This week, I’ve been drenched in 2019 year-end recaps online, on TV and in magazines. I figure I might as well jump on the bandwagon, giving a glimpse of some of the pertinent activities that 2019 brought us in the local arts.

We continued to build our reputation as an arts community by moving forward with plans for a downtown arts and entertainment center, along with designating a 56-block area of the downtown as an arts district.

Complementing work on the arts district was an announcement that a black box theater will be opened downtown.

Meanwhile, a Rotary Sculpture Garden was added to our smorgasbord of public art offerings, and at George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, there was a changing of the guard.


Connect2Culture, our local arts advocacy nonprofit, and Spiva continued to pursue its vision of bringing an arts and entertainment center to the downtown district, raising nearly $15 million toward the estimated $16 million project.

The fundraising success sealed a deal with the city of Joplin to donate the Memorial Hall parking lot for the project.

Plans call for a performing and visual arts complex at Seventh Street and Joplin Avenue immediately north of Memorial Hall.

It is to include a 450-seat performance hall, 1,500-person festival plaza, a rooftop terrace, office space for C2C, and a new home, including expanded exhibition space, for Spiva.

The center will be named the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Center to honor the retired president and CEO of Leggett & Platt Inc. who committed $5 million to kick off fundraising.

Planning and construction of the center will be funded entirely through private contributions; no public money will be involved.

The goal is to have the complex open in a couple of years.


In a continued effort to promote downtown revitalization and tourism, a proposal to designate an arts district came to fruition through the efforts of local arts leader Linda Teeter.

It began in May when Teeter requested the city council designate such a district as a way of embracing our reputation as an arts community and promoting the downtown area as a tourist destination.

She proposed a district running from B Street south to 12th Street and from Wall Avenue east to Pennsylvania Avenue.

The council approved designation of the area but for marketing purposes only; it will not entail city funding or oversight.

Earlier this month, Teeter unveiled the district’s logo — a design reflecting the energy of the district —and she is now developing funds for signage. Plans call for district entrance signs at B Street, 12th Street and Sixth or Seventh streets, plus placement of pole banners throughout the district.

Teeter and her advisory committee are also in the process of surveying businesses in the district so a directory and a map can be developed for tourists and other visitors.


Bolstering the effort to make the central downtown an art-centric district, associates of Dream Theatre Co. announced plans to open a black box theater in a building at 124 S. Main St. The building was formerly the home of a deli and a bakery.

The project partners and investors — James Boone, Becki Arnall, Marilyn Marshall and Becky Jones — intend to create a space for plays, musicals and other productions, such as stand-up comedy performances. Plans call for it to open in the coming year.

The small size of the building is making it conducive to a black box style of theater, in which there is no dedicated stage area or access to stage sets or traditional curtains.

It allows greater flexibility in staging performances and creates greater intimacy for the audience.


Joplin Arts Fest in September marked the first public viewing of the new Rotary Sculpture Garden, a collection of ten large-scale sculptures installed in Mercy Park at 26th and McClelland Boulevard. The garden was a project of Rotary Club of Joplin, Daybreak Rotary Club, and representatives of the city and art community.

The sculptures are primarily bronze wildlife forms, created by sculptors from across the country. Rather than being commissioned for the garden, they were donated — by local business owners Jim and Barbara Hicklin, local arts advocates Lance and Sharon Beshore, and Cornell, the arts and entertainment center namesake.

Tentative plans call for new sculptures to be gradually added.


The leadership at Spiva took a turn early last year when Josie Mai, its executive director of three years, announced her resignation to accept employment elsewhere.

The interim director reins were handed to Sue Adams, a Spiva board member who had recently retired as director of Joplin Workshops Inc.

A board committee is continuing the search for a permanent replacement for Mai.

Contact Marta Churchwell with column ideas and comments at

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Marta is an arts columnist for The Joplin Globe.