SIKESTON - Now in its 28th year, Sikeston Missouri Arts Inc., got its start when Dottie Moore of Sikeston was appointed by Governor "Kit" Bond to serve on the Missouri Arts Council.
The second oldest state-funded arts agency in the country, the Missouri Arts Council coordinates all performances of the St. Louis Symphony, provides grants for local councils and assists them in an advisory capacity such as helping to set up lighting and offering other advice to help local productions achieve a more professional performance.
A piano major and music aficionado, Moore was selected to replace Catherine Craig, also of Sikeston, whose term had ended.
Moore had experience with programming having served as an out-state advisory board member on the Young Audiences board in St. Louis, which screened dance, opera, orchestra and other performances for programs in the urban and out-state schools' systems.
Moore's appointment on the state council turned out to be a great opportunity for Sikeston. "I became aware of the programs and opportunities available to small towns and municipalities," she said.
With that awareness and the Missouri Art Council's help, Moore began the first of steps that led to the formation of the Sikeston Arts and Educations Council.
Grants from the Missouri Arts Council required matching funds which "assured it was done with community support," according to Moore, so she sought help from Dr. Sam Harbin, the superintendent of the Sikeston schools. "He pledged his support if we formed a council."
As Harbin wanted the council to include representatives from the school, community and the Sikeston schools parent-teacher associations, Harriet Jones was chosen to represent the school and Lynn Colley of the Sikeston Little Theater was picked as the community representative. With the addition of PTA representatives, the council was formed.
Representatives from each of the school PTAs were assigned to relay information and program opportunities to their respective schools.
For the most part the early programs were mostly centered around school students as the council sought to "build a base of music appreciation" through such programs as the first appearance of the St. Louis Symphony in Sikeston, according to Moore.
Not all performances were musical, however. Over the years the council has presented a range of artists for performances in genres including theater, storytelling and dance.
One memorable early performance that was very well received was by Bill Baird's Puppeteers, whose claim to fame was in performing the puppet sequence in the classic movie "The Sound of Music."
During their five-day stay, the puppeteers performed at each of the elementary schools, held workshops for Girl and Boy Scouts and other youth organizations, and wrapped up their stay with a show for the public.
Programs were intended to be a not only listening and watching experiences, but opportunities for learning as well, according to Moore. "We tried never to have a performance that didn't have a workshop with it."
When the symphony has come, for example, in addition to a performance students are treated to workshops called "master classes" during which they get the opportunity to perform with the musicians and interact with them. "The symphony performers have just been so marvelous with it," said Moore.
In September 1995, the organization's name was changed from the Sikeston Arts and Education Council to Sikeston Missouri Arts Inc. to reflect its expanding focus, "more on the community than the schools," said Moore.
So far this year, SMARTS has already completed a Missoula Children's Theatre production of Treasure Island and on display right now at the Sikeston Depot is the regional high school art show courtesy of the Bootheel Regional Art Guild.
SMARTS board members are also forming a group called Sikeston Arts Workers, or "SAWs," for those who would like to offer occasional volunteer help for community arts projects. "There are lots of people who can do things on occasion but can't commit to anything permanent," said Terri Matthews, administrator for SMARTS.
Last year's SMARTS activities culminated in September with a very successful Cotton Festival of the Arts at downtown Sikeston which, in addition to wonderful entertainment, included a juried art show, children's art activities, a photography contest, train rides through the historic downtown area, and exquisite southern food, according to Matthews.
Given its success last year, SMARTS is planning to bring back some of the favorite elements for this year's festival.