A glance back at the local arts scene during the past year

Friday, December 31, 2004

The sphere of arts and entertainment is expanding in the Cape Girardeau area, and any doubters can look back at the year 2004 as proof.

In the past year some big steps were taken to advance the arts in the area while also offering plenty of entertainment for a wide spectrum of audiences.

By far one of the year's biggest successes was the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's November concert at the Show Me Center.

A large crowd came to see the band's blend of blistering metal guitars and classical symphonic themes set to the tunes of the holiday season.

"That was really the main show of the year," said Brad Gentry, marketing director for the Show Me Center. "The Trans-Siberian Orchestra said it was one of the most successful dates on their tour."

That's saying a lot, considering TSO visited more than 80 cities in North America this year, playing before an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 people.

The huge Christmas rock-opera required 10 tractor-trailers and 16 buses to travel from city to city but still found time to hit small venues like the Show Me Center.

A crowd of only 1,200 to 1,500 was expected, and the Cape Girardeau date was the last to be booked, Gentry said. On the night of the performance, the crowd numbered more than 4,300.

"They really weren't expecting much," he said. "When that many people showed up it really blew their minds."

Both the band and the promoter were grateful to Cape Girardeau for the great turnout, thanking Gentry for the wonderful holiday surprise.

"I've never had that experience in my life of a band and their promoter being so pleased with a concert here," Gentry said.

Other entertainment draws brought more people to Southeast Missouri's biggest venue as well. Such events and performers as WWE Smackdown, the Moscow Ballet, Brooks and Dunn, 3 Doors Down, The Harlem Globetrotters, "Cats," Larry the Cable Guy, and the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus helped make 2004 a success for the Show Me Center.

Great entertainment also was drawing crowds elsewhere in the Cape Girardeau area over the past year. The annual City of Roses Music Festival returned in 2004 with 62 musical acts and three outdoor stages in downtown in September, despite problems with organization and sponsorship.

The fourth annual ArtsCape festival also drew crowds to downtown, featuring art, child-friendly entertainment and live music.

The event previously had been held in conjunction with the City of Roses Festival. 2004 was only the second year it stood on its own two feet.

Organizers had more success than they could have hoped for, with a record 2,200 people showing up for the event.

"Last year, we didn't really count, but it wasn't anywhere close to this," arts council executive director Rebecca Fulgham told the Southeast Missourian after the event in May. "This is definitely our most successful year."

Concerts and festivals weren't the only things happening in 2004, as several groups and individuals worked tirelessly to advance the arts and cultural climate of the area.

One of them was Paul Schock, who continued his push to put Scott City on the artistic map after opening an arts center in the city in 2003. In 2004, Schock's efforts concentrated largely on revitalizing the Old Illmo area of the city.

"We're taking our time, trying to redo some buildings I own there and get some encouragement from the local merchants," Schock said. "Over the next three years, we hope to make it a place for artists to show their work -- national, international and local."

Working in conjunction with Scott City's Kiwanis Club, the Scott City Chamber of Commerce and the Scott City Historic Preservation Commission, Schock convinced the city council to designate an area of Second Street as the Old Illmo Main Street and Arts District.

Schock hopes to bring commerce and culture to a historic area that largely has been forgotten.

"We want to bring back energy and pride to the city, and the arts district would a great pivot point for that," Schock said. "There's a lot of personality and character in Old Illmo."

The Visual Arts Cooperative at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri also pushed the arts forward as it celebrated its first anniversary in 2004. After a year in existence, the cooperative consisting of 45 local professional and amateur artists had 30 people on the waiting list to join the organization.

"It's a win-win situation," co-op founder Jean Chapman said on the group's anniversary. "The public wins because they get to see new art, the artists win because they have a place to display fine art, and the council wins because they have a third of their rent paid."

The year also saw the opening of a new gallery in Cape Girardeau -- Gallery 125 located at 125 N. Main St. Gallery 125 features a variety of original and reproduced paintings and prints as well as three-dimensional pieces like sculptures and furniture.

Artistic endeavors also found a space on Cape Girardeau's floodwall with the completion of the Mississippi River Tales mural.

The mural's latest scenes showcased the addition of Missouri and Maine as states in 1821, the introduction of the railroad to Cape Girardeau, the glory days of riverboat commerce, the Trail of Tears march, Civil War history and the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, which made Missouri part of United States territory.

Even with all the additions and progress made, 2004 also saw some departures of major players in the local arts and entertainment scene.

Probably the biggest departure was that of Dr. Robert Gifford, who conducted the Southeast Missouri State University Wind Ensemble for 22 years. Gifford decided on retirement after he began to experience heart problems two years ago.

He left Southeast after the spring semester but continued to work, touring as the conductor of the Missouri Ambassadors of Music in the summer and guest conducting for the Ukrainian National Wind Orchestra when they performed in Austria in June.

The year also saw the departure of one of the local music scene's most popular bands, Funky Donkey Cheese. After six years, the band called it quits in April after vocalist Beth Poole and guitarist Bryan Davidson left the band.

Gifford and Funky Donkey Cheese won't be on the scene in 2005, but those who will look to keep the progress going and establish a strong footing for the arts in Southeast Missouri.


335-6611, extension 182

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