CommUNITY Art Festival aims to benefit Stippec recovery efforts


A purple glow creeps across the Grandel Theater and a steady silence hovers over the audience. A woman wearing a custom made Prince purple vest enters the stage with a violin as three dancers follow her. She plays Purple Rain by Prince as Rain Stippec gazes at the stage with tear-filled eyes. 

The applause erupts as Stippec and her two sisters hug each other and cry. The CommUNITY Arts Festival is coming to a close.

Stippec and a fire department captain were shot while sitting in their car in Soulard at 12am on a February morning. Stippec, a dancer and Webster alumni, was shot several times in the back leaving her in critical condition.

The Modern American Dance Company performs "Accidentally on Purpose." The photographer said this photo symbolizes "lifting" Rain up.   PC: Ron W. Photo
The Modern American Dance Company performs “Accidentally on Purpose.” The photographer said this photo symbolizes “lifting” Rain up.
PC: Ron W. Photo

After Stippec was shot, friend Paige Walden-Johnson stopped everything to try and help. The result was the CommUNITYArts Festival, which raised over $10,000.

The goal of the festival was to raise money for Rain’s recovery after the shooting. The $10,000 raised will go  to Rain’s  hospital bills.

“Right now, they’re at a million and climbing,” Rain said. “I still have more surgeries to go and things like that, I’m still going to physical therapy. So all of the money raised, essentially, is funding for me to continue to get better.” 

Stippec’s family had a question of whether or not Stippec will be able to dance again.

“I hope to, obviously, be able to dance again,” Rain said. “That’s kind of the hope and dream of everyone here and what I’m working for is to be able to get back to my normal life, teaching and dancing.”

Seven months later, Stippec still attends physical therapy three times a week. Although she is out of the hospital, she still has a feeding tube, a drain behind her pancreas and a stoma. These are things that can weigh down any other 26 year old, but not Rain, according to sister Katie Stippec.

“She’s really working hard on her strength and she’s a determined lady so she’ll get back to it,” Katie said. “She’s a dancer, it’s part of her identity. It’s who she is.”

Rain has wanted to be a dancer since she was little and watched both her sisters dance. Rain said she was told by her parents she could become one when she was potty trained. Rain trained herself early to join the sisterhood tradition.

Paige Walden-Johnson saw this motivated spirit in her friend Rain. Walden-Johnson attended multiple offices and organizations to recruit speakers, artists and musicians to be involved with the festival. Not a single organization she went to said no. In her mind, it was all worth it for someone like Rain.

“The fact that she literally died and came back to life, that she is not concerned about herself and she’s still trying to help others,” Walden-Johnson said. “That just shows that she’s already community minded. She was like that even before this event.”

Another goal of the festival was to acknowledge art as a healing act.

“With trauma victims, words don’t come out as easily,” Walden-Johnson said. “So with painting, moving, [victims] can still express themselves and not feel trapped in their mind or trapped in their fears.”

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch homicide map shows dozens of homicides in 2017. . According to Forbes, as of January of 2017, St. Louis is the second most dangerous city in America.

The two shooters were charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action with a cash-only bond set at $750,000, as reported by KSDK. According to case 1722-CR01003 on Missouri Case Net, As of July, the two perpetrators’ bail was reduced to $250,000. Their bail was paid and they were put on house arrest. Their next court date is October 23rd, 2017.

Statistics and violence do not stop the motivation for a better community, according to Katie. Rain’s experience and the outcomes of the festival provide an example.

“Out of something so horrible, something wonderful was born,” Katie said. “The community, a community that is broken and hurting, is coming together and it’s wonderful to watch.”

Walden-Johnson and the Stippec sisters look toward the future in helping Rain become the best person she can be as a result of what she went through. Through community action Walden-Johnson plans to have live events, a golf tournament and an artist retreat to promote art healing. Walden-Johnson said coordinating the Arts Festival inspired her to do more for Rain and the community.

“In a way I actually think of Rain not only saving her life, but saving mine.” Walden-Johnson said. “She’s given me the confidence to make events like this.”

According to Katie, the three Stippec sisters are close and when it comes to Rain’s strength, proud is not even close to how they feel.

“I don’t know if there is a word, but i am floored by her strength, by her courage and compassion.” Katie said. “We all are.”

Additional reporting by Jessica Karins

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