Arts Council of Southeast Missouri has mission to serve public and artists
Otto Dingeldein, a distinguished silver and metalsmith, started a club in 1961 called the Christian Allied Arts Council. Little did he know that club would evolve into a non-profit organization and eventually into the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, as it is known today.
The council is the oldest in the state and has changed drastically since its origin. As Cape Girardeau has grown and the needs of the people have grown, the council's role has shifted. Members of the council now consider the program to be more educational than anything else.
"How do people know that they need to value the arts or that they need to participate in the arts or nurture the arts if they don't know that the arts are important?" executive director Murielle Gaither said. "So we kind of take a step back and start at the beginning of educating people about why the arts are so important and why we need to have them around."
The council's mission is primarily to provide a forum and an outlet for the artists and residents of southeast Missouri and make the arts accessible to everybody in the region. The council is based out of its own gallery space located in downtown Cape Girardeau. It is divided into three galleries. In the first gallery, work is displayed from the Visual Arts Cooperative, which is a group of 51 local and regional artists that pay membership dues and rent the space. The council hosts various monthly exhibitions throughout the year in the other two galleries.
Two of the most anticipated and popular events of the year include First Friday and the Children's Art Festival. First Friday takes place on the first Friday of every month and is a showcase of 10 different venues in Cape Girardeau where anyone is welcome to experience the art and meet the local artists. The Children's Art Festival is an exhibition where the council works with 20 regional schools and 400 pieces of children's artwork are displayed in the galleries.
"I am not an artist myself, but I do consider myself artistic, and attending First Fridays or even just visiting the gallery from time to time is a fun way for me and my friends to kind of really soak in some local art and see all that Cape has to offer," Southeast Missouri State University student Taylor Schmidt said.
The Arts Council also has a "Community Wall" that provides a place for local organizations to display artwork. The council previously worked with the Community Caring Council and put on a display that was centered around homelessness. People who contributed to the wall had either experienced homelessness first hand or simply wanted to make a social statement about homelessness through their art. The wall basically served as an outlet for anyone willing to express themselves.
Though the council may be known for its galleries and the exhibitions it hosts, the organization is much more than that. It is involved in many outreach programs that solely benefit the residents of the surrounding region. Some of these programs include workshops for children in underserved areas of Cape Girardeau and watercolor workshops at local hospitals and nursing homes in the area for people who have suffered severe brain trauma.
"We're taking the art outside our four walls and helping people engage with it in a meaningful way," Gaither said.
Another way the Arts Council engages with the community is displaying artwork in local hospitals.
"A lot of people in the hospital are either waiting for a loved one to get out of surgery or they're about to go in for a surgical procedure, which is a stressful and anxiety filled time, so we keep the art there and we select pieces that are very therapeutic," Gaither said.
The organization prides itself on not only highlighting professional artists, but also the people who simply want to express themselves or those who use art as an outlet.
"There are a lot of folks that wouldn't normally classify themselves as artists, but they produce great quality work," Gaither said. "I kind of see that as being our role as allowing them an opportunity and a safe place to showcase that work and to showcase that talent or to connect with other artists and to grow and have their own talents nurtured but also connect with the outside community as well."
The Arts Council of Southeast Missouri serves the entire southeast Missouri region and its jurisdiction spans into 28 surrounding counties, ranging from St. Genevieve to the bootheel, and Gaither hopes it will continue to grow. One of the council's goals for the future is to own an area to host workshops and artist studio space. The Arts Council plans to achieve its goals by focusing on its mission and continuously adding projects to enhance that mission to serve the public and serve the artists.