Former Columbia College professor returns to discuss role of art in the community

Monday, September 24, 2007 | 3:48 p.m. CDT; updated 4:39 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia is a community in transition.

That’s the premise of a workshop Wednesday at Orr Street Studios. Patrick Overton, a former professor at Columbia College and director of the Front Porch Institute in Astoria, Ore., will return to present a workshop on “The Artist as Cultural Catalyst.”


WHAT: “The Artist as Cultural Catalyst,” a workshop by Patrick Overton WHEN: 6-8 p.m., Wednesday WHERE: Orr Street Studios, 106 Orr St. ADMISSION: Free

“In the last eight years, it (Columbia) has changed dramatically,” Overton said. “Sometimes that change happens so quickly, people don’t know what to do with it.”

Overton, who has a doctorate in communications from MU, works with communities to help develop “creative economies,” which means people who engage in the arts as a livelihood affect the economy, both directly and indirectly.

Peter Anger of Helios Studios in Columbia has collaborated with Overton on projects and finds Overton’s vocabulary on arts discussion helpful. Anger worked with Access Arts, Cultural Affairs and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to organize Overton’s visit.

Some artists are “not good at educating the community at what they’re trying to do,” Anger said. He hopes the workshop will “help artists develop a better vocabulary for talking with the public and helping to educate them about why what they’re doing is so important.”

Anger said he hopes to make Columbia a creative community, citing Santa Fe, N.M., as the kind of artistic destination he hopes Columbia will become.

“The creative community are the ones that are going to be trendsetters as to what matters to the greater community,” Anger said. “The arts are a real community builder.”

Overton pointed to the Orr Street Studios as an example of how the creative community can affect the larger community.

“When artists work together and claim space for studios and galleries, quite often to afford it, they have to go to places that have been abandoned or neglected,” Overton said. “In doing that, they rejuvenate it ... It’s a way of rethinking space use that changes the overall environment.”

As director of the Front Porch Institute, Overton works with cities and smaller communities, counties and nonprofit affiliations to bring organizations together to do community planning, emphasizing the role of art in day-to-day life.

Overton stressed the importance of helping communities realize it is economically and socially beneficial to support artists and arts organizations. He will meet with the Chamber of Commerce on Thursday morning to discuss the role of arts in creating “community vitality.”

He has written a book on the subject, “Rebuilding the Front Porch of America.”

Anger said Overton’s book has a “simple message but a very important one. A lot of technology today has alienated us from each other.”

Overton said the arts provide a venue for communication, something a front porch used to do.

“Historically, a front porch invites people to come in, relax, talk, share,” Overton said. “We don’t do that so much anymore. Arts are one of the ways we can make a front porch experience.”

Overton’s experience as a poet has helped him shape the mission of the institute, he said. In April, the MU Choral Union presented Thomas McKenney’s setting of Overton’s “The Last Beginning.” Overton also will present a poetry reading 7 p.m. Thursday at Calvary Episcopal Church, 123 S. Ninth St.

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