Emily Frankoski: Partake and celebrate the arts community

Before 2020, I never even imagined a Joplin lacking arts and culture. Why would I? My job and Connect2Culture, the nonprofit that employs me, exists to ignite a passion for the arts, culture and entertainment in the Joplin area. Let’s be real: No arts and culture would mean no C2C and no job. Joplin without C2C would most assuredly have changed my life trajectory.

Suddenly, we got a glimpse of what a void might look like when COVID-19 hit. More than 40 unique entities specializing in all forms of arts and culture, and calling Joplin home, were hit hard. Instead of spreading the word about creative opportunities, C2C was keeping track of cancellations, sharing findings about aerosol studies, and searching for safe reopening plans. Luckily, our arts and cultural community is flexible and tenacious, adopting both virtual and take-home plans almost immediately. They may be down but definitely not out, and they have robust safe reopening plans firmly in the works.

With this in mind, there’s no better time to spotlight and celebrate National Arts & Humanities Month in Joplin. NAHM is a nationwide collective recognition of culture in America. It is both a chance to celebrate arts and cultural organizations and to encourage those not yet involved in our creative community to explore and begin a lifelong relationship with arts and culture.

Personally, the arts gave me a voice. I grew up singing competitively, cantering at church, performing in high school theatrical productions, and participating in Joplin Little Theatre’s summer workshops and productions. My passion for the performing arts expanded and matured while attending Saint Louis University. Taking a break from my more classically trained background, I joined an all-female a cappella group and eventually helped found a co-ed a cappella group.

Simultaneously, I landed my first arts-centric job as a docent at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art. There, my passion for visual arts made its grand entrance. Helping visitors understand and feel connected to the art on display gave me a sense of purpose. It enhanced my own love for the art by sharing it with someone else. My job lets me continue this sharing.

Soon, I flexed my own visual arts muscle by enrolling in the most enriching elective classes I could have chosen — photojournalism and computer art. Both provided skills I use in my job every single day.

It’s clear the arts have influenced who I am today. They have given me confidence, identity, passion, drive, resilience, connection and direction. They make life more fun and have brought me lifelong friends. There’s no doubt in my mind the arts and humanities have made a difference and changed my life for the better. I want this effect to go viral and touch your life as we celebrate NAHM.

Especially in this turbulent year, the inclusion of arts and cultural organizations can make our city more enjoyable by positively impacting our quality of life. It also has a formidable economic impact. During 2015-2016, C2C assisted in an economic impact study of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences. This study identified our creative community as a $5.4 million industry, supporting the equivalent of 191 full-time jobs, and contributing $452,000 in government revenues.

We are convinced the follow-up study, currently paused because of the pandemic, will confirm substantial growth in the past five years. Most do not realize the powerful ripple effect arts-related spending can make on the Joplin economy. This is something to celebrate.

The arts can make your life better and boost the economy. Here are a few suggestions for sharing NAHM:

• Get involved. Safely attend arts and cultural events and share them with family or friends. Sign up for C2C emails to help you know so you can go.

• Lend support. Missing one of your favorite arts or cultural organizations because of to the pandemic? Consider making a donation or buying a gift card.

• Try something new and take a creative class.

• Enjoy the arts virtually, on your own or with people you love. Play with clay, draw and make music with your kids at home. Watch a documentary on a favorite artist or visit a digital exhibition. Sing, dance or “paint and sip” with friends.

• Inform local elected officials how important arts and arts education funding is to you, your family and your community.

Visit americansforthearts.org for a complete list of celebration suggestions.

While October may be the arbitrary month chosen to recognize and celebrate the importance of arts and culture in our lives, C2C can help you celebrate year-round. It’s never too late to start your lifelong relationship with the arts and humanities. Consider this your invitation.

Emily Frankoski is director of Connect2Culture.