Paint a Picture

Discovering art and culture in Missouri

by Flash Parker

 

I came to Joplin expecting an outdoor playground on the plains—what I found was an arts and culture oasis. Joplin is home to an active live theatre scene, and serves as a community arts destination of the highest order. As a regional creative hub Joplin is both inspiring and exciting—who knew? For me, my visit was one surprise after another.

 

Change of plans

The open road brought me to Joplin—both figuratively and literally. I came to Missouri to experience historic Route 66 and to kick start a trip along The Mother Road. But almost immediately upon arrival, my plans changed. I popped into the Red Onion Café to refuel, and overheard a pair of visitors discussing Joplin’s art scene. Interest piqued, I finished my delicious bleu moo sandwich (an artistic achievement in its own right), and headed off to visit Joplin City Hall, home to several of the city’s beloved murals.

1st section 1 small

Route 66, Joplin, Missouri, completed in 2010 by artist Anthony Benton Gude, captures what is essentially the spirit of an entire era in one bold masterpiece. The mural is nostalgic and whimsical at once, and an incredible counterpoint to Joplin at the Turn of the Century, 1896–1906, the remarkable visual fable crafted by Thomas Hart Benton, Gude’s grandfather. These pieces are but two of Joplin’s more than 25 murals (12 of which are in the downtown core), each serving as a colorful ode to time, place and a sense of community.

 

1st section 2 small

 

Public displays of reflection

Buoyed by this pretty town’s sense of artistry, I continued searching for masterworks—and found them in quite a few varied forms. At 8th and Main I found artist Garin Baker’s remarkable “Celebrating the Performing Arts,” an ode to Joplin’s arts scene, and a tip of the hat to how that scene has changed over the years. From ballerinas to early 20thCentury street panoramas to a majestic turn-of-the-century theatre, Baker’s work is a celebration of the artists’ world.

2nd section 1 small

At the northwest corner of 15th and Main Streets I found muralist Dave Loewenstein’s Butterfly Effect, an uplifting story of the notorious tornado that ravaged Joplin in 2011. Public art projects like this were a coping mechanism and healing tool for the people of the city, instituted as a way to bring local communities closer together to create something beautiful out of random chaos.

2nd section 2 small

 

I stopped next at the beautiful George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (don’t miss the mesmerizing Geometrically-Inspired Mural #1 adorning the façade at the corner of 3rdStreet and Wall Avenue), where an exhibit showcasing entries in the annual PhotoSpiva photography competition caught my eye. Founded in 1977, PhotoSpiva is the longest-running photography event of its kind in the country, and a showcase for truly sensational regional and national photographers. I also caught an exhibition called Uncommon Threads: A Dozen Shades of Gray, where quilted panels tell the story of aging. I made a mental note to challenge my grandmother to quilt me something creative next Christmas.

2nd section 3 small

 

In nearby Schifferdecker Park, I found the Joplin Museum Complex, where I shook hands with dino bots on the front lawn, and wrapped my visit by exploring the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum, the crown jewel of the museum complex. The Mineral Museum includes a world-class collection of zinc and lead ore, as well as other spectacular mineral specimens mined from the Tri-State District, as well as illustrations and exhibits showcasing geochemical and mining techniques dating from the 1870s.

 

3rd section 1 small
In the neighborhood

Inspired by Joplin’s dynamism, I wandered down Sergeant Avenue, into the Murphysburg Historic District, where 19th– and 20th-century architectural treasures have been lovingly restored. Stunning examples of Queen Anne, Dutch Colonial, Prairie Style and Colonial-Revival homes stand proud along the tree-lined boulevards, while wrought-iron fences, spiraling staircases, grandiose grotesques and marble water features call to mind a time when horses clopped over cobbled streets, families gathered to perform Sunday afternoon vignettes and the home was the center of the universe. So caught up in my trip into the past, I pondered if any of the home owners would allow me to book a ticket for the evening’s Heartland Opera Theatre performance via the electric telegraph.

 

HOT stuff

I heard of Heartland Opera—or HOT, as it is colloquially known—at the Spiva Center for the Arts, and decided to take a flyer for a night at the theatre. Coincidentally, “HOT Scandals” was on the docket, a cabaret-style show that’s naughty in all the right ways. Heartland’s productions are earnest, honest and above all else, local—it is truly thrilling to watch skilled talent take on the complex works of masters like Gilbert and Sullivan, Lucy Simon and Stephen Sondheim. I came away amused and impressed.

Another noted theatre in Joplin is the Joplin Little Theatre. Housed in a cozy stone citadel it is an artistic treasure in its own right. Built in 1939, the Little Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theatre west of the Mississippi. I saw more of Joplin’s artistic side in a few hours than I could have possibly imagined, and by day’s end I had scribbled a list of at least a dozen other attractions in my notebook, confident that Joplin was no longer simply part of the journey, but a destination in and of itself.

 

 


Last section 1 small


Driven by art

 

The next morning, before setting back out onto the open road, I visited the Route 66 Mural Park, and remembered why I had been drawn to Joplin in the first place. The collaborative mural is actually two pieces of art—an upper piece commemorating Joplin’s place on this most historic of thoroughfares, and a lower piece composed of a US map and flashy ’64 Corvette. Just one more artful reminder of why I’ll someday soon be cruisin’ back to Joplin.

 

Discover the best of Joplin’s arts and culture.

The Joplin Undercurrent

Destination marketing can be challenging, especially for a locations such as Joplin that lacks a signature event, or is known for a highly traveled to themed attraction. While unique, smaller towns are becoming a rising vacation trend, advertising to the traveler, in both print and digital formats, takes creativity to stand out among similar advertisements for like destinations.
 
Through a partnership developed a little more than a year ago, the Joplin CVB has been working with local photographer Mark Neuenschwander (9Art Photography) and writer Lance Schaubert on a new concept that the trio hopes will spark interest to bring visitors to Joplin.
 
Using a genre for the digital age, Neuenschwander and Schaubert introduced Joplin to the concept of a digital photonovel through their first joint venture, Cold Brewed, in 2012. A photonovel is a story told through dramatic images and text, but the reader’s experience unfolds like the adventure of reading a novel, combined with the visual excitement of a graphic novel. The techie will appreciate reading a captivating story with just the roll of a mouse.
 
On January 19th the JCVB will be unveiling the photonovel tourism marketing project, entitled The Joplin Undercurrent, with a storyline which combines historical accuracies as well as fiction, otherwise known as faction. Composed in the same vein as films we love such as The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, The Joplin Undercurrent photonovel will depict some of what Joplin is best known for, while intertwining both real-life citizens and fictionalized characters.
 
Unlike traditional tourism marketing this project will not directly say, “Visit Joplin.” We hope this more understated approach, geared to people entrenched in the digital age, will spark an interest in visiting Joplin because of a desire to immerse themselves in the story’s location, similar to the way that novels or movies bring destinations into pop-culture and become tourist attractions. Communities such as Forks, Washington created special tours for visitors who flock there to put themselves into the fictional settings of the Twilight Saga, and why after 27 years, baseball enthusiasts still travel to Dubuque County (Dyersville) Iowa to step upon (or play a game on) the field created for the 1989 movie Field of Dreams.
 
The Joplin Undercurrent is a story of a young man and former Joplinite named Lee, who returns home to visit his ailing; perhaps even dying, mother. But when Lee asks his uncle for a visiting time, his uncle refuses to let him see her Frustrated, Lee wanders downtown and meets two other out-of-towners – a historian of sorts and a geologist with a strange specialization. They come to protect Joplin from a coming disaster but to do so they’ll have to solve a mystery hidden in Joplin’s past. A mystery involving Lee’s mother.
 
The opening chapters will be released at http://thejoplinundercurrent.co/ starting January 19th with subsequent chapters released weekly.
 
The new age of tourism marketing is set to launch January 19th.