Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013 5:28PM
Continuing a culture of art appreciation
By Russ Pulley
In more than a decade, the Lee’s Summit Arts Council has helped shape the community’s direction in entertainment and cultural offerings, complimenting fast growth of housing and shopping centers, all the pieces which made Lee’s Summit one of the region’s booming cities.
The city now has a community symphony and theater group, building on longtime support for arts programs in schools.
Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street incorporates some aspect of the arts, either sculpture or music performance, into its events and sponsors a Fourth Friday event centered on arts.
The city has Got Art, also downtown, a gallery to provide space for visual arts, run by a juried, non-profit arts organization of about 80 artists.
“It’s a turnaround,” said Syrtiller Kabat chairperson of the arts council. “We were a simple community that’s grown in sophistication.”
The arts council didn’t make all those things happen, but its job has been to help create a climate and awareness to help them flourish, Kabat said.
It began in 2001, a result of the Lee’s Summit 21st Century Strategic Plan. Its charge was to coordinate efforts between agencies to promote the arts and educate the public regarding arts opportunities.
Kabat, one of the first Arts Council members appointed, said that in early years the council hit a rough patch, where its energy was sometimes blunted by members representing different groups vying for city funding. She was one member who resigned, discouraged, but was reappointed to the council two years ago.
The City Council continued to refine the council’s make up, changing member terms, and the council continued its work, finishing a Cultural Arts Plan adopted in 2007. The following year it became an adjunct of the Lee’s Summit Park Board and picked up additional staff support from that department to begin implementing that plan.
Last year it completed a Cultural Facilities Master Plan and visited several cities, including Paducah, Ky.and Ashville N.C. and the Americans for the Arts National Conference to get ideas.
It started holding arts summits to connect local artists with businesses and leaders.
“We’re trying to make sure local people are exposed or informed on what’s happening in art, not only in our area but in greater Missouri,” she said.
The city’s budget for the Art’s Council is $76,000, a good chunk goes to the parks department for support of the council, mainly personnel expense, said Joe Snook, assistant administrator of Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation.
With the remainder the council has financed trips to view arts programs in other cities, but primarily used it for grants for projects. It annually offers $1,000 grants for projects or smaller monthly grants.
They are used to help support public performances or creating an artwork.
This year’s grants budget was about $18,000.
It began surveying patrons of various Lee’s Summit events to determine if they’d also eaten in a restaurant or spent money shopping as part of their entertainment, Snook said.
The results showed that people attending various events also spent an average of $30 more dollars, eating out or shopping.
While it was a non-scientific poll, results “mirrors national research” and so seems reasonable to think it represents the influence on a local economy, he said.
Grants have gone to groups such as Summit Theatre Group, the Lee’s Summit Symphony and the Literary Fest at Longview Community College, Snook said.
The council sponsors juried artist exhibits at the Gamber Center.
Kabat said she sees the future of Lee’s Summit of including a performing arts center for its symphony and theater, which will make Lee’s Summit part of the “circuit” for regional and national performers.
They may not perform in town, she said, but they might present a master’s class in Lee’s Summit when appearing at the Kaufmann Center in Kansas City.
And Lee’s Summit residents will get to see a continued flowering of culture and arts at home.
The Lee’s Summit Symphony is celebrating its 10th year. Summit Theatre Group has brought community theater back to town, opening its first season last year.
“We don’t see it stopping,” Kabat said. “We see it as our future.”