State arts meeting draws at least 100

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A public meeting on Missouri Arts Council priorities that almost didn't happen in Cape Girardeau brought the biggest crowd council staff members saw anywhere in the state.

More than 100 people signed in at the door Friday for the discussion of strategic goals of the council, which this week won a funding increase of $4.5 million from state lawmakers. Led by Dr. Joel Ray, the first council member from Southeast Missouri since 1985, the event drew artists, educators and arts advocates from as far away as Kennett and Caruthersville.

The meeting was the last of eight designed to discuss the four objectives for the next four years. Similar meetings in Kansas City and St. Louis drew fewer than 50 people each; meetings in other small cities drew even smaller groups, program specialist Mike Donovan said.

Carol Sparkman, chairwoman of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, was overjoyed by the response. "All I can say is that Cape woke up." The meeting was held in the local arts council offices at 32 N. Main St.

The council had not scheduled a meeting in Cape Girardeau because the last time staff came for input, no one showed up.

The council has set four goals for the arts:

* Establish Missouri as an arts leader.

* Increase participation in the arts.

* Expand Missouri's economy with the arts.

* Strengthen Missouri's education with the arts.

To showcase the changing landscape of the arts in Cape Girardeau, Ray took Beverly Strohmeyer, executive director, along with Donovan and another staff member to tour the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus. After the meeting, he escorted the staff to a performance of "42nd Street" at the university.

During the meeting, Ray emphasized the role the arts can play for building the economy of the area. He also encouraged efforts to bring more grant funding to the area, suggesting that the Innovation Center at the university could coordinate training in grant writing.

Only a handful of grants have been awarded in Cape Girardeau and Scott counties, with many rural counties receiving no grants. The reason for the lack of grants is the lack of requests. The arts council has provided some level of funding for 94 percent of the requests received.

Dr. Kenn Stilson, theater and dance department chairman at Southeast, said the growth of his department in five years has been explosive and should continue after the move to the River Campus.

"The quality keeps going up and up and up," Stilson said.

The education component of the goals needs a push to make arts a core subject in elementary and secondary schools, Strohmeyer said.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education paid for the creation of an arts test as part of the annual student testing program, but it has never been used, she noted. "School districts are saying if we don't have to test for it, we don't have to teach it."

The large turnout is just the beginning of a surge in interest in the arts for quality of life and as an economic development tool, Ray said.

"I think the renaissance has begun," Ray said.

335-6611, extension 126

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