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Rural Missouri Magazine

50 miles of art
Provenance Project hopes to attract
artists and tourists to northeast Missouri

by Bob McEowen

Visitors to northeast Missouri's art corridor between Clarksville and Hannibal will someday be able to view sculptures from all over the world — like these "Three Sisters" from China — at St. Louis University's Henry Lay Sculpture Park. The facility, the dream of a St. Louis-area businessman, should open sometime in 2002.

Three large sculptures of Chinese sisters dressed in traditional dance costumes stand on a small island in a lake near Louisiana, Mo. A few miles away an incense manufacturer-turned craftsman spins pewter on a lathe. Meanwhile, two artists, recent transplants from Texas, adapt to a new home in northeast Missouri.

These seemingly unrelated happenings are linked, part of a common concept and a greater goal. Whether the development of a public sculpture garden, the expansion of a business or a lifestyle change in pursuit of greater artistic expression, a lot is happening within a 50-mile corridor from Clarksville to Hannibal.

Under a banner called The Provenance Project, community development experts, artists and craftsmen have come together to champion the idea that an area can prosper by attracting artists.

"The project is a two-pronged approach," says Patrick French, executive director of the Northeast Missouri Development Authority and one of the original proponents of the idea. "One is the recruitment of artists and the other is marketing of the area as a destination of cultural tourism."

The word provenance refers to the origin or source of something, usually art. The Provenance Project seeks to provide an origin for both art itself but also a revitalization of the northeast Missouri communities of Hannibal, Louisiana and Clarksville.

Sculptor Harry Weber works in his Bowling Green studio.

"It just makes sense. It's basic Marketing 101. You market what you've got," French says. "We've got three historic river communities, great architecture, low costs of living and established tourism trade. We have a central location that makes a nice day trip. We have probably one of the prettiest drives in the state."

The area is already home to a number of successful artists — among them potter Steve Ayers, blacksmith Darold Rinedollar, watercolor artist John Stoeckley and sculptor Harry Weber. Many artists choose the area because it is within a day's drive of almost any Midwest art show.

Others are attracted by the availability of affordable buildings. Louisiana, in particular, boasts an abundance of Victorian-era structures, many of them available at prices far below real estate in other artist's communities.

"We looked at Sante Fe. We looked at California. We looked at various areas," says Allison Black, a metalsmith who moved to Louisiana from Houston, Texas, with her husband, painter and sculptor Ippy Greer. "There's many places that have an art market but there's no support there. The rents are outrageous. The market's already built and it's pretty much closed to new people coming in."

That is not the situation in northeast Missouri where local banks offer low-interest loans to help artists rehab older buildings. Also, developers here are actively pursuing artists to the Provenance Project.

"It really is a revolutionary idea. This kind of thinking just doesn't happen anywhere except in this little corner of Missouri," says Pat Hooper of ASL Pewter.

One of the aims of the Provenance Project is to fill vacant buildings and storefronts. Louisiana's downtown offers artisans Victorian architecture at prices much lower than established arts communities.

Hooper and her husband, Tom, moved to Clarksville from Salem to expand their pewter and fragrance business from the art show and Renaissance festival circuit to a retail storefront. "You have support from these communities that an artist isn't likely to get from other small towns and, certainly, not from a big city," she says.

The support from the community and other artists was one of the factors that drew Black and Greer from Texas, where Black taught art and managed galleries. In Louisiana she will administer the Provenance Art Center, a new gallery and learning center launched by a St. Louis-area art professor. Meanwhile, the couple will pursue their individual studio work in an atmosphere where they hope to learn about the business of art.

"Ip and I both know the art side of it really well. The business side, we're learning," Black says. "We felt there were people involved with the Provenance Project who were already entrepreneurs who could be mentors, and they have been. These people are very generous."

The artists of Clarksville, Louisiana and Hannibal have formed a network, the Great River Road Guild of Artisans, to support one another and to promote the arts in northeast Missouri. Working with the Division of Tourism they've begun to position the area as an arts corridor. Twice a year more than 20 guild artists open their doors for a "50 Miles of Art" studio tour.

In addition to the various artists working along the Great River Road a number of arts-related attractions will soon draw tourists to the area. Besides the Provenance Arts Center a new sculpture garden is being developed on the Pike County estate of the late Henry Lay, a St. Louis businessman and arts patron. The facility, which will also include an arts education center and children's sculpture park, should open sometime in 2002.

The Provenance Art Center, located in a former Methodist church and one-time Louisiana city hall, will offer art classes, gallery space for area artists and a home for visiting artists.

All of the activity spells success for the Provenance Project. Already the effort has received statewide and national recognition, including awards for its promotional materials and Web site. The project even received one of the only National Endowment for the Arts grants ever awarded to an economic development project. Likewise, the state Department of Economic Development, an agency more accustomed to chasing smokestacks than artist's palettes, has awarded the project a marketing grant.

But more than recognition, The Provenance Project is attracting artists to northeast Missouri. Most recently a potter from South Dakota and a glassblower from California have announced they will move to the area. And that, of course, is the aim of the project.

"Bringing in these types of essentially retail businesses is going to generate additional sales tax revenue, primarily through tourism," French says.

Such successes also bring the project that much closer to fulfilling its promise to artists as well.

"The way it was presented to us was this was a growing community of artists and artisans and a place that was sympathetic to artists — that they could come in here and find a place to settle and do their work and have some strength in union," Greer says. "The project is on the ground level right now. We have great hope for it but it's like any new venture. It's going to take a lot of work."

For more information write The Provenance Project, 201 North Third St., Suite 220, Hannibal, MO 63401; call 1-800-525-6632 or visit them on line at www.provenanceproject.org.

 

 

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