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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 6 August 2006

Marie Hunter

Recently, one of the discussions on the Arts Forum of Trib Board brought this comment:  "One of the things that made the great treasures of the western world possible was the patronage of the Italian city states.  I like being a hard core conservative in most things, but history has shown again and again and again that the arts are a long term deliverable.  They tell the future what and who we were.  Our failure to support civic art more generally is a mistake.  Our pragmatism and our inclination to limit government in this arena will leave us faceless to our children's children."

Wouldn't it be great if Columbia had a City office dedicated to promoting the arts locally?  Maybe helping to fund arts projects directly, offering workshops to aid artists seeking grants, setting up an on-line registry to enable a patron to connect with an artist directly.  The same office could produce newsletters and local guides to the arts, help at-risk youths with arts outreach programs, maybe even coordinate the City's capital improvements so that public art was funded as part of those projects?  Oh, yeah, that office could also host an annual arts festival.  And such an office would need a talented arts administrator, someone who, though not a working artist themself, had a solid background in art and art history.  Wouldn't that be great?

Welcome to the City's Office of Cultural Affairs, and Marie Hunter, the Manager of that Office since 2000, when she took over the position after Martha Hills retired.  The OCA does all of those things mentioned above, and more.  On a budget of less than $375,000 which covers the office expenses, salaries, and all promotional activities.  This includes hosting the Festival of the Arts coming in September, the Artist's Registry, the free bi-monthly Arts Express newsletter, and direct support of local arts organizations to the tune of $83,000 this year.  The City's Percent for Art is a program administered by the OCA for whichever city department/entity has capital expenditures which qualify.

Perhaps the biggest event the OCA coordinates each year is the Festival of the Arts.  As part of this, the city sponsors a commemorative poster competition.  This year's poster, featuring Summer Storm by Columbian Steve Wright, will be unveiled at the big Poster Party on August 19th at the home of Brad and Martha Boswell.  Marie Hunter says "The Commemorative Poster is a great vehicle for promoting the work of an artist and I think several of the artists we've featured would say it was good exposure and a good experience for them."

And that is important to her.  Marie Hunter is an arts enthusiast, a collector of local works who believes that the arts are for everyone, and wants to see local artists thrive.  Prior to coming to the OCA in 1998, she completed a MA in art history and archaeology at MU, and worked for nearly four years at the Museum of Art and Archaeology on the MU campus.  Her credentials are almost as impressive as is her passion for promoting the arts.

But what I have found most attractive about Hunter's attitude over the years is her perspective and vision.  Hunter believes that stressing audience development is the key to future survival of the arts.  While direct support through grants is all well and good, the OCA seeks to leverage greater support of the arts by the public and private individuals.  She says:  "We need to cultivate our audiences so they continue to attend and support.  We need to grow those audiences.  We must make sure that the arts are accessible and aren't elitist.  We need to show the arts as they connect to other disciplines.  We need to encourage youth so that we are certain to have future artists, board members, volunteers and patrons.  We need to frame the arts (sorry for the pun) in a way that more people realize their obvious and everyday connections to them . . . we are all arts enthusiasts in some way as design, color, music, motion, etc. are so much a part of all that we do . . . it's just that not everyone realizes that totally.  We must preserve the fact that the arts are the chief vehicle for documenting, commemorating and remembering our history.  And we must further the fact that the arts are an industry that contributes significantly to the economic development of our community and quality of life issues."

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Thanks, Marie, for all you do on behalf of the artists here.

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