Four opinions on Cape's state of the arts

Friday, September 7, 2012
Attendees look at the work of 37 female artists during the July opening for "Feminine Perspectives," at the Black Door Gallery during First Friday. The first Friday of each month galleries in downtown Cape Girardeau hold openings from 5 to 9 p.m. with food, drink and the opportunity to talk with the artists about their work. (ADAM VOGLER)

It's First Friday again, which means a spotlight on the local visual arts community and its galleries. But how can we tell the local "art scene is doing well? Where has it been, and where is it going? SE Live asked four people entrenched in the local visual arts to give us their opinions.

Randy Hays, artist and president of the Cadmium River Artists Group in Cape Girardeau

It's easy for people to sit back and point out what they think is wrong with the arts community here in Southeast Missouri. But I myself have spent the last several years actively working in the arts community, supporting artists' efforts to promote themselves and their work in the region alongside many volunteers.

The Cadmium River group came into existence back in 2007 when area artists were unable to find a place to exhibit their work. Our budget was zero. We took no grants, asked for no membership dues and still were able to produce some of the finest exhibits to ever appear in our area. We only asked that those who participated were active in the production of each and every exhibit, and that they worked to sell tickets for a dinner that was held to help cover expenses.

Today many members of the group have gone on to open their own galleries locally as a direct result of the experience. Aaron Horrell, Marti Hartle, Leslie Compass and Jeannie Eddleman all went on to open Bilderbach Art Plaza here in Cape Girardeau. They ask for no grants, charge no membership fees but do require participants to share the rent expenses. But those expenses can sometimes be tough to maintain for the participating artists.

Nathan Pierce, right, talks with Sam Bishop, left, and Lynn Robey about his sculpture work at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, 32 N. Main St., during July's First Friday.

I am of the opinion that more needs to be done for groups like this. The Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, which receives thousands of dollars each year in grants and raises tens of thousands of dollars each year in fundraising activities to support the arts in our area, should be doing more to help support these groups. As a former arts council board member, I stressed the importance of supporting these groups. It costs around $5,000 a month to keep the doors open at the arts council after paying the rent, director, secretary, insurance, bookkeeper and utilities. It was a constant battle to keep the bills paid even with the help of the Visual Arts Co-op -- which I am proud to be a member of -- who pays a third of the rent to exhibit in one of the galleries inside. I believe that it might be beneficial for the arts if the council downsized and relied more on the abilities of volunteers who can be more than capable of filling some of the needs of the organization. I know first hand what can be done with volunteers. More emphasis needs to be placed on the arts community as a whole and less on one building. Any political bias should be set aside, any conflicts of interest should be removed and direction should be placed toward helping to fund and support the arts in our area as a whole.

Craig Thomas, artist and co-owner of the Black Door Gallery in Cape Girardeau

My history of the Cape Girardeau art scene dates back to the late 1970s, when I started paying attention to the local art in high school. Going to Southeast Missouri State University gave me another perspective of the art happenings. It has been great to see the River Campus develop and students graduating with a Fine Arts degree from the university. Some of these students will and do stay in the area. A great example is Peter Nguyen, who has been a great addition to the Crisp Museum and has done a wonderful job of reaching out to the local community.

Cape Girardeau has one of the strongest art education programs in the state and maybe the nation. This starts at the elementary level and goes up through high school. With a strong teacher base and academic program, these teachers nurture their students' talents and teach them the love of art.

My wife, Beth, and I have been members of the arts council since the 1980s. We were able to share the arts with our children through First Fridays, summer art classes and Wednesday night concerts in the park (which used to be funded by the arts council). Over the years we have seen much growth in the arts, the River Campus, local and private galleries and art groups in the surrounding area.

The Arts Council of Southeast Missouri is the oldest in the state but pays the most rent of any other arts council in Missouri. The council is funded through state funding, grants, donations and art patrons. I would love to see the city of Cape Girardeau support our arts council through billboards around town and by supplying a building for them. I have seen other cities in Missouri sponsor their arts council with a building and utilities, which frees up money for programs. The arts council would no longer be focused on rent and would be able to commit themselves to what they were established to do -- the arts.

In closing I would encourage our community to support their local art scene. If you have never been to an opening, the arts are open to everyone.

Jeannie Eddleman, Best of Missouri Hands member and manager of Westray Studio in Cape Girardeau

Since Westray moved to Bilderbach Plaza two years ago, I've seen a remarkable growth in the downtown area. At the plaza, I open the other studios when they are not able to open. We use teamwork here and work together in advertising, promoting. The Bilderbach Art Plaza hosts area groups of artists as well as individual artists to try to promote them and their talents and organizations.

I set up a networking system connecting all the arts (that I know of) in the Southeast Missouri area. Through this we all can advertise our activities. Art groups contact me with their information and I mass email everyone else on my lists. I cover the area from New Madrid and Poplar Bluff to Van Buren to Paducah, Ky., and in between. I love getting new groups or people added when I discover them. This is one way that I can help all my neighboring art friends.

Sure, we would all like to have more publicity on the arts here in Cape Girardeau (especially for First Friday). But I hear positive comments from the community and tourists who come through our plaza. I know that people are extremely proud of the arts and are very pleased with our presence in the community. I can only represent the art businesses from our plaza in giving you perspective on how we are doing, and we are doing well.

Murielle Wyman, executive director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri

When I took my position a little less than a year ago, I had no idea what sort of an environment I was going to encounter. Although I was familiar with the arts scene in Cape Girardeau, it seemed like it was an often overlooked aspect of our community.

A few months into my position, I realized this was a complete misconception. The arts are not overlooked at all; they are thriving. Visitors and residents alike have access to an immense community of arts organizations spanning multiple disciplines -- theater, dance, visual arts and public art. Every segment had its representation and was striving toward the same goal: to promote an awareness of the arts through exhibits, workshops, shows and other programming.

While I had once thought that the biggest challenge for the arts council would be to properly market arts events and programs, I quickly came to realize that even more challenging was the task of bringing together the multiple facets of arts in the community. The arts council is an organization that exists to not only connect the public with the arts, but also provide resources for local arts groups and artists no matter the discipline or affiliation. We firmly believe that unity is paramount to the vitality of the arts, and we are encouraged by the many arts organizations that are working hard to obtain it.

When I look around now, almost a year later, what I see in our community inspires me. Galleries, shops and other organizations stand united. Members of Arts Around Town hold monthly meetings to discuss First Friday events, upcoming workshops, and successes within the arts. Local artists work with area nonprofits to host plein-air events and fundraisers, and local nonprofits seek ways to highlight arts programs throughout the community. Cross-promotion has increased, and the arts scene as a whole is benefiting from this increase.

Artistic endeavors encourage creative thinking, local spending, and facilitate a culture of lifelong learning. If the arts prosper, our area prospers. At the arts council we encourage you to look more into the arts scene in town. Our area has so much to offer and it's only getting better.

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