FRANK looks to foster art appreciation among young adults

Monday, June 22, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:11 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 25, 2009

COLUMBIA — Classical music doesn't usually bring to mind late-night dance parties and happy hours on a rooftop patio, but a group of young professionals finds that combination absolutely appropriate.

FRANK, the Missouri Theatre’s effort to cater to the 20- to 30-something age range, is “trying to bridge the gap between stuffy classical music and the contemporary,” said Cozette Lehman, marketing assistant for the theater.

It is essentially an arts appreciation club for young professionals in Columbia. FRANK brands itself as a group for 20- to 30-somethings, but it isn’t necessarily for college students.

“If there’s some college senior out there who is totally into the arts, we aren’t going to turn them away. It’s a case-by-case basis,” Lehman said, but the group is really for grad students or young men and women working their first job.

“Or even a 35-year-old working with a family,” she said.

FRANK (an uppercase name, not an acronym) began in September when the theater’s executive director at the time wanted to develop a group for young professionals to increase the audience for that age group, Lehman said.

“We really wanted to foster a lifelong appreciation for the arts,” she said.

Lehman was given the task of designing the group, though she says she isn’t the one in charge. FRANK members decide together how the group works.

She planned the launch party in September fueled solely on viral promotion and word-of-mouth advertising. The party was the first event to take place on the theater’s new rooftop patio, a special treat for the guests.

“We wanted to give this demographic a sense of ownership and belonging. When you see all the businesses downtown with rooftop patios, who’s using them? This group of people,” she said.

More than 200 people met on the patio for a free open bar by Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar that night.

Since the launch, FRANK has gained 50 registered members.

The group holds monthly “happy hour” meetings on the patio and plans special events such as a rooftop dance party and community fundraisers. It’s a place to network and unwind after work, all tied together with art.

Members at Thursday night’s meeting ranged in age from 23 to 35. All of them work or study in Columbia at places like Tech 2 Consulting, Discover The District, Stephens College and MU.

Here's what the participants said they have in common.

• They’re informal.

Meetings tend to have a come-and-go air about them. The bar is serve-yourself, and no one is really in charge. The group does what the members want to do.

“There’s not a bunch of bureaucracy,” member Byron Molix said. “It’s very laid-back.”

“It’s very casual,” Brittany Swarthout added.

• They appreciate art.

Though meetings usually consist of a casual evening on the theater’s rooftop patio with snacks and drinks, there’s also an art component. This month, musicians from the Missouri Symphony serenaded the members.

Last month, the members painted ceramic tiles from The Mud Room. Lehman said they plan to tile a portion of the patio with the members’ work, increasing the group’s sense of ownership of the patio.

The members might not have an extensive artistic history, but they’re there for a reason. Persephone Dakopolos paints as a hobby. Thitinun Boonseng plays a few traditional Thai instruments. Molix smiled and said, “I have an arts appreciation background.”

• They’re “people people.” 

FRANK gives members a chance to network and meet with other people in businesses around town.

Dakopolos works for Discover The District and finds that FRANK is a great way to meet new entrepreneurs in the area.

“People opening businesses are our age, and if I can meet them and talk to them before they open, I can get to know them and find out what’s going on,” she said.

“I’ve gotten closer to people I already knew, actually,” Molix added.

• They plan events to suit their lifestyle.

Many are no longer college students but haven't yet married.  They're young professionals, and they take pride in making their own decisions about the way they like to party.

When a group of women in FRANK decided there wasn’t any place to dance in Columbia if you weren’t a co-ed, FRANK planned a rooftop dance party for the members and their friends. The patio was packed for the May 29 party with more than 400 young professionals.

Monthly meetings feature free wine and beer, and the launch party featured an open bar.

“To be honest, I heard there was going to be a party, an open bar and tons of people, and I’ve been coming ever since,” Molix said. “We’re a traditionally busy group of people and (FRANK) gives us a reason to relax and unwind."

• They want other people their age to appreciate art.

Swarthout is a theatre management major at Stephens College.

“Art is extremely important to me,” she said.

Swarthout sells tickets at the Missouri Theatre and has noticed a trend among the people she sells tickets to.

“The majority are much older than me,” she said.

Swarthout thinks FRANK is making a difference. She now frequently sells discounted tickets to FRANK members and has seen the expansion of programming geared towards people in her demographic.

“I want to get my age group more involved,” she said. “Students come to town and live here for four years and don’t get involved in the community. I want them to get excited about Columbia, theater, art. The arts in Columbia are very strong.”

• They can “save mad skrilla” (money).

By paying the $25 yearly membership fee, FRANK members get 10 percent off at Bangkok Gardens, Elly’s Couture, Kaldi’s Coffeehouse, Makes Scents, Sven’s Kafe and Gallery, and the Encore Wine and Dessert Bar at The Upper Crust.

They also can purchase floor seats for the Hot Summer Nights Concert Series for $10, get $1 off Ragtag films shown at the Missouri Theatre, $1 off drinks at the theater’s lounge and $2 off other programs at the theater.

• They include their beloved pets.

FRANK’S next big event is a “Hot Dog!athon,” which is to feature hot dog eating and cooking contests, a dog show, an opening “PAWrade” and live music.

The event is to raise awareness about FRANK and raise money for the Central Missouri Human Society, Columbia Second Chance and the Missouri Theatre.

The group thought this would be a fun fundraiser because “this demographic is all about their dogs,” Lehman said. “Columbia is all about dogs.”


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