power2give Update: Circus Flora

Circus Flora Sensory Friendly Circus / Photo courtesy of Steve Truesdell

Circus Flora / Photo courtesy of Steve Truesdell

Did you know St. Louis is one of only three cities in the United States with an annual resident circus and year-round outreach programs? Circus Flora is St. Louis’ own theatre company that blends traditional European circus with modern theatre techniques.

Circus Flora was one of the organizations in the initial group to post a project to power2give.org when it first launched in fall 2013. Circus Flora’s project sought to raise funds for a sensory friendly circus with a project titled in that name. The “Sensory Friendly Circus” project’s goal was to create a circus conducive to those with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities.

Circus Flora was able to make their show sensory friendly by removing bothersome stimuli, adjusting noise levels in the show and reducing the stigma of public reaction by providing a tent for a quiet area. The funds raised on power2give allowed more people to get to enjoy the experience of the circus.

Circus Flora Sensory Friendly Circus / Photo courtesy of Steve Truesdell

Circus Flora / Photo courtesy of Steve Truesdell

“The Sensory Friendly Performance, a show designed specifically for individuals on the autism spectrum, was Circus Flora’s first crowd-funded project. Using Power2Give allowed Circus Flora to reach a broader audience interested in autism services as well as the arts. The campaign ran early in the year enabling us to connect with our audience before the season was in full swing. The efforts of our acting company to create this specially-modified performance were rewarded by the outpouring of appreciation by parents, several of whom expressed through barely suppressed tears what it meant for them to attend a live performance together, as a family, and not have others stare or pass judgment at their child for spinning to express excitement, or clapping too long, or needing to exit and return several times. The inaugural Sensory Friendly Performance was such a success that Circus Flora will again partner with Easter Seals Midwest during our upcoming Big Top season,” Director of Development at Circus Flora, Susan Mintz said.

Circus Flora’s current power2give project is called “Run Away With Us!” which is seeking funds to expand their June 2015 production from three weeks to four weeks so even more audience members and underserved children can enjoy St. Louis’ magical theater under a Big Top.

Circus Flora / Photo courtesy of Steve Truesdell

Circus Flora / Photo courtesy of Steve Truesdell

Circus Flora, an A&E Operating Grantee, has a variety of shows and programs throughout the year. Circus Flora is also home to the “Clowns on Call,” a group that brings specially trained circus artists to the bedsides of young patients. Circus Flora is a tenant in the Centene Center for Arts and Education.

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Meet Education Campaign Chair Dr. David Knes

Dr. Knes

Dr. Knes

Dr. David Knes, superintendent of the Valley Park School District, learned to appreciate the arts and arts education early in life having grown up with a dad who was an art teacher before he became a principal. So when Dr. Knes (pronounced KA-nay-z) was asked to become the 2015 Chair for the Arts & Education Council’s Education Division Workplace Giving Campaigns, he said yes for two reasons:

“I did it because I know firsthand how important the arts are and I did it because I was asked,” he said. Monies raised from the Arts & Education Council’s annual Workplace Giving Campaign fund nearly 70 nonprofit arts and arts education organizations throughout the 16-county, bi-state region.

“The arts present such a fantastic opportunity for students to get involved in school,” said Knes. “Everyone knows, research has proven, that the more students feel connected to school, the more successful their educational experience will be.”

After agreeing to become the 2015 Education Division Chair, Knes personally reached out to superintendents in school districts throughout St. Louis, St. Charles, Lincoln and Franklin counties, asking them to get involved in workplace giving. He underlined to them not only the value of arts education but also how painless it is for teachers, faculty and administrators to give to the Arts and Education Council.

“We try to show our staff how easy it is to give through payroll deduction or by using their credit card,” he said. “For example, they can spread their gift over 24 weeks through payroll deduction and they won’t even realize anything is being taken out of their check.”

Knes said another way to motivate staff to give is by offering awards if they donate. “We have a drawing every day through the week that we do our campaign in February,” he explained. “We’ll pull a name out of a hat and the winner, for example, may get the principals and me to wash their car or something like that. We try to make the prizes fun.”

Knes has been in the Valley Park district for 11 years – eight as superintendent and three as assistant superintendent. He was a principal in the Clayton and Rockwood school districts prior to that. His wife is an assistant superintendent in the Rockwood School District and the couple has two sons, both in college.

When asked how he would measure his success as Education Division Chair, Knes didn’t hesitate: “Success would look like 100 percent participation and we would meet or exceed our goal.”

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Laumeier opens doors to all seasons with help of power2give


Laumeier Sculpture Park is a living laboratory where artists and audiences explore the relationship between contemporary art and the natural environment. Cold winds and snowy days can dampen even the most creative spirit. However, this changed in 2014. Laumeier launched a project on power2give.org titled, “Fill Laumeier’s Education Studio’s with Creativity!” to help fund the conversion of the cramped gallery spaces of their 1917 Estate House into an Education Laboratory for Art.

Previously, winter months brought fewer patrons to the 105 acres of Laumeier Sculpture Park, an A&E grantee, because of its primarily outdoors elements. But with the help of power2give.org, Laumeier patrons can now enjoy the arts in all seasons.

With the renovation, guests of Laumeier can now enjoy classes, workshops, community events and art indoors and out, at all times of the year. The renovation project allows Laumeier to provide a wider selection of programs that complement the outdoor elements of the park. Power2give.org funds were sought for items to outfit the new Education Laboratory. The money raised was used to help purchase art-making equipment such as pottery wheels, kilns, activity tables and seating. Laumeier adjusted their original $10,000 budget to $5,000, allowing them to purchase three pottery wheels and one kiln in November 2014. 

“We are so grateful for what crowdfunding efforts like power2give make possible for nonprofit organizations like Laumeier Sculpture Park,” says Executive Director Marilu Knode. “The unique power2give platform allows us to reach new segments of potential donors to provide support for critical projects that might not attract funding through more traditional fundraising channels.”

The grand opening of the Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center and the Education Laboratory of Art will be on June 21, 2015. Classes and workshops in the education laboratory begin in June 2015 with registration starting in February!

With the help of power2give.org, Laumeier can now welcome even more than the 300,000 patrons who previously visited the park annually, and educate during all seasons. To learn about power2give.org or to make a donation, visit power2give.org/greaterstlouis.

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Fill in the (blanks) with Startup Weekend EDU

Most educators have encountered the thought “if only I had (blank), then I could do (blank),” at some point throughout their teaching careers. Now, through a weekend planned by UP St. Louis, educators have the opportunity to fill in those blanks and create new innovative ideas to engage students and families.

UP Global is hosting a weekend workshop from Jan. 16-18, at the Cambridge Innovation Center called Startup Weekend EDU St. Louis. The event starts Friday at 6:30 p.m., and finishes Sunday evening at 9 p.m. The event packs a weekend of opportunities to help launch and scale projects as UP Global’s first multifaceted program. In addition to educators in attendance, there will be web designers and developers to take the innovative technological ideas and make them a reality, and parents to provide their input.

The goal of the weekend is to develop technological tools to improve student collaboration, and thus improve student experiences. The weekend entails many aspects, including sharing ideas among a diverse group of educators, parents, designers and web developers, narrowing and combining these ideas and joining forces to make the ideas a reality, and presenting the final concepts to a panel of judges, made up of prominent leaders in the St. Louis education community. The event begins with pitching ideas, voting on the ideas, forming teams and finally, beginning work. There will also be networking opportunities throughout the weekend.

Among the event’s judges is Jill McGuire, executive director of the Regional Arts Commission and the 2015 St. Louis Arts Award Honoree for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. COCA, an Arts and Education Council Sustaining Grantee, is one of the event organizers.

If you want to be a part of the change, Startup Weekend Education is looking for teachers, educators, parents, students, designers, developers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, innovators and thinkers to attend and participate. The weekend filled with innovation and action costs $49 for an educator ticket, which includes four meals, snacks, and coffee. Click here to learn more or to register for this event.

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Meet the 2015 St. Louis Arts Awards Emcee: Ben Nordstrom

Ben Nordstrom

Ben Nordstrom

Be prepared to be dazzled, St. Louis. Ben Nordstrom is in the house!

Nordstrom, performer extraordinaire, will be the emcee of the 24th Annual St. Louis Arts Awards, which takes place Monday, January 19, in the Khorassan Ballroom at the Chase Park Plaza. This year’s gala will begin with a cocktail reception at 5:30 pm, followed by dinner and awards at 7 pm, with Nordstrom hosting the action.

“I’m very excited about the event because I’ve been at the awards a couple of times and know what a big deal the evening is,” says Nordstrom, 38. “I also think the mission of the Arts and Education Council is really cool — how it supports so many arts and arts education organizations in St. Louis. I’m just hoping to add a little charm and entertainment value to what I already know will be a great event.”

For those unfamiliar, Nordstrom is an incredible talent — an actor who has starred in dramatic productions nationwide as well as in musical comedies. He acts, he sings, he dances, he tells jokes — basically, he’s the whole package. He lives with his wife, Kristen, the general manager at STAGES St. Louis, and their 10-year old son, Sam, in Ballwin.

Nordstrom, who grew up in Oklahoma, came to St. Louis to attend Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, which he graduated from in 1999. He met Kristen, a native St. Louisan, when she was choreographing a show at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre during a summer between school years – Nordstrom was performing in the show. At the time though, she was living in New York. After college, he moved there to be with her and find work. “I had a great time and did plays around the country as well as small productions in New York,” he says.

In 2004, the Nordstroms moved back to St. Louis so that Kristen could take a job running the new Crate & Barrel store here. “I stumbled around for a while doing commercial voiceovers and industrial videos, and then got really into the theater scene here, which is fantastic,” he says.

A few years ago, Kristen got another call from Crate & Barrel, this time asking her to come back to New York. So the family did, but after a couple of years they moved back to St. Louis when Kristen got the job with STAGES. They’ve been back about 15 months. “St. Louis is totally where we should be, we had built such a nice life here with family and friends,” says Nordstrom. “Luckily, we had hung onto our house when we went back to New York so when we returned here, we could move right back in.”

Since coming back, Nordstrom, who is the winner of two Kevin Kline Awards, has had no shortage of theatrical work. He is due to star in the next Mustard Seed Theatre production, “White to Gray,” February 6-22, followed by a featured role in the New Jewish Theatre’s “My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding,” May 7-31. This comes after just completing a play at HotCity Theatre in December, a star turn last summer in STAGES’ “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and in the Muny’s “Billy Elliot.”

“Good acting is good acting and good directors are good directors regardless of what city you’re in and St. Louis has no shortage of both — there are a lot of extremely talented people who have chosen to make this city their home. And we’re much richer for it,” says Nordstrom. “What’s also wonderful about St. Louis is how close-knit the theater community is. I know it sounds kind of cliché, but we are like a family. There are some directors here I would drop anything for to be in a show of theirs.”

For more information about tickets and sponsorships for the 2015 St. Louis Arts Awards, visit our website at KeepArtHappening.org/what/2015_st._louis_arts_awards.

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