The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

January 3, 2014

Marta Churchwell: Joplin arts scene gets a fresh perspective

JOPLIN, Mo. — I'm the Globe newsroom's dirty penny that it can't get rid of. This column represents my third stint with the Globe, and if it is any comparison, I may have a long future in the arts.

After spending 23 years as a news reporter and columnist for the Globe, I decided it was time to pursue other professional interests. Two years later, I returned to the newsroom part time while attending college full time. After graduating, I quit haunting the newsroom for 12 years. Now, I'm back with this column on the arts.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert in the arts. But a column from my amateur perspective can have benefits -- it allows me to see the arts like so many people do, as a layman scratching my head and wanting to understand.

While I recognize that Joplin is a town big on sports, it doesn't mean that athletics are for everyone. I grew up in a family where athletic skills were inept at best, so sports were merely a peripheral interest.

My grandmother oil painted and eventually had her work shown in exhibits. My mother worked on sculptural and painting projects, using skills she learned in college art classes as an adult. My brother and I were heavily into music. I played piano, clarinet and saxophone, and he earned a bachelor's degree in music. In my family, the greatest interest was in the arts of one type or another.

I'm not surprised then that the meandering road of my career and personal pursuits kept taking turns toward the arts. A few years back, my inquisitiveness about the backstage workings of theater led me into a production of "The Vagina Monologues" at Missouri Southern State University. My side business of jewelry-making spurred me into helping establish the Joplin Regional Artists Coalition, and my curiosity of murals led me to take part in painting the "Dreams Take Flight" mural at 15th and Main streets. Then I joined The Tank: Public Art. Now, I work at Spiva Center for the Arts.

All of this has given me access to art professionals with knowledge of both performance and visual arts -- key to writing an arts column.

The real nudge for pursuing this column, though, came from an evening of pondering whether Joplin has fully risen to the merits of the designation as the state's 2012 Creative Community.

In accepting the award from the Missouri Arts Council, then-mayor Mike Woolston said, "Historically, I believe that Joplin has been perceived as a small community without an interest in the arts. Nothing could be further from the truth. The arts have helped drive economic development in our town. While we grieve the loss of life from the May 22 (2011) tornado and question what we could have done differently, we have realized that the arts have become an integral part of our healing and rebuilding."

That was evidenced by the "pop-up" art that followed the tornado -- the spontaneous murals, carvings on remnants of trees and paintings and mosaics on concrete steps that remained at leveled homes. Then there were the contributions of art organizations to raise money for rebuilding or to simply help people heal. Heartland Opera Theatre and the Angel Guild of Joplin Little Theatre held fundraisers, and Spiva Center for the Arts exhibited tornado-inspired works by area artists.

The state arts council noted that even before the tornado Joplin was a community of great creativeness. This came vividly into view as I assisted in writing the Creative Community nomination. While compiling a list of local arts offerings, I couldn't believe what a city of 40,000 had to offer: four theater groups, plus the theater department at MSSU; Midwest Regional Ballet and Heartland Opera Theatre; Pro Musica chamber music programming, Southern Symphony Orchestra and the university's Chamber Choir.

Visual arts exhibits at the time included Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Phoenix Fired Art, Spiva Center for the Arts and six other galleries. Murals included two at City Hall, one at the Missouri Welcome Center on Interstate 44, and another at 15th and Main streets, with more added in town since then.

The list of offerings in adult's and children's art programming was lengthy. Don't forget to include downtown's Third Thursday art walk and the formation of Connect2Culture, which promotes and develops the arts.

We have it going for us in Joplin, thanks to the enthusiasm of artists and arts organizations. It's time that we fully embrace that. This column is aimed at those who don't buy in to the arts, much like those of us who don't buy into sports because we don't understand them. Hopefully, this column will help the art naysayers get behind our arts community by developing a greater understanding of both visual and performing arts.

Contact Marta Churchwell with column ideas and comments at joplinglobe arts@yahoo.com.

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