Impact on Individual: Ana Jennings, The DisAbility Project

Ana Jennings

Ana Jennings

Ana Jennings, 46, describes herself as a “geek” in high school. The St. Louis transplant was an honor student growing up in New Orleans and says she never had time to try out for plays back then. At 18, she suffered a spinal cord injury and now uses a wheelchair. But the injury did not affect her strong spirit.

Today, she champions the rights of the disabled and performs as an actress with the St. Louis-based DisAbility Project. The acting troupe operates under the auspices of That Uppity Theatre Company. “Performing gives me a great sense of accomplishment,” says Jennings, who is married and recently celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary. She lives in Kirkwood and has a master’s degree in education, with an emphasis in vocational rehabilitation.

Ana Jennings with The DisAbility Project

Ana Jennings with The DisAbility Project

“I enjoy hearing that immediate response from audience members. For me, it’s cathartic. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they cry, sometimes there are oohs and aahs,” she continues.  “You just don’t see a lot of people with disabilities performing on stage. But this opportunity to act and create art has given me the chance to show people that disabilities aren’t all that scary.”

“It’s been a lifeline for me,” she says. “What we do educates and entertains people, which is what, I believe, art should do. I love how it can really get people to think about something in a different way. It’s confrontational, but not in a negative way. It can hit people in the face but more like with a pillow than a brick. It’s one of the best tools around to combat ignorance and to enlighten people.”

“It’s really empowering and I think we’re making a difference,” continues Ana. “It’s unfortunate that people don’t see disability awareness as a priority and budgets have been cut. But it’s important to show people that no problem is insurmountable and there are obstacles in life that we can overcome.”

That Uppity Theatre Company is an Arts and Education Council PNC Project Grant recipient. To learn more visit

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Behind the Scenes: The Makers

The Makers dancer

Glitter The Arts and Education Council’s 2015 video captures the beauty of our artistic community – The Makers – artists, patrons, contributors and volunteers who make a vibrant community for all utilizing diverse tools and talents: pen, ink, paint brush, hands, feet, or voice – or pocketbooks and time. Each person who participates in and patronizes the arts makes – creates – opportunity for minds to expand, horizons to broaden, and our community to flourish.

To view the video, click here.

3 questions with The Makers director, Ben Kaplan.

What drew you to working on this project with the Arts and Education Council?

St_LouisIt was a combination of organizational mission…and the opportunity to create something lasting and meaningful. I really believe in what A&E does in the Introducing the 2015 A&E Campaign Video: The Makers community. They marry individual donors – who might not otherwise see themselves as part of the creative process – to that process. [A&E] gives donors the opportunity to essentially collaborate with the artists in our community.

What or who do you think distinguishes the St. Louis regional arts scene from other metropolitan areas?

Sam_Stang_2It has always been about resources and access. St. Louis is a smaller city and so, as a creative person, it is far less expensive to live and work here. There is a core community of people who are making amazing things and are driven to innovate creatively. The city has great resources and opportunities for working artists and those are growing leaps-and-bounds every day.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the video?

Violin_roof_CUI want the audience to emotionally connect to the act of creation; to feel like they’ve been transported into the studio process. I want them to be inspired by the breadth of activity happening in this city and march down the street feeling inspired to create something themselves.


The Makers

One million acts of creation

Plucked from the sky and sown on Earth

One million acts of devotion,

Expansion and inspiration

One million refractions, reflections, reactions

Truths, tales, and torrents

One million acts of imagination carved into the spine of a community

It begins with the Makers

Possessors of spyglass and crystal ball

Seeking and creating mysteries

With a singular, lionhearted cadence

Driven by muse, magnificence, and mayhem

It begins with the Makers

Weathered by labor, soothed by passion

Tools of flesh and bone

Sculpting and forging

From the heart to shape souls

It begins with the Makers

Visionary, compassionate beings

Who give compass to creativity

Motive and meaning to money

And concrete realization to vivid imagination

It begins with the Makers

Capital with no capital letter

Providing essential fuel and salve for survival

So that the fires that burn may heal

This is a union of visionaries,

Separated only by their tools

An eternal collaborative twine

Wrapped around brilliant, meteoric packages

A legacy of shimmering moments

One million acts of creation

The Makers: Conceived and Directed by Benjamin Kaplan; Produced by Nicole Hudson and Benjamin Kaplan; Written by Benjamin Kaplan and Marc Chechik; Cinematography and Editing: Benjamin Kaplan; Colorist: Brad Fann; Lighting: Patrick Lanham. The Voices: Chet Fisk, Linda Kennedy The Artists: Sam Stang – Glass Artist; Ellie Balk – Visual Artist; Ken Botnick – Writer/Book Artist; Daniel Burnett – Visual Artist; Syrhea Conoway – Musician; Desirée Jane Dixon – Visual Artist; Rosy Glow – Fire Performer/Hula Hoop; Nova – Fire Performer; Anthony Gaddis – Digital Artist; Josephine Kaplan – Glitter Artist; Zahava Kaplan – Glitter Artist; Linda Kennedy – Actress; Monica Meyr – Dancer; Rafael Tillery – Dancer

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Gitana Productions Uses Art to Break Barriers

"Complacency of Silence: Darfur" written for Gitana by Lee Patton Chiles.

“Complacency of Silence: Darfur” written for Gitana by Lee Patton Chiles.

Since its inception in 1996, Gitana Productions, Inc. has used the arts as a vehicle to bring diverse segments of the St. Louis community together.

“Our mission is to build community and make it diverse using varied forms of artistic expression, such as dance, drama and music,” said founder Cecilia Nadal.

This spring, as a result of a $4,500 PNC Project Grant administered through the Arts and Education Council, Gitana Productions will produce “Black and Blue,” an original play by Lee Patton Chiles that explores the complex relationship between the African-American community and the police. The project will be produced using professional actors and will include community roles for African-American young males from the Ferguson area. “The reason we chose this concept is that we see both groups, African Americans and the police, wounded by mistrust,” said Nadal. “They both have a bruise, a black and blue, which needs healing. African-Americans stand out for the black color of their skin. The police stand out for their blue uniforms. Bias and judgment befall them. People have an unconscious bias that gets applied to both groups in similar ways.”

The play will be performed May 22, at the Missouri History Museum for three days. Then it will be performed at the Kranzberg Arts Center and other venues to be announced. Nadal says so far, nine performances have been planned, all of which are free.

“This is such an important topic we didn’t want any barriers to exist,” said Nadal. “We wanted as many people as possible to be able to see it.”

Currently, Gitana is working with young people in Ferguson at the Greater St. Mark Church who also will be part of the play. “We are training protestors to tell their stories,” continues Nadal. “Our plan is to incorporate some of their stories and the training we are doing with them into the play.”

Gitana Productions is an A&E 2015 PNC Project Grant recipient. For more information, visit

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Ann CorriganAnn Corrigan can think of no better day than one spent immersed in the arts. She’s likely to start with a morning coffee concert by the St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall. After lunch, she’ll browse several of the art galleries before heading to the Fox Theatre for a show or to the Sheldon Concert Hall (an A&E grantee), where she has been a volunteer usher for 20 years.

“The Sheldon is St. Louis’ little Carnegie Hall and I absolutely love it,” says Corrigan, a retired special education teacher. She taught in the St. Louis Special School District for 34 years, retiring in 2004.

“I’m someone who bangs around Grand Center because it’s so rich in arts organizations,” she explained. “I have always felt comfortable and perfectly safe doing things by myself, and I have found the arts here to be quite modest in price, certainly compared to the coastal cities.

“It really doesn’t cost a lot to see a fabulous opera or symphony performance here,” she continued. “And if we don’t have more free things or nearly free things to do than anyplace else in the world someone is going to have to prove that to me, given our zoo, art museum, history museum and botanical gardens, among so many other places.”

No question Corrigan is a major cheerleader for the arts in St. Louis, but she also believes in giving back to arts organizations and institutions. When she was teaching, she supported the Arts and Education Council’s Workplace Giving Campaign through payroll deduction. Then she became a Workplace Giving Campaign Coordinator and encouraged her colleagues to give, explaining their donations to A&E help fund nearly 70 local arts organizations.

“I really love that A&E supports so many arts organizations on such a consistent basis as well as makes room to support new groups,” she said. “Once I retired, I could no longer do payroll deduction so now I write a check. It’s a very happy check for me to write.”

While Corrigan, 67, grew up in Sikeston, Mo., which wasn’t exactly an arts Mecca, she says her mother exposed her to as many community theater and concert performances as possible. “My mother grew up in St. Louis and loved the arts, and she instilled that love in me,” said Corrigan.

Looking toward the future, Corrigan is naming ten of her favorite non-profit organizations, including A&E, as beneficiaries of her retirement plan.

“Retirement funds are fertile ground for bequests,” says Corrigan. “Non-profits won’t have the heavy tax burden that a family member or individual would have to pay. I think it would be wonderful if more people remembered the organizations that gave them so much pleasure in life when they go about estate planning. It’s such a simple thing to do.”

For more information about including the Arts and Education Council in your annual giving or estate plans, contact Kate Francis, Vice President of Development at or 314.289.4003, or visit

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St. Louis ArtWorks Celebrates 20th Anniversary with a New Home!


Artist rendering of the new St. Louis ArtWorks building at 5959 Delmar Boulevard (above). Students participating in St. Louis ArtWorks’ programs (below).

Artist rendering of the new St. Louis ArtWorks building at 5959 Delmar Boulevard (above).
Students participating in St. Louis ArtWorks’ programs (below).

IMG_26266.24.14 011St. Louis ArtWorks StudentIMG_06440276.24.14 009research assisitant with video group

Among the area’s many excellent local arts education programs, St. Lous ArtWorks stands out not only because it trains and nurtures young artists, but also because it pays them. Come summer, it also will be able to grow the number of teenagers it hires and expand its programming thanks to a move to a new building in the Delmar Loop East neighborhood and financial assistance from an Arts and Education Council PNC Project Grant.

Priscilla Block, executive director of St. Louis ArtWorks, says the new building at 5959 Delmar Boulevard and additional grant money will allow the organization to expand how many kids they can hire; have a media and innovation lab that is state of the art; provide membership for adults to do their own work; have an outside garden area for environmental art projects; and partner with schools and organizations that can rent the space.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of St. Louis ArtWorks, which was founded by a group of local citizens who saw a need for meaningful summer employment for underserved teens. Today, the work-training program provides young adults, ages 14 to 19, a yearround opportunity to gain life skills, boost self-esteem and earn a paycheck.

After a competitive application process, selected teens – called apprentices – work in teams to produce artwork that is sold at a public sale, commissioned for public and private clients or performed publicly. Teens not only make art, they also learn about the business of being an artist. Working on commissioned artwork, apprentices have the experience of meeting their clients, preparing a project budget and seeing their work installed.

Block anticipates working with more than 200 under-resourced teens this year. “This spring, we have our largest after-school program with 72 kids,” she said. “From June 6 to July 18, we will have 95 teens participating as apprentices for six weeks, five hours a day, five days a week.” Participating apprentices will be evaluated on objectives relating to growth in artistic skills and knowledge, workforce development, fiscal literacy and communication skills.

Currently, ArtWorks operates in two locations – a primary site at Grand Center’s Centene Center for Arts and Education, owned by A&E, and a satellite studio in old North St. Louis. The new flagship building will allow ArtWorks to consolidate all of its programs in one location.

“We’re thrilled that St. Louis ArtWorks has been able to grow and thrive as a tenant of the Centene Center for Arts and Education,” said Cynthia A Prost, president of the Arts and Education Council. “Seeing organizations like St. Louis ArtWorks move into their own building and expand their programming is a fulfillment of the Arts and Education Council’s mission to enrich our community.”

St. Louis ArtsWorks is a PNC Project Grant recipient of the Arts and Education Council and a tenant of the Centene Center for Arts and Education. For more information, visit

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