp and the beginning of the school year.  Feel free to contact Willis Ryder Arnold (warnold@stlpublicradio.org) or comment below.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.