Group documents mid-Mo. river culture

The group is trying to make a home for its rare collection in Ellis.
Monday, May 7, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:32 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Missouri River Cultural Conservancy has been documenting and archiving the unique styles of music that are found along the banks of the Big Muddy since 2005, and they’re just getting warmed up.

The not-for-profit organization’s mission is to “document, record, archive and foster awareness of the unique history and culture of the Central Missouri River Region” so future generations can see, hear and enjoy the arts that are special to Central Missouri. A brainchild of the late Jerome Wheeler, a local legend on the regional music scene, the conservancy started as an attempt to capture regional artists and their music before they died. Unfortunately, Wheeler didn’t get to see his plan realized; he died two months after introducing the idea.

“In November 2004, we were brainstorming about what we could do for the local music community and came up with the idea of video recording the incredible music in this area and showing it on TV,” said Mike Cooper, the secretary of the conservancy.

According to Cooper, who is also the founder of Cooper’s Landing, the conservancy has made recordings of about 30 musicians through its indoor winter recording sessions and 30 other artists at music festivals in the area.

“We had planned a bunch of recording sessions this winter just like last winter, but with the ice storm we had to cancel most of the sessions,” he said. “But now that we have a camera at Cooper’s Landing, we can record any time we have a good opportunity,” Cooper said.

Currently the conservancy consists of 10 board members and about 10 non-board members who all work on recording and fundraising events. The board members usually meet once a month to discuss recording schedules and possibilities for future events.

The conservancy has recorded events in Columbia, Lupus and the Rocheport General Store, among other places.

“We will be better able to record events at other locations as we acquire more equipment and are able to recruit and train people to operate the equipment,” Cooper said.

Aside from just documenting musicians, the conservancy has recorded dance acts and documented art festivals in the area. One of the festivals the group documents is the Eco Art Festival, which celebrates the conservation of the Missouri River and eco-friendly living. It is also looking for new opportunities to record educational, historical and other types of central Missouri cultural experiences.

“We’re planning to do more outside recording,” Cooper said. “We found that the outdoor recordings were much better with the river as a background. We’ll be combining new audio and recording equipment and new shooting locations, so I’m really excited about it.”

“We’re also planning on doing collectable DVDs, and we hope to do a once-a-week, local TV show that features performances by our local musicians,” Cooper said.

The Columbia public access channel, CAT3 TV, has also been a major player in the efforts to preserve the culture of the Missouri River region. Not only has CAT3 TV aired some footage of the “Winter Sessions at Cooper’s,” but the channel also lends equipment and editing space to the conservancy. The channel also offers training for volunteers interested in getting involved in the project.

“We are always looking for people with experience operating video cameras and using editing programs to produce finished videos,” Cooper said. The conservancy is still trying to find a home for all of its footage.

“We are still negotiating archiving agreements with the Western Historical Manuscript Collection (at MU’s Ellis library) and the Boone County Historical Society,” Cooper said.

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