MU Extension kicks off Community Arts Pilot Project in Lexington

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 | 5:15 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A new project intended to improve cultural vibrancy in rural Missouri communities began as a straightforward idea to spread the arts.

The MU Extension Community Arts Pilot Project was scheduled to formally launch late Tuesday afternoon with a ceremony in Lexington, a community of about 4,700 east of Kansas City.

Project director Lee Ann Woolery said MU Extension hosted an arts café in 2010 that brought together campus and civic leaders to talk about what a community arts project could look like at MU.

Since being hired in January 2012, Woolery has met with hundreds of people across Missouri to talk about the arts. She has hosted a series of events and workshops for people interested in being part of the project.

MU Extension is in the second year of its three-year arts pilot project. Right now, it's restricted to communities within a 90-mile radius of Columbia, but the plan is to extend it to other communities in rural Missouri.

Lexington is home to the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site. Mayor Jerry Brown said the city is well-suited to the project.

"We have a considerable number of artists — painters, photographers, sculptors — and we have a great musical arts program in our schools," Brown said.

To be selected, members of the community spent nine months working on a proposal for the project. Proposals were reviewed by a 16-member advisory council made up of MU leaders, faculty members, students and Columbia community members.

Woolery said the project is a package of engagement resources, opportunities, expertise and support in development around the arts.

MU experts including faculty in music, theater, arts, journalism and other disciplines will work with Lexington artists and community leaders to help with business development. They will work together to identify and engage in projects that would benefit the entire community.

Lexington’s project plans include those that might develop what Woolery called "heritage tourism" focused on art, architecture, nature and local foods.

"We are going to be opening a facility for artists to meet and people to visit," Brown said. "They will also have the opportunity display their art in our annual 'Apples, Arts and Antiques Festival' we have the first weekend of every October."

The program does not end there.

Other potential projects include creating films describing a story of local origins, developing an arts incubator that supports art entrepreneurship and collaborating with local businesses, organizing a multi-day celebration of the arts focused on local talent, producing artist-in-residence programs or building physical art venues, Woolery said.

Woolery invited anyone interested in being involved in the project to call her at 884-9025 or email her at

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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