Tragedy struck in February 2017 when local dancer Rain Stippec, 26, was shot and left in critical condition in an ambush style attack in Soulard. Since the attack there has been an outpouring of support from her friends, family and members of the local arts community. This September there will be a new festival to support Stippec on her path to recovery called the CommUNITY Arts Festival.

Paige Walden-Johnson, a friend of Stippec and fellow dancer, is organizing the festival, which includes 14 dance companies, a young artist workshop and a variety of free community workshops, including a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop, which uses theatre exercises to address social justice issues.

The festival spans two weekends – September 2 and 9 – with performances at the Grandel and Marcelle Theatres in the Grand Center Arts District and workshops at Webster University and the Satori Theatre, also in Grand Center.

MADCO and Big Muddy Dance Company (both A&E grantees) are among the participating dance companies.

"It's important for the dance community to band together to work to defeat violence in our city," says Stacy West, MADCO executive and artistic director.

While the circumstances this year led to a dance-heavy lineup, Walden-Johnson says future years could feature music, visual art and other art forms.

Stippec has been "behind the scenes" on a lot of the planning for this festival and has been making extraordinary progress in her recovery. "She has surpassed every single tier that she needed to achieve so far," describes Walden-Johnson proudly.

But as Walden-Johnson realized early in the planning stages, the festival is "way bigger than Rain. It can really change the community."

For more information on the CommUNITY Arts Festival, visit