Pastoral heart, Columbia art

The town and local government provide a welcoming and responsive atmosphere for local artists
Sunday, November 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:13 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

He came to Columbia to study art, but it was the city that made Joseph Citro an artist.

“Painting in Columbia reminds me of the ideal isolation van Gogh must’ve felt, living in Arles, while everyone else lived in Paris,” says Citro, 26.

Citro, who considers himself an American artist, says Columbia has the artistic and cultural resources of a city, but the serenity of the country. That’s why he chooses to stay here, a place where he can get a better sense of America, rather than relocate to an artworld mecca like New York.

Citro said Columbia provides him with the privacy and calmness he needs to produce his acrylic, watercolor and oil paintings. His paintings are abstract, but he draws his choice of colors from the sprawling landscapes of central Missouri.

Like Citro, singer/songwriter Sheryl Clapton finds Columbia is a perfect place for her music. Clapton draws on the history of the Midwest for her distinctly American folk-rock. After she attended the Lewis and Clark reenactments at Huntsdale this past summer, she said she was inspired to write historical ballads. “Harvest Moon Dance,” for example, tells the story of families getting together in autumn and having a dance in the country. The two young protagonists in the song fall in love and get married.

Clapton also points to events such as the Columbia Heritage Festival as sources of inspiration, where the wide spectrum of time and culture “bring together what makes America strong.”

It’s not mid-Missouri history, but rather the diversity of Columbia that affects singer and guitarist Thom Howard. The city’s international flavor has inspired him to take musical paths that he might not have otherwise traveled. After being offered a regular gig at Café Ole and then at Dali’s, Howard incorporated Spanish music into his repertoire. Because the city is home to MU faculty and students from all over the world, Columbia challenges him to vary his music.

The college-town atmosphere of Columbia, home to MU, Stephens College and Columbia College, adds much diversity to the art scene in Columbia. This lends variety to the constantly changing culture.

“It gives back a fresh influence to artists, keeping the town young” Citro says.

MU supplies a vast audience, Howard says, allowing for performances at different kinds of venues, such as The Blue Note and Music Cafe. The overflow of students offers up a dependable audience with active social lives and some money to spend, as well as providing a breeding ground for new musical talent. The faculty and staff also have the time and money “to eat out and go see shows,” Howard says.

Clapton also says having a university close by keeps the music open and new. “Young artists are always welcomed,” she says. She likes the small, intimate venues that really allow the artists to connect with the audience.

The education community here helped Jane Domke, a local glass artist, fulfill her dream. Domke, 55, began her art career relatively late in life, after taking a stained glass art class at the University Craft Studio. After seeing all of the “pretty glass,” she said she realized what potential there is in glass art. She focused her energies on stained glass for two years, then took a class on jewelry making through the Columbia Adult Education Program. That’s when she turned her attention to glass fusing, which is what she specializes in today.

Although Columbia inspires some artists, some say that making a living here isn’t always easy. Citro spends between $200 and $400 a week on supplies and works a minimum of 40 hours a week on his paintings. In the past year, he’s spent close to $30,000 to $40,000 on supplies. He sells a painting about once every three or four months for between $600 and $2,500, which allows him to pay his rent, eat and buy supplies.

Mary Benjamin, a partner at Bluestem Crafts, has found that the artists she works with “support themselves very well” in Columbia. They do it through sales at art fairs and local galleries. The idea is to seek out different kinds of marketing.

“Those who persevere and explore make it,” she says.

Domke says there wasn’t much of a market for glass art in Columbia when she began; the market was dominated by glass jewelry. Domke credits galleries such as Bluestem, Columbia Art League and Poppy, which began displaying her larger glass pieces, for expanding the market and contributing to her growing success.

“They have been extremely supportive,” she says.

The city of Columbia is also supportive of the arts. The Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs organizes arts and crafts festivals such as First Night Columbia, the Columbia Festival of the Arts, the Heritage Festival, Twilight Festival and the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series.

“A chunk of the local government is dedicated to fostering the arts and keeping the quality of the arts up,” Howard says.


Howard said that because of its changing nature, the city of Columbia has inspired musical paths he might not have taken. He plays regularly at Dali's.

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