GRANTEE SPOTLIGHT: Meet Gateway Men’s Chorus New Artistic Director

Robert Stumpf, artistic director at Gateway Men's Chorus.

Robert Stumpf, artistic director at Gateway Men’s Chorus.

On August 1, Robert Stumpf became Artistic Director of the 80-member Gateway Men’s Chorus (an A&E PNC Project Grant recipient), whose mission is to affirm and promote gay culture and acceptance through excellence in musical performance and education.

Stumpf, a Midwest native, served as the assistant conductor for the Minneapolis-based Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. Prior to that, he taught at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, where he was Director of Bands, conducted the Singing Saints and taught courses in music theory, music education and applied music.

Happenings caught up with Stumpf to talk to him about his new position, the future of the Gateway Men’s Chorus (GMC) and how he is adjusting to his new home. His first concert with GMC will be Make the Yuletide Gay, on Dec 11 and 12 at St. Stanislaus Church, 1413 N 20th Street.

Why were you interested in the job of artistic director of the Gateway Men’s Chorus?

Part of it was the opportunity to take the helm of a substantial, well-known artistic organization. It has some national name recognition within the GALA (Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses) community, being probably the 12th or 13th largest in the country. Only the real big boys are bigger than us – San Francisco, LA, Twin Cities, Washington DC, Heartland (Kansas City), Atlanta. The other thing was the mission-oriented nature of the organization of which I wanted to be a part.

Let’s talk about mission. A big part of the mission of Gateway Men’s Chorus is to affirm and promote gay culture and acceptance through excellence in musical performance and education. How do you plan to embrace and expand that mission?

We are looking to increase the musical quality of the organization. We need to figure out what our singers know and don’t know. We also want to embrace singers who don’t have a lot of training or experience but have a lot of desire and passion – we want to help them grow and develop their skills.

What about educational outreach?

We’re starting new educational community engagement activities. Through the KERR  Foundation, we have a grant to develop a program in which we take a production of the very well known children’s book, Oliver Button is a Sissy, (composer Alan Shorter’s musical work of Tomie de Paola’s children’s fable), to perform for youth. It’s essentially an anti-bullying and diversity awareness campaign about a little boy’s strugglesto express himself and become a star.  We will be presenting a musical theater production and following it up with a workshop.

What are your long-term goals for the GMC?

There’s a three-year strategic plan that we’re in the midst of right now. My personal goal is that within seven years, I’d like the chorus to be up over 100 members. Within 10 years, I want us to be in top echelon of GALA choruses in the country.

Any plans to expand the season from three concerts to more?

No, we plan to solidify the three we have. We’re committed to polishing our three performances a year and really blowing our audiences out of the water.

There is no question the Gateway Men’s Chorus has a strong audience. Do you feel the need to expand that audience and if so, how will you do that?

We want to expand our audiences. One thing I’m implementing is a series of preview concerts. A week before our main-stage shows, we will go into the community and perform a benefit concert. In December, we will be singing a benefit concert at the Ferguson Public Library with 100 percent of funds donated going to the library.

How has performing in a gay men’s choir changed since the inception of the Gateway Men’s Chorus in 1988?

Of course I wasn’t here then, but I will tell you that you can walk into a chorus rehearsal on a Monday night and see men of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some even drive an hour or more to get to rehearsal. People have stereotypes about what gay men look like but the range of gentlemen in this group is diverse and varied. That said, we are working on increasing ethnic diversity within the chorus – and we’ve made some inroads – so that our chorus more accurately resembles our community-at-large.

Any other innovations you can tell us about?

I’ve implemented a three-minute share. During each rehearsal, a member of the chorus comes to the podium and for three minutes, shares what the chorus means to him – or his fondest chorus memory – or what drew him to the chorus, something along those lines. The voices here are heard as a group, but I want to give as many members as possible a chance to open up and allow everyone to get to know one another better.

Gateway Men’s Chorus is an Arts and Education Council 2015 PNC Project Grant recipient and a tenant in A&E’s arts incubator, the Centene Center for Arts and Education. For more information, visit

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Artist on stage at The Hett.

Artist on stage at The Hett

The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts or “The Hett,” (an A&E Monsanto Rural Community Arts Education Program Grant recipient) located on the McKendree University campus in Lebanon, Illinois, is the premier performing arts venue in Southern Illinois. Located 25 miles from St. Louis, The Hett offers music, theater and dance performances, lectures by critically acclaimed guest artists, speakers, film series, student performances and more.

With its location on McKendree University, The Hett offers students both the opportunity to view performances and to work on stage and behind-the-scenes. “Our students who have an interest in the arts as a profession have the opportunity to work in a fully functioning, professionally run performing arts venue. Student performers have a chance to work in a wonderful hall and our technical students get the chance to work on professional level productions. Both performing and technical students have ample opportunity to work side-by-side with pros from all over the country,” remarks Director of The Hett, Peter Palermo.

Peter Palermo, director of The Hett

Peter Palermo, director of The Hett

“The Hett gives our campus community a chance to experience great art in its own backyard. Through-out our programming, we keep in mind that we are part of an institution of higher learning and we have a role to play in the intellectual environment of both our campus and the community we live in. I take that mission very seriously. We don’t bring contemporary dance to the Hett because we think it will sell-out, we bring it because it is a beautiful and meaningful art form and we want our community to experience it,” continues Palermo.

This year marks the beginning of The Hett’s 10th season, and The Hett is celebrating by offering a fabulous variety of performances, events, speakers and more. The McKendree Presents series offers a wide range of music, dance and theater – from a holiday tradition of The Little Dancer ballet to classic chamber music with the Chamber Project Saint Louis. The University Series features performances by McKendree students and faculty and highlights the best of the University’s talent. The Film Art Series gives movie buffs the chance to view movies like The Third Man and The Devil’s Backbone and discuss the movie afterward. Further adding to the mix of offerings is the McCammon Distinguished Speaker Series with speakers ranging from physics professor Dr. James Kakalios to The Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi.

The Hett

The Hett

“This is our tenth season of events! There are a number of programs that have me excited this year. Cameron Carpenter is an incredible virtuoso on the pipe organ and amazing showman. With the help of audio, electronic and software engineers he has built what he calls the International Touring Organ. He has sampled pipe organs from all over the world and created his own instrument. It comes in a semi-truck and takes an entire day to assemble. The music nerd inside me cannot wait to hear this incredible creation,” comments Palermo about the upcoming season.

An Arts and Education Council grant recipient a its sixth year, The Hett is one of just nine rural arts organizations to receive an annual grant from the Monsanto Fund Rural Community Arts Education Program which brings artists and entertainers into classrooms and performance venues so people and families living in the counties surrounding the St. Louis metropolitan area have greater access to the arts.

“The response from the community has been overwhelming. By any measure, the Hett has been fully embraced by our community. Over the past 10 years we’ve doubled the amount of offerings in our McKendree Presents season. That growth has been made possible by the generosity of our donors who share our vision that the arts are critical to the health of the community. Their giving has grown along with programming. It has also been my experience that once people get a taste for live performance, they come back for it again and again,” says Palermo.

The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts is an A&E Monsanto Rural Community Arts Education Program Grant recipient. For more information about the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts, visit

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GRANTEE SPOTLIGHT: Laumeier Sculpture Park Raises the Roof

Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center.

Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center.

There are barn raisings, and then there are barn raisings. As for the latter, it would be hard to beat the one that has taken place at Laumeier Sculpture Park (an A&E Operating Grant recipient).

Granted, calling it a barn raising is pushing it more than a little. But according to Marilu Knode, executive director and chief curator of Laumeier, it was extremely important to have the architecture of the new 7,500 square foot Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center, which officially opened in October, fit the landscape of the iconic sculpture park.

“We’re very proud that the building is reminiscent of a barn,” said Knode, as a nod to the livestock that lived on the property until the 1960s. “Laumeier is a landscape park. It made no sense for us to build some kind of high-tech fancy building. That’s not our history. This is the right-sized building for this institution and for this economy.” The building’s metal roof stands out in contrast to the cedar wood siding, which was chosen to complement nature and the surrounding landscape of the park. Uniquely shaped “fins” on the exterior front shield morning sunlight from hitting the gallery walls, while the glazed windows allow passersby to see inside.

Kranzberg Education Lab.

Kranzberg Education Lab.

The $4 million building, which was part of a nearly 10-year, $10 million capital campaign, was designed by Trivers Associates and named for one of the founders of the sculpture park. “The Aronson,” as it is fondly called, will allow artists to bring large installations inside and mount art from the ceiling. In addition to gallery space, The Aronson will house an information center, gift shop and collections storage, and can be leased for receptions.

“The new Aronson has open, transformable space that matches our ambition for exhibitions,” said Knode. “The flexibility of the building will allow us not only to do large-scale indoor programming, but also events that are dramatic like performances, poetry readings and sound pieces that were virtually impossible to do in our old building. Almost for the first time, we now have an indoor space that can be used for our own events and earn revenue for the park.”

As for Laumeier’s “old” 1917 Estate House, it has been completely renovated and renamed the Kranzberg Education Lab in honor of Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, longtime donors to the park and co-chairs of Laumeier’s capital campaign. The Kranzberg Lab, which faces the Aronson Center, features spacious studios and meeting rooms for classes, workshops and
lectures, and allows Laumeier to offer year-round educational programming. Staff offices remain on the second floor.

An exhibition by New Delhi–based Raqs Media Collective, which was mounted in mid-October, demonstrates how the park can now successfully link its indoor and outdoor spaces. Knode explains that the 1904 World’s Fair is the main focus of the project, and underscores how the St. Louis region can be used as a research platform for new artist production. The Raqs team spent two years soliciting public response to their phrase “If the world is a fair place, then…” and received more than 500 answers. Thirty-six of these were etched into stainless steel bands and wrapped around trees in the park. This outdoor installation is the first major public piece by the Raqs artists in North America.

The indoor work at the Aronson, called “Art in the Age of Collective Intelligence,” presents a series of books that suggest the breadth and depth of our human knowledge, and how contemporary culture is shaped by conflicting, sometimes dissonant, writings from around the globe. The indoor work expands on the contemporary ideas of the outdoor work by conveying the continuity of human knowledge. Layered texts within books, magazines and photos on display examine the ideas of “fairness” and “unfairness.”

The exhibition runs through Feb 14.

Laumeier Sculpture Park is an Arts and Education Council Operating Grant recipient. For more information visit

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Travel Under the Sea with International Photography Hall of Fame Exhibit

Winged Angel from the Ernest H. Brooks II: The Silver Seas Project exhibit at the International Photography Hall of Fame

Winged Angel from the Ernest H. Brooks II: The Silver Seas Project exhibit at the International Photography Hall of Fame.

Upon its reopening this fall, the International Photography Hall of Fame unveiled its fall exhibition “Ernest H. Brooks II: The Silver Seas Project.” This exhibition, running through December 15, honors the acclaimed photographer Ernest H. Brooks and his collection of 35 underwater photographs. Composed of images of aquatic life and its surrounding environment, The Silver Seas Project depicts the fascinating and often under-appreciated nature of the underwater world.

Known by many as the Ansel Adams of underwater photography, Brooks’s passion for photography developed just as naturally as did his ability to walk and talk. As a child of a commercial artist and recreational photographer, Brooks got his first hands-on experience with photography in his father’s dark room at the age of five. Unlike most children who absentmindedly pick up a hobby for a short period of time and move on to something else, Brooks took photography very seriously, closely studying the techniques taught to him by his father. This close attention to detail and perfection at such a young age stayed with Brooks throughout the rest of his career, making him the icon that he is today. Further catalyzing Brooks’ expertise in the field was the fact that his father founded the Brooks Institute, a renowned educational facility for photography in Santa Barbara.

Unique to most other underwater photographers who choose to focus on the vivid color of the sea, Brooks takes a different approach and presents all of his photographs in black and white only. This approach, though unexpected, proves to have quite compelling results. One such outcome is the way that light and dark appear in the photos, capturing the full range of shape and texture in the image. Another aspect of Brooks’ photographs that sets them apart is that his earlier work was done entirely using analog rather than digital film, allowing him to manipulate the photos in distinct and highly detailed ways.

Along with isolated images of marine life, a number of Brooks’ photos feature the interaction between animal and human. In addition to their undeniable beauty, these images convey a deeper message about the coexistence of the two species. Reflecting his early interest in exploring the seas and his love for the creatures living there, Ernest seems to use his work to advocate for the importance of and care for these underwater companions.

“We are thrilled to share with the community at large “Silver Seas” which is a part of the IPHF Collection,” expressed Executive Director of the IPHF, Patty Went. In the spirit of the IPHF’s mission to educate and inspire, this exhibit affirms that taking the road less traveled, so to speak, can have beautiful results. Brooks’ hard work, unrelenting attention to detail, and classical photography techniques are sure to reveal themselves in the upcoming exhibit and create an inspirational compilation for all audiences.

The IPHF is an Arts and Education Council 2015 PNC Grant recipient. For more information visit

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Family-Friendly Concerts Galore at the St. Louis Symphony!

This season, the St. Louis Symphony is yet again doing its all to cater to a wide variety of audiences by offering a number of fun, family-friendly performances. In addition to more classical performances of Beethoven and Brandenburg, film and storybook music that will be enjoyed by all ages compose a significant portion of the schedule this season.

Hoot & Howl at Powell at the St. Louis Symphony on October 25

Hoot & Howl at Powell at the St. Louis Symphony on October 25

Set for Sunday October 25, Hoot & Howl at Powell is first on the list of must-see family performances. In celebration of the upcoming holiday, this production will feature “spooktacular” Halloween pieces from popular films such as Fantasia and Harry Potter. Guiding this musical Halloween experience will be Luna the bat and her fellow creatures of the night. Audiences will be in for a definite treat, and maybe a trick or two, at this festive performance.

The following weekend, October 25-November 1, The Powell invites audiences to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future. Iconic characters Marty McFly and ‘Doc’ Brown will appear like never before on the big screen accompanied by a live performance of the film’s score by the St. Louis Symphony.

Up next is Macy’s Holiday Celebration December 18-20. Nothing says family like getting together for the Christmas holiday, and what better way to do so than taking the whole family out to a performance of Christmas classics like “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland.” Special guest St. Nick himself will also be in attendance for the holiday celebration and sing-along. With five shows in total in this three-day period, there will be plenty of opportunities for everyone to make it out for the yuletide fun.

Ratatouille in Concert at the St. Louis Symphony from January 2-3

Ratatouille in Concert at the St. Louis Symphony from January 2-3

Running January 2nd and 3rd will be Disney’s Oscar-winning film Ratatouille. Audiences will have the pleasure of watching Remy the rat pursue his dreams of becoming a gourmet chef on the big screen and at the same time enjoy the Symphony playing the full score in line with the film.

Next, on February 21, the Symphony will be presenting a matinee performance of the Tales of Shakespeare. Through a combination of music and story-telling, families will connect with the language and themes of Shakespeare’s world including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and more. This unique presentation of Shakespeare’s works is sure to catch the interest of young audiences and give them a new perspective on the famous playwright.

The Zany World of Dr. Seuss will be at the St. Louis Symphony on March 13

The Zany World of Dr. Seuss will be at the St. Louis Symphony on March 13

The stories of every child’s favorite poet Dr. Seuss come to life on March 13 with the production of The Zany World of Dr. Seuss. Joining the Symphony will be storytelling troupe, Really Inventive Stuff. Known for their enthusiastic stage presence, this group will be the perfect complement to the storybook inspired music and will be sure to excite and engage younger audiences.

Another big-screen hit will be brought to life April 8-10 with E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Accompanied by a live performance of the award-winning score, older audiences will have the opportunity to view Spielberg’s classic yet again, while some younger audiences experience it for the first time ever.

Last on the list of family-friendly productions is Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions, running May 14 and 15. This show will feature a live orchestral performance of music from the popular video game series and synchronized visuals on the big screen.

Taking inspiration from popular children’s movies, books, and other entertainment, there is sure to be a performance for everyone, no matter what age at the Powell Hall.

The St. Louis Symphony is an Arts and Education Council Sustaining Grant recipient. For more information visit

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