If it weren’t for my art, I’m unsure whether I could shoulder the stress of living in a pandemic compounded by a tumultuous political environment.
My art has become the tonic that soothes me.
Whenever the heaviness of these times begins to bulldoze me, I pick up my camera and head to the woods to capture some nature shots or to the downtown district to take some architectural photographs. Being in the fresh air and sunshine rejuvenates me.
But, more importantly, the act of creating art — searching for just the right photograph, then finding the best angles of light, perspectives and composition — forces me to be in the moment, pushing aside the chatter of the world, and concentrating only on what’s in front of me. It centers me, helps pull me up by the psychological bootstraps.
That’s the beauty of art. It’s about much more than aesthetics. It’s about soothing our crazy lives, giving us perspective, inspiring us to dream, and stimulating creative problem solving. It’s about widening our social spheres, enhancing our communities, and building our economic well-being.
Such considerations are the backdrop of the October observance of National Arts and Humanities Month. Under the auspices of Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy organization, the goal of the observance is to increase public awareness of the roles of arts and humanities in our lives and to inspire lifelong participation in the arts.
During a city council meeting earlier this month, Mayor Ryan Stanley proclaimed National Arts and Humanities Month in Joplin. It’s the city’s recognition of the importance of the arts and cultural landscape we’ve cultivated in Joplin.
We’ve earned that recognition. It’s not often that we see such a well-established, eclectic menu of arts and cultural activities in a small Midwestern city.
Think about what Joplin offers in arts and culture: We have an annual arts festival and seasonal art walks. We have ballet and opera companies, an organization that presents chamber music, and two community theaters. We have a marimba band, a house concert series, and community symphony and chorale. There’s Post Art Library, Spiva Center for the Arts, and Spiva Gallery on the Missouri Southern campus. We also have an artists’ co-op and gallery and a regional artists’ coalition. Don’t forget the International Film Festival and Shakespeare Festival at the university.
Now, let’s look at our public art. We have community-based murals on Langston Hughes-Broadway and at 15th and Main streets, pieces in which residents were involved in the mural design process and painting. They are among more than 15 outdoor murals in our downtown district alone with others scattered throughout town, including several at the university. We also have the Rotary Sculpture Garden, featuring seven sculptures with two more coming, at Mercy Park, plus we have sculptures at the public library and at Spiva and Cunningham parks.
Our arts and culture have become so established that the city council gave the nod to designation of a 56-block arts district for marketing of the central downtown. It includes an area north of Memorial Hall that will be the site of the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex. Final fundraising is underway now and construction of the complex is scheduled to begin early next year.
Of course, such a robust arts and cultural environment has an economic impact in the form of jobs, new businesses, and increased tax revenue for state and local governments. It can’t be denied that 10 years ago it was the arts that spurred the revitalization of downtown, providing us with more night life and events that have attracted tourism and additional businesses.
The local economic impact of the arts was boldly painted in data collected through Joplin’s participation in the 2015-2016 national research study, Arts and Economic Prosperity V, an economic analysis conducted by Americans for the Arts.
Local data from the study showed that the nonprofit arts and cultural sector in Joplin generates $452,000 in local tax revenue and more than $5.4 million in total economic activity annually. This money is derived from more than just arts or cultural events. It has a wide trickle-down effect.
When people visit an art exhibit or attend a play, concert or other type of cultural activity, their spending extends to restaurants and retail stores, gas stations and convenience stores, and transportation and hotels. The art-related profits of these businesses also funnel to their workers in the form of pay checks.
The implications of such economic activity are not lost on local employers, the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. They know a prosperous arts and cultural sector is a good marketing tool and they use it for attracting tourism, businesses and industry, and new residents.
Joplin has painted a large-scale arts and cultural scene with impacts that are unending. It greatly improves the quality of our lives as a community and as individuals. It is certainly contributing to my current well-being. Had I not jumped into the local arts many years ago, I’m not sure whether I’d now have the tools for surviving the strange environment of America right now. Yes, art is a soothing tonic that deserves a month of recognition.