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Missouri Arts Awards

Nominations for the 2016 Missouri Arts Awards are now open!

Who are your arts heroes? Help us find Missourians and Missouri organizations who have made profound contributions to the culture of our state. Find details on how to nominate here.


2015 Missouri Arts Awards

The 2015 Missouri Arts Awards were presented in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City on February 11, 2015. These are the 2015 honorees:

• Arts Education: Frank D. Thomas, St. Joseph
Choral music educator, director, and performer serving his community for more than 40 years especially as director of choral activities at Missouri Western State University and as founding and current artistic director of the St. Joseph Community Chorus

• Arts Organization: Columbia Art League
Cornerstone of the arts in mid-Missouri since 1959, annually producing the Arts in the Park festival and six gallery exhibitions, providing classes and camps for children and adults, working with area schools, and placing 400 works of art in community locations

• Creative Community: Downtown Peculiar Arts & Culture District, City of Peculiar
One name, two entwined entities: a specially zoned district in the City of Peculiar, and the volunteer group that creates festivals, classes, special events, public art, and a cultural center to serve 75,000 people in rural Cass County and southern Jackson County

• Individual Artist: Paul Mesner, Kansas City
Founder and artistic director of Paul Mesner Puppets, acclaimed globally as a master craftsman and storyteller, performing locally and nationally each year for about 60,000 people, and known for his wit, imaginative programming, and inventive vision

• Leadership in the Arts: Jennie Cummings, Mountain View
Volunteer arts administrator who escalated the arts in her south central Missouri rural community especially as founder, director, and grants manager of the Mountain View Council on the Arts and the Mountain View Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival

• Philanthropy: Myrtle E. Walker, Kirkwood
Retired vice president and, with her late husband, co-founder of Carr Lane Manufacturing Co., and who through the Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Foundation has donated millions for the arts to St. Louis-area cultural and educational institutions


More About the 2015 Missouri Arts Awards Honorees

Arts Education: Frank D. Thomas, St. Joseph (stjosephcommunitychorus.org)
Frank Thomas’s lifelong mission has been to instill his love of music into the college students he has taught, the volunteer singers he directs, and the audiences for whom he provides superlative performances. He spent 38 years as director of choral activities of Missouri Western State University, where he also supervised student teachers. In 1980 he founded the volunteer St. Joseph Community Chorus and directed the ensemble until he retired in 2009. As part of the chorus’s outreach, he directed the History Alive Through Music program at elementary schools. When in 2013 his successor unexpectedly moved away, he came back to direct the chorus through 2015 so a replacement could be found. Praised by his students and community singers for his inspiring teaching and his kindness, Frank Thomas has passed the torch to stars such as Charles Bruffy, artistic director of the Kansas City Chorale and Kansas City Symphony Chorus. He is an active member of Music Educators National Conference and the Missouri Music Educators Association, and has been vice president of the American Choral Directors Association. He has received many local and state awards, most recently in 2014 with the St. Joseph Allied Arts Mayor’s Award for Extraordinary Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

Arts Organization: Columbia Art League (columbiaartleague.org)
Inspirer, catalyst, cornerstone: although the Columbia Art League is dedicated purely to visual arts, without its seminal presence organizations from the Columbia Entertainment Company to KOPN/Access Arts “might never have entered the picture at all,” wrote the Columbia Daily Tribune for CAL’s 50th anniversary. And for people who make and experience visual arts in mid-Missouri, CAL is indispensable. Funded by 500 individual and corporate members as well as grants, every year CAL produces six exhibitions at its gallery and manages a “Community Exhibits” program that places 400 works of art in area businesses and organizations. The Art in the Park festival, held every June since CAL’s birth in 1959, is the longest-running, largest fine arts and fine crafts festival in the region. Thousands of artists have exhibited and sold their work in CAL galleries and community exhibits. Thousands of students from hobbyists to professionals have learned techniques in CAL classes and camps. CAL works with schools to incorporate the arts into core curricula, and in 2015 will add classes for children in Columbia’s Rainbow House, a program that protects children from abuse. In 2008 a grassroots fundraising campaign enabled CAL to help renovate and move into the historic Missouri Theater Center for the Arts.

Creative Community: Downtown Peculiar Arts & Culture District, City of Peculiar (downtownpeculiar.com)
In 2007, businesspeople in downtown Peculiar formed a plan to harness the arts to drive economic activity into the city’s center. The group enlisted the enthusiastic help of City government, and in 2009 the Downtown Peculiar Arts & Culture District (DPACD) was zoned. The name covers both the area and the volunteer group that continues to spearhead its development. With help from the City and the Peculiar Charitable Foundation, DPACD is transforming an unused 1908 stone church and adjacent buildings into a community cultural center. DPACD strives to find inclusive appeal in the arts—to pay attention to what the community enjoys and involve people on every level. The first event was Eggzibit, giant plastic eggs decorated by anyone who wanted to and then displayed around downtown. Now every year features Eggzibit plus the Clara Brierly WAM (Wine ART Music) Festival, the Peculiar Piccadilly & Art Auction, the Art Walk with 16 works of public art, the FarMart Farmers’ & Artists’ Market, classes in arts and artful living, and DPACD participation in a host of other community events. Programs attract not only the 4,600 residents of Peculiar but more than 70,000 other people in Cass and southern Jackson Counties.

Individual Artist: Paul Mesner, Kansas City (paulmesnerpuppets.org)
“Globally known, Kansas City’s own”: the slogan of Paul Mesner Puppets, a Kansas City treasure since 1987, equally describes the company’s founder, artistic director, and primary artist—master storyteller Paul Mesner. Respected internationally as a leader in his field, he has performed at festivals and theaters from the Henson International Festival of Puppetry in New York to the World Exposition in Seville, Spain. He writes plays on classic, folk, and contemporary themes, and designs and makes the puppets and productions for his performances. His puppets run the gamut from simple finger puppets to bigger-than-life-sized. In addition to his company’s local season that draws about 20,000 children and adults each year, he performs nationally for an additional 38,000. He regularly collaborates with arts organizations such as the Kansas City Symphony and the Kansas City Museum. He has taken on projects as disparate as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, and in August 2014 at the Gem Theatre in Kansas City’s historic 18th & Vine jazz district, the life and music of Charlie Parker. Paul Mesner is especially noted for his sensitivity and humor. As he says on his website, he “believes wholeheartedly in entertaining his audiences and doesn’t mind including deeper meanings and life-lessons when no one is looking.”

Leadership in the Arts: Jennie Cummings, Mountain View
In her mid-60s, Jennie Cummings stopped driving semi-trucks and began intensely volunteering for the arts—thereby launching a 15-year career as a leader who brought the arts to the small city of Mountain View in southern Missouri to a level never reached before. Before illness required her to step down from her arts posts in 2014, she had founded, directed, and managed grants for the Mountain View Council on the Arts (now under the aegis of the City of Mountain View). She produced community events such as a bluegrass festival, craft show, and writers’ workshops. She served as a board member of the Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies, volunteer historian for the Mountain View Library, and volunteer panelist for the Missouri Arts Council. Her crowning achievement was the annual Mountain View Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival. The first festival in 1998 featured eight performers. The 15th and final event in 2013 featured 20 performers and attracted fans not only from the Mountain View area but from as far away as Minnesota and California. In April 2013, Governor Jay Nixon presented Jennie Cummings with a proclamation announcing that April 21-27 as Cowboy Poetry Week in Missouri.

Philanthropy: Myrtle E. Walker, Kirkwood
In 1952, Myrtle and Earl Walker started a business in their home garage in Kirkwood. Today their Carr Lane Manufacturing Co. is an international leader in tooling components. For decades, Earl Walker was chief executive officer and Myrtle Walker was vice president, donating millions through their Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Foundation, including the Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Both with her late husband and on her own, Myrtle Walker is a philanthropic powerhouse. Since the 1990s she has continually transformed the arts experience at The Magic House–St. Louis Children’s Museum, creating the Art Studio, Make-It Workshop, and Walker Education Pavilion. At her alma mater, Kirkwood High School, she has for 14 years funded a grant for junior art students. She has contributed to the arts at Stages St. Louis, the Missouri Historical Society, and St. Louis Logos High School among many others. In diverse locations around the state she has donated many “Myrtle’s turtles,” sculptures based on her sketch of a native box turtle—choosing unexpected places to highlight the need for art in every part of life.


Choosing the Honorees

The Missouri Arts Awards honorees are selected by an independent panel of distinguished representatives of the arts community from throughout the state. These are the panelists who selected the 2015 honorees:

  • Cynthia Cartwright, chair, Kansas City | vice chair of the Missouri Arts Council and Trust Board
  • Jo Anne Grey, St. Joseph | arts advocate
  • Kristi Kittleson, Springfield | program coordinator, Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies
  • Karen Millsap, Mt. Vernon | president, Mt. Vernon Regional Arts Council (2013 Arts Organization Award)
  • J.J. Musgrove, Columbia | director, City of Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs
  • Betty Schaper-Fridley, Farmington | retired executive director, Mineral Area Arts Council (2011 Leadership in the Arts Award)
  • Gerry Welch, Webster Groves | mayor, City of Webster Groves (2013 Creative Community Award)
  • Peter Witte, Kansas City | dean, University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance (2014 Arts Organization Award)


Special Thanks
Governor Jeremiah (Jay) W. Nixon and First Lady Georganne Wheeler Nixon
Missouri Department of Economic Development
Missouri Office of Administration


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