Community Organizations Come Together to Support Ferguson with Unity Concert

Many often turn to art in times of trouble and despair, and Ferguson and North St. Louis County is no different. Given the recent events in the community, a coalition of North St. Louis County organizations are presenting a free peace and unity concert titled “Ferguson’s Children: Their Voice,” at noon on Saturday, Oct. 4. The Arts and Education Council is one of the partner organizations for the event.

The show will be held at the Bandshell at January Wabash Park in Ferguson. The event will show the talents of students K-12 in the school districts of Ferguson-Florissant, Jennings, Riverview Gardens, and the Normandy School Collaborative. The showcase will feature a wide range of music, dance, poetry, theater performing and other visual art. Professional musicians from A&E grant recipients Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis will support the students.

Some of the performers at the event include the Normandy High Dance Academy, the Jennings High School Choir, the Ferguson-Florissant Elementary Choir, band and orchestra performances by McCleur High School students, and theater performances by McCleur South Berkley and McCleur High School students.

Among the community members directing the students are Duane Martin Foster, the 2013 recipient of a St. Louis Arts Award for Arts Educator of the Year; Michael Perkins from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis; five-time Arts for Life winner Doug Erwin; Amy Freet, the St. Louis Symphony’s Educator of the Year; Erica Pegues, a Missouri Outstanding New Theater Teacher winner; and six-time Illinois State Fiddle Champion Tyler Moore, among many others. Bizling’s Tom Smith originated the idea for the concert.

“The goal of this performance is to heal the community through the arts. We want the children of Ferguson to know they are strong, resilient, powerful and that they can achieve anything,” said Doug Erwin, Ferguson Florissant Fine Arts Content Leader and director of the event.

Any donations collected at the event will go to North County Inc., an organization that helps the residents of Ferguson.

There have been several other arts related initiatives in light of the events in Ferguson, and more scheduled to come. The concert #HealFerguson on Sept. 7, was developed by acclaimed soul singer and Ferguson resident Brian Owens in support of the Ferguson Youth Initiative. Another concert, #WithNormandy, was held on Sept. 26 at Normandy High School promoting the Friends of Normandy Scholarship, a scholarship that gives financial assistance to graduating seniors looking to pursue higher education. A future dance concert is in the works under the direction of dance community members Sara Burke, Keith Williams and Michael Uthoff titled “Step Up.”

The Arts and Education Council is one of the partner organizations for the Oct. 4, event, and has worked closely with the Normandy School District and many north St. Louis organizations in the past. Normandy High School and McCleur High School are recipients of the Maritz Arts and Education Fund for Teachers, an Arts and Education Council program that awards grants to arts education projects in the St. Louis bi-state area. Learn more about the Maritz Arts and Education Fund for Teachers.

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Arts Marketers meet to discuss “Engaging Young Friends and New Audiences”

Joe Gfaller, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis , speaks to Arts Marketers about Engaging Young Friends and New Audiences

Joe Gfaller, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis , speaks to Arts Marketers about Engaging Young Friends and New Audiences

Joe Gfaller, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL), spoke at the Arts Marketers meeting on September 17, at the Centene Center for Arts and Education on the topic of Engaging Young Friends and New Audiences. Gfaller, who was recently honored by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of its Diverse Leaders in Business, spoke about how OTSL has successfully brought young and new audiences to the opera and the marketing strategies and tactics they used to support their Young Friends program.

Gfaller opened the presentation talking about basic marketing strategies, emphasizing the importance of knowing your product, knowing your audience and market, and creating an initial program or focus. He also talked about finding success in marketing by leveraging existing programs to build new opportunities, taking some risks, reaching out to new audiences rather than waiting for them to come to your organization, and the importance of buy-in on a project throughout an organization.

Gfaller discussed early barriers for people in attending and participating in the arts, and the rest of the presentation focused on ways to overcome these barriers, and specifically how OTSL has overcome them through three of their programs.

The first case study Gfaller used was about OTSL’s Young Friend’s program, a program for opera-goers under age 45. The Young Friend’s program has grown from 150 people identifying themselves with the program in 2010 to over 750 people this past season. Gfaller mentioned the importance of in-season and pre-season events to keep audiences engaged year round, not just for the limited season. Some of the preseason events OTSL hosted for their Young Friends included a private cocktail reception at the Contemporary Art Museum with Isaac Mizrahi who designed the costumes for The Magic Flute, one of 2014 season’s shows.

In season, OTSL provides other benefits for their Young Friends. On performance nights, people in the program enjoy a private reception under OTSL’s tent with a buffet dinner and open bar, then the director of the opera provides an introduction designed to warm up the crowd. During the reception, people socialize and converse, one of the main emphases of the target audience. Finally, patrons enjoy the opera together.

The above offerings are designed to make patrons feel special and connected to the arts, one of the main ways to get them to enjoy it and come back. To start this program, OTSL utilized a steering committee of individuals from the community who used their networks to get people to join the program. Today, the program has expanded well beyond these initial networks and reached a larger audience.

The second case study Gfaller talked about was the live tweeting of certain OTSL performances. OTSL started this in 2013 and continued the program this season at certain performances of The Magic Flute and Elixir of LoveThe Magic Flute live tweeting event reached over 1.4 million people and was the number three trending topic in the St. Louis area that night. Elixir of Love tweets reached over 2.24 million people.

The final OTSL program discussed was the family nights. The purpose of these nights is to bring families together and eliminate the stigma that young people can’t attend the opera. OTSL sells family four packs of tickets for a discounted price, and offers a pre and post party with the opportunity to meet the cast, get a balloon animal and have your nails painted.

Overall, Gfaller emphasized that all of these programs were created to reach a target audience and really catered to the customer and their needs. Finding this need in customers and filling it is one of the best marketing strategies that arts marketers can use.

The next Arts Marketers meeting will be on Wednesday, November 5 from 4 to 5:30 pm at the Centene Center for Arts and Education. Public Relations Professional Mary McHugh will present on Public Relations and Your Voice in the Community.

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River Styx Turns 40!

river styxRiver Styx kicked off their 2014-15 season on Monday with readings by Amit Majmudar and local writer Murray Farish, but this year’s season kickoff was a little more special than typical years. The opening of this season of lively readings marked River Styx 40th anniversary season.

“Most people turn 40 with trepidation. River Styx is thrilled to turn 40. We’ve been bringing the best writers we can find to our pages and to our podium for 40 years, and we [were] especially excited to kick off our new season with poet and novelist Amit Majmudar and local short story writer Murray Farish on Sept. 15,” River Styx editor Richard Newman said.

Over their 40 years, River Styx has received many awards both locally and nationally for their work including NEA awards and, on many occasions, St. Louis Poetry Center’s Stanley Hanks Prize. Poems are regularly included in The Best American Poetry, Best New Poets and The Pushcart Prizes: Best of the Small Presses.

The next reading in this year’s season will be held Oct. 20 with writers Sena Jeter Naslund and Jason Sommer. Both Naslund and Sommer are acclaimed in their field. Naslund is a winner of the Harper Lee Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction award. Her work has been reprinted globally in Australia and the United Kingdom, and translated into German, Hebrew and Japanese. Her most well-known novel, Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-gazer, was a finalist for the Orange Prize.

Sommer has local ties, receiving his PhD. from Saint Louis University after growing up in the Bronx. Sommer received his master’s degree from Stanford and his BA from Brandeis University. His poetry has been published in many magazines including The New Republic, TriQuarterly and Ploughshares, among others. His most recent volume of work is called “The Laughter of Adam and Eve.”

All readings are held at the Tavern of Fine Arts and begin at 7:30. Admission is $5 at the door, and $4 for members, students and seniors. ARTS card holders enjoy 2-for-1 admission. For a complete schedule and list of writers click here. Previous seasons are also available to watch online.

River Styx is an Arts and Education Council PNC Project Grant Recipient and a tenant in the Centene Center for Arts and Education.

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Mustard Seed Theatre Kicks Off Ninth Season

Falling, Mustard Seed Theatre

“Falling,” a play that Jent wrote based on her experience of raising an autistic child, was performed by Mustard Seed, then opened Off Broadway in 2012 to very favorable reviews.

On August 29, Mustard Seed Theatre will open its ninth performance season at Fontbonne University with four shows, three of which are world premieres and one a reprise of an a cappella musical that played to sold-out audiences in 2013. The new season also means a new floor at Mustard Seed’s Fine Arts Theatre at Fontbonne, thanks to the Arts and Education Council’s program. This online marketplace allows cultural organizations to post and promote projects in need of funding; then donors can contribute directly to the projects that interest them.

Deanna Jent

Deanna Jent, artistic director of Mustard
Seed Theatre.

“We were able to combine funding from a previous grant with the contributions from to fund the pouring of a new epoxy floor in our theater,” explained Deanna Jent, artistic director of Mustard Seed. “This new floor will create a zero entry from the theater lobby to the stage floor, correcting a tripping hazard that’s been in existence for years. The funds from made it possible to make our theater more accessible to those unsteady on their feet and/or on wheels. This project wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of the Arts and Education Council in launching”

Recently, Happenings sat down with Jent to discuss her burgeoning theater company.

Why did you decide to start Mustard Seed?
I had been doing freelance work at many of the great theaters around town. I would run across scripts I wanted to direct and propose them to various professional theaters but they weren’t a good fit. So over the course of three or four years, I developed a pile of eight to 10 scripts but either the casts were too large or just not quite right for the other theaters in town.

Weren’t you also teaching at Fontbonne?
This will be my 19th year; I am the director of the theater program. So while I was freelance directing and building up this pile of scripts, I was also, with my professor hat on, placing students in professional internships around town, which were sometimes wonderful and plentiful and other times not. I had this need/frustration about finding a place where my students could get professional experience. So that’s how the idea of developing a
professional theater-in-residence at the university came about. Mustard Seed is built on the mission of doing theater around themes of social justice and faith. How did that occur? A couple of friends and I read through that pile of scripts and we realized they all centered on issues of faith and social justice or both. Given the mission of, which is very much centered on questions of faith and social justice, it seemed to all come together.

What are you most excited about in Mustard Seed’s upcoming season?
I’m excited that we are doing three new plays, two by St. Louis playwrights. One looks at the relationship between a female American Army consultant and an Iraqi woman during war. The other, “White to Gray,” focuses on the day before the Pearl Harbor bombings. Our last new play is a hilarious, futuristic comedy of manners where all the characters live in a virtual reality.

Mustard Seed Theatre is an Arts and Education Council 2014 PNC Project Grant recipient. Click here to learn more about Mustard Seed Theatre.

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Jessica Hentoff

Jessica Hentoff

Circus is the most inspirational of all performing art forms because it is about joy, courage and wonder. It is about defying gravity and talking to animals. Circus is about the soaring achievement of the human body, mind and spirit. It is about realizing the archetypal dream of being superhuman.

Warren Bacon started me on my circus path at the State University of New York at Purchase. Rev. Dr. L. David Harris showed me how circus could change lives with The Circus Kingdom. Nina Krasavina and Gregory Fedin taught me creative excellence at the Circus Arts Center. Reg Bolton defined social circus and why circus works. What inspires me to do circus? It is how I can use it to inspire other people, especially children! When a 5-year-old does a forward roll, a 10-year-old walks a tight wire, a 17-year-old juggles nine objects, an 86-year-old hangs from a trapeze… you see the joy in their faces! They are beaming! Their joy radiates out to the audience.

Jessica Hentoff with her student performers (2014)

Jessica Hentoff with her student performers

This jubilant sense of awe and accomplishment is what fuels me. That, and coffee. I have an amazing job. I am like Peter Pan. I get to sprinkle the fairy dust on people and help them fly — physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. As St. Louis’ only complete circus school, Circus Harmony teaches more people how to defy gravity and other limitations with circus grace and style than any other organization. From our classes and shows in our home ring at City Museum, to outreach classes and performances around town (including our work with Circus Flora), to our Peace Through Pyramids Partnership with the Jewish/Arab Galilee Circus in Israel, to the new Circus Harmony Flying Trapeze Center opening at Union Station, we help people defy gravity, soar with confidence and leap over social barriers, all at the same time. Learn more and be inspired at!

— Jessica Hentoff, artistic executive director of Circus Harmony

Circus Harmony is an Arts and Education Council 2014 PNC Project Grant recipient. Click here to learn more about Circus Harmony.

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