Community Arts Training (CAT) Institute 2023 Cohort

After a two-year hiatus, the Regional Arts Commission is pleased to welcome the return of the Community Arts Training Institute with the announcement of the 2023 cohort! 

This CAT class includes a diverse range of talent, skill, and experience. It consists of those working in the visual and performing arts, community planning and organizing, social work, wellness and the healing arts, preservation, arts administration, youth programming and mentorship, and more. 

With this cohort, the CAT Institute enters Its 26th year of training artists and community practitioners in cross-sector collaboration to affect positive social change. We are excited to continue this important work with this dynamic group of creatives and community caretakers. We look forward to embarking on this learning journey together and thank the CAT alumni network for its support in carrying on the institute’s mission.

Please welcome the Community Arts Training Institute class of 2023!

Zulay C. Rueda R.  |  KB Williams  |  Diada Jones  |  Erin Silva Fisher  |  Shilpa Rao | Aja Corrigan  |  Michael James Paplanus  |  Cauiterra Elisha Matthews
Cameron Jamarr  |  Gregory Maurice  |  FeliceSkye  |  Sheila Suderwalla  |  Mantra Lotus  |  Latausha Cox  |  Aja Corrigan  |  Tre Davis  |  Miiyaya Adero

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Zulay C. Rueda R.
Social Worker and Artist

I am a Colombian woman, feminist, immigrant, social worker, and artist. I was born to a couple of architects. My artistic work has motivated me to contribute to social justice and equity, using my Latino culture, the concept of movement, and in recent years, everything that being an immigrant has brought to my life. I like to paint with watercolors and sprays. Currently, I work with the migrant and refugee community, am studying for a master’s degree in social work, and work illustrating issues related to the peace treaty in Colombia.

Shilpa Rao
Visual Artist and Teaching Artist
Shilpa Rao is a Saint Louis based, interdisciplinary artist with experience in community art and  teaching, striving to expand artistic horizons, promote multicultural outreach, and connect communities through art. She believes art can bridge gaps in communities, help heal, voice opinions, and spread positivity. Being a certified teaching artist helps her share her passion for art and empower youth with a powerful means of communication. As an immigrant, she is inspired by ancient art forms from India and around the world, especially rooted in geometric and patterned symmetry. Main components in her work are symmetry, detailed patterns, vibrant colors, and textures. She strives to strike a balance and connection between all components, creating a meditative imagery that evokes feelings of calm. She has shown her work in invitational art shows, galleries, art fairs, led community art projects, murals, commissioned work, juried art shows, and held workshops for various age groups. 

Gregory Maurice
Artist and Creative

Gregory Maurice is a poet, writer, actor, and creative who was born and raised in St. Louis. He dove into poetry in 2008 on the campus of Missouri Western State University. Since then, Gregory Maurice has opened up for poets such as The Last Poets, Sunni Patterson and Taalam Acey. Since 2012, he has been a poet facilitator for the Urbstetiks, Inc. youth poetry program “VerbQuake.” He has been on six Saint Louis Poetry Slam teams and is the current Slam Master (since 2020). Gregory Maurice is also producing a Saint Louis Poetry Slam documentary titled “Keep The Flame Lit,” working on his first one-man stage play, poetry chapbook and album titled “Silence Isn’t Always Golden.” Gregory Maurice was a leading member of The New African Paradigm Study Group, partnering with Sabayet, Inc. to bring a lecture series of cultural speakers to the St. Louis region. He is one of two founders of the creative agency GC Studios LLC, focusing on branding and marketing. 

Latausha Cox
Illustrator and Educator
Latausha Cox is a visual storyteller who seeks to influence and transform through engaging, meaningful art practices. She is a Cincinnati native who recently relocated to Saint Louis, Missouri. She focuses her practice on cultural identity using illustrative portraiture. Her style includes intricate lines and vibrant colors. Her media of choice are black and white inks and acrylics. Cox was a lead artist on the Black Lives Matter mural in Cincinnati, Ohio and continues to share her work in various ways including an ongoing project entitled, Story Exchange where an open invitation is extended to all community members to exchange personal outsider experiences through dialogue, later translated into portrait illustrations.  

KB Williams
My name’s KB; I’m a marketing professional by day and an artist by night. I love exploring the intersections of community, creativity, and the resources of corporate America. My hope is that I can use my work to connect both people and experiences in a way that’s never been done before, and I’ve found the sweet spot. I’m able to express myself through my art, all while looking out for those who need it most. I hope to continue partnering with community thought leaders to keep making a difference through my work. Great things happen when your heart is in the right place, and I know there are endless possibilities on this journey of mine. I just can’t wait to see where it takes me next. 

Michael James Paplanus
Actor and Labor Organizer
As an Organizer I have worked on campaigns and unionized DTV and Cricket as well as participated in organizing drives for Amazon, Fight for 15 and Starbucks. As a member of CWA Legislative committee, I work with legislators to find labor friendly candidates and lobby in Jefferson City to promote community positive legislation like CLEAN and unveil harmful campaigns like Right-To-Work. With Bread and Roses, I learned to deliver potent and powerful messages through a palatable and entertaining program. With the knowledge and experience I gain participation in the CAT Institute program I will be able to address local and national issues impacting our communities using an artistic lens to enlighten, enrich and educate. With the tools gleaned from this program I can implement an artistic and education program geared towards promoting creativity in our youth and enriching their inner voices.

FeliceSkye is a multi-passionate creative entrepreneur, teaching artist, award-winning actress, coach, disability advocate, and community organizer. She serves as President of Wellston Community Coalition and founder of Creator Doer Society, a creativity empowerment brand that uses arts and crafts to change the world. Through her art, she advocates, inspires, and empowers individuals toward change. She has spent the last decade utilizing the arts for youth development and has been recognized for her commitment to arts advocacy. FeliceSkye believes the arts are at the heart of thriving, progressive, and diverse communities. She is devoted to working with the citizens of Wellston in expanding their exposure to and facilitating the creation of arts and culture. 

Aja Corrigan
Aja Corrigan is a local historian and community advocate. Her mission is healing community trauma and she believes the way to do this is through education. As the cultural term “Sankofa” beckons us by “reaching back” and inspiring the community, the youth, and St. Louis descendants–with the trials, tribulations and triumphs of our ancestors we can actually move forward. While researching information to share with the St. Louis community through her community platform, Our St. Louis History, she began sharing the stories of the tragic desecration and erasure of history occurring at our local heritage sites. Her local non-profit, The St. Louis Preservation Crew, is committed to leading the uncomfortable conversations to ensure the protection and ethical restoration of these historic landmarks and ancestral repositories, including proposing sustainable, educational, and economic solutions for the honor and preservation of the 42-acre Washington Park Cemetery, a historic African American sacred ground in extreme disrepair, as well as other sacred grounds in extreme disrepair. 

Diada Jones
Fiber Artist
My name is Diada Jones and I’m a 22 year-old multi-medium fiber artist. Born and raised in St. Louis, the arts have always played a big role in my life. As a kid I thought I wanted to be an illustrator; however, it wasn’t until my foundation year at the Kansas City Art Institute that I learned I loved working with fabrics and textiles. Post-departure from school due to the pandemic, I started experimenting with styling and applying the skills I learned in school towards my love of fashion. My practice currently involves exploring the intersection between art, fashion, and performance art. With the help of the CAT program, I hope to learn skills that allow me to use my craft to assist my surrounding community.

Cauiterra Elisha Matthews
North County STL born and raised, streets of Berkeley & Ferguson are where I spent most of my days. When I’m not chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool, I spend my workday efforts as a Recruiter for Build-A-Bear HQ, spearheading IT growth. I also work as a consultant in various capacities for small businesses and organizations. I currently serve dual seats at Jazz St. Louis on the Board of Directors and as President of the Young Friends Board, as well as spending a great deal of time supporting and exposing others to performance arts in St. Louis. To say I’m thrilled would be an understatement to have been selected for the Community Arts Training Institute with the Regional Arts Commission. I look forward to being a more vital catalyst for change within my community and helping to cultivate a lifelong desire to participate in and support performance arts, art exposure, and experiences in St. Louis and beyond. 

Sheila Suderwalla 
Social Worker
Executive Director of Artists First since 2013, Sheila has 20+ years non-profit experience. Her work has been featured in publications such as the New York Times, St. Louis Post Dispatch and Time Magazine. Under her leadership, Artists First, an inclusive, nonprofit art studio, received the Governor’s Council on Disabilities’ 2019 Inclusion Award and the 2023 Missouri Arts Award. She was recognized as one of the “100 St. Louisans You Should Know” 2017 (Small Business Monthly Journal); she is also a 2023 St. Louis Visionary Award Arts Innovator honoree. Sheila has been a national trainer and social activist for over 20 years. As a juried winning artist, she has incorporated art into her work with individuals who have experienced trauma. Sheila obtained her Bachelor of Arts from Principia College, Masters in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and a Certificate in Expressive and Integrative Therapies from Fontbonne University. 

Tre Davis
Counselor-in-Training, Multidisciplinary Artist, Yogi-in-Training
I am a multidisciplinary artist, mental health counselor-in-training, and a yogi-in-training. I grew up in East St. Louis and the surrounding areas of southwestern Illinois. Since childhood I have had a passion for art, sports, and helping others. I am a former three-sport athlete and played collegiate-level football. I have professional experience working with youth and young adults through nonprofit and education organizations. In 2016, I founded Free And Strategic Thinkers (FVST) Club, LLC, which is a foundation to pursue my passions both independently and collaboratively. In my free time, I can be found creating art of all mediums, practicing yoga, trying new restaurants, and spending time with my loved ones. 

Erin Silva Fisher
Erin’s broad experience in nonprofit and educational settings spans event planning, exhibition design, community engagement, communications, and librarianship. A St. Louis native, she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Truman State University and a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A commitment to justice informs all that she does, both professionally and personally. She is driven to provide pathways for social connection where curiosity, care, wonder, and delight can flourish. Her two young children inspire her to advocate for systems change that ensures all young people can reach their full potential. 

Cameron Jamarr 
Cameron is a professional actor, writer, director, and filmmaker, and is Founding Producer of Soul Siren Playhouse, a film & theater production company inspired by social consciousness and responsibility. With a BFA in Dramatic Performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Cameron has shared his talents as a teaching artist and assistant director with companies such as St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Big Muddy Dance Company, and The St. Louis Black Repertory Company, among others. A St. Louis native, he has worked both internationally and abroad, creating original works emphasizing the exploration of culture, identity and societal transformation. Most recently, Cameron presented as a guest artist at the St. Louis Art Museum in honor of their Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Celebration, and can next be seen onstage at the St. Louis Repertory Theater in their upcoming production of “Murder On The Orient Express.” 

Mantra Lotus
Artist and Social Activist
Mantra Lotus is Founder of The Loose Woman’s Sanctuary. As a social activist and narrative poet, she creates vivid tales, mystical folklore, and cautionary fables influenced by her own self-exploration and empowerment. As an artist, she favors African-American folk art, Black Victorian Era, Experimental, and Black Vivid Graphic Art Design. Mantra is the author of “Brownslip, A Loose Woman’s Memoir,” a socially conscious book and creative biopic told through poetry, prose, short story, and two children’s books, “Shades of You, 100 Shades of Black” and “Sarrah’s Ice Cream.” Her latest art project, “Gen Goddesses NFT,” is the only NFT project dedicated to helping African-American women become successful business owners. 

Miiyaya Adero
Artist, Creative Designer, Youth Mentor
Ayanna “Miiyaya Adero” Thompson was born in St. Louis but raised in a village. She believes that it takes a village to raise a child. She is a creative designer, dancer, choreographer, visual artist, dance coach, and mentor. She is a longtime employee of Wohl Community Center, where she started a girls mentoring program called “G.E.M: Girl’s Empowerment and Mentoring Program.” In 2016 she started her brand, “Invision Your Empire,” a clothing line that focuses on hand-painted clothing. Her canvas work is inspired by her mother, MwazaCarol, and close family friend Dayo Johnson, both artists who have given human strength, love and joy through their art. This motivates her to continue their legacy. As she developed her love for art, she realized that Black culture inspires her to be more persistent and intuitive. While still active in dance, Ayanna’s brand Invision Your Empire continues to build a platform that brings insight to Black people of all ages, empower others to follow their dreams, and give other artists the opportunity to expand, rather than suppress, their abilities.