Artrageous Friday Gallery Crawls highlight local art


COLUMBIA — Light wood floors and white walls provide a calm backdrop for the colorful jewelry, ceramics, paintings and fiber-arts pieces at the Perlow-Stevens Gallery, one of Columbia’s more contemporary art galleries.

Say the name Jennifer Perlow, and anyone who has anything to do with arts in Columbia will tell you she’s the one to talk to. “We wanted to open up the art community so a lot more people could participate,” said Perlow, owner and curator of the gallery in downtown Columbia. Perlow, along with Diana Moxon, executive director of the Columbia Art League, and Chris Teeter, a local sculptor, wanted to strengthen the art community in town.

Out of that shared desire, the group created Artrageous Fridays, a quarterly event where downtown art galleries and businesses participate in a gallery crawl featuring exhibits and appetizers.

Artrageous Fridays is one of many events on the city’s art calendar. Other art events in the community include the Columbia Festival of the Arts, a September event when the Boone County Courthouse Square becomes filled with families and artists. Another function is an annual art fair called Art in the Park that attracts artists and viewers from throughout the Midwest.

Having just completed its first year, Artrageous could not have happened without the aid of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Lorah Steiner, its director, sat down with Moxon, Perlow and Teeter when Artrageous was just an idea.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau initially helped out with promotional costs for Artrageous, including printing, producing T-shirts and other ways to get the word out. “Eventually, after they got the first few off the ground, we encouraged them to apply for the Tourism Development Program,” Steiner said.

The program awarded Artrageous $15,000, the maximum funding amount, through the Festival and Event Fund. Established in 1999, the program was created to provide financial support for events that would help boost Columbia’s economy. Events that apply for money need to show how they will attract visitors from outside of the city and how the event will be able to grow during future years.

The free event also attracted a number of other sponsors, including the Office of Cultural Affairs, Discover the District, KRCG/Channel 13 and other local organizations and businesses. One other major sponsor was the Columbia Art League, which helps local artists spread the word about their work. “The more venues we have, the more creatively we think, the more artists get to meet the public to show their work,” Moxon said.

The most recent Artrageous Friday featured 15 downtown venues. Perlow said it still attracted about 300 people despite temperatures below freezing. Event-goers could purchase a variety of arts and crafts such as custom fragrances at Makes Scents; an eclectic mishmash of local crafts, antiques and colorful paintings at the Spare Parts Gallery; or handmade jewelry, mobiles and ceramics at Bluestem Missouri Crafts, which brought in local artist Ruth Walker to show the process of felting wool.

“We always try to provide someone who does a demonstration,” said Laura Bullion of Bluestem.

Other venues like Village Wine and Cheese provided appetizers while visitors strolled around the location’s dining room and looked at Dan Gemkow’s black and white photographs mounted on the walls.

Jo Stealey, an MU fiber arts professor and gallery director, has also participated in the event. For her, Artrageous has helped the George Caleb Bingham Gallery in the Fine Art Center at MU attract more visitors. “We have been hosting receptions in conjunction with Artrageous Fridays,” said Stealey, who sees more people coming to participate with every event.

A problem with the art community in the past, Stealey said, was that the university held separate events from those held by the rest of Columbia. “In the past, people have viewed the university campus as separate from the community but now realize that campus venues are participating,” she said.

Many of these community-wide events are supported by the Columbia Art League, which will move to the new Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts. “The Art League itself took a huge step when it moved into the heart of the arts district and is now preparing to become a part of the Missouri Theatre when it is completed,” said Kay McCarthy, cultural program specialist for the City of Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs.

The previous location of the Art League was on Walnut Street, which had previously served as an oil building among other purposes. “It was not a good location for visibility’s sake,” McCarthy said. Although rent was more expensive in downtown Columbia, the Art League decided the move would be well worth it. “They took a big deep breath and said we need to get closer.”

In addition, other developments have added to the list of Columbia’s promising art community. “There has been growth and excellence in both small and large local arts organizations, along with the emergence of new artistic endeavors such as the Missouri Contemporary Ballet and Orr Street Studios,” McCarthy said.

Deborah Thompson, director of the Boone County Historical Society, also recognizes the change in the community’s focus from solely visual arts to incorporating forms of writing, music and theater, while seeing an increase in public art and art events. “We’ve had more interdisciplinary events that involve arts and music, arts and poetry,” Thompson said.

Recalling a series of public murals created by Lee Elementary students, Thompson commended the school’s efforts in arts education. “The parents are getting exposed to it; the kids are getting exposed to it,” she said.

More arts education is something she hopes others will support, too. “Events that the public can access that don’t have a commercial component can help them understand art, such as gallery talks at exhibits or great programming for children,” Thompson said.

Quoting an adage, Thompson finds importance in “living an artful life.” Part of the county historical society, the Montminy Art Gallery, helps promote that idea by putting on about 13 exhibits in its museum and focusing on local artists and their work, such as the Columbia Weavers and Spinners Guild.

Local artists such as those at the guild, are able to thrive through the support of the community and its active organizers such as the Office of Cultural Affairs. “My sense is that current arts success and growth are greatly nourished because the community values and supports them, which in turn causes more success and growth,” McCarthy said.

Perhaps the success of Columbia’s art community is found in a much simpler idea than festivals and fliers.

“Art is about communication and what makes us human,” Thompson said.

Gallery crawl locations
Perlow-Stevens Gallery, 812 E. Broadway
Columbia Art League, 111 S. Ninth St. Suite 140
Bluestem Missouri Crafts, 13 S. Ninth St.
Makes Scents19 S. Ninth St.
Spare Parts Gallery, 8 S. Ninth St.
Village Wine and Cheese, 929 E. Broadway
Montminy Art Gallery, 3801 Ponderosa St.

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