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The Ville’s Sumner High School was the first high school west of the Mississippi to educate Black students, nurturing artists like Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, Grace Bumbry, and more. Sumner was recommended for closure in fall 2020 – a recommendation that would further decades-long disinvestment in one of the nation’s most historically significant Black communities.

4theVille and the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, in collaboration with St. Louis Public Schools, developed a multi-year, in-school arts residency at Sumner. Over a dozen of St. Louis’s leading arts and cultural institutions would provide professional Teaching Artists, offering students daily rigorous arts training. The Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt the program in March 2021: the program debuted in August 2021, and Year 2 began this August.

Students now select from six arts & activism tracks:

  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Music
  • Visual Art
  • Fashion
  • Living Art: History, Museums, & Tourism

Board of Education Vote 

The St. Louis Board of Education unanimously voted on March 9, 2021 to keep historic Sumner High School in The Ville open in direct response to the Recovery Plan prepared by 4thVilleSTL, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Sumner Renaissance, Sumner PRFC and Market Analytics LLC  in partnership with Superintendent Adams. Full press release.

Recovery Overview

To assure community grounding, the partners worked with a community-based organization to hire program directors tasked with integrating the elective studios into the school and curriculum. The program director(s) report to their respective organization(s) and SLPS. Additionally, they are supported by an Advisory Board made up of representatives from The Ville community, Sumner alumni, partner organizations and local leaders.

Full Plan

Questions? Contact us at

In the News:

December 8, 2021 – “Small but spirited, Sumner High choir finds hard-fought harmony” via St. Louis Public Radio

November 4, 2021 – “Arts are so important: Hollywood casting director visits Sumner High School” via KSDK

August 27, 2021 – “Historic Sumner High School Has Its First Choir In Decades” via St. Louis Public Radio

March 9, 2021 – “Closing Sumner High School Is ‘Erasing American History,’ Supporters Say” via St. Louis Public Radio

February 26, 2021 – ‘You cannot wipe the history out’ | The effort to revive a historic Black neighborhood in St. Louis” via KSDK

December 14, 2020 –  “Arts and culture leaders pen letter in support of sparing Sumner High School from closure” via STL Magazine

Community of Supporters

Charles Berry, Jr.
Alison & John Ferring
First Bank
Mont & Karen Levy
Missouri Arts Council
Penny Pennington
Regional Arts Commission
William E. Weiss Foundation