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Art & Culture

Auld Lang Syne
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PS:  Gallery
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I See Nekkid People
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Out, Damned Spot
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Local Museums Thriving
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Out of Her Gourd
Hey, GalleryMan!
Harry Potter and the
    Superstring Revolution

Investment Grade
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Happy Birthday, Naoma
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If the Shoe Fits
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lessons learned from this profession


ok, I'm not the guy from SNL,
but I still have a sense of humor

'Jim Downey' Stories

mostly true stories from my

Personal Essays

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Iím at -7.13/-7.33 on The Political Compass.  Where
are you?


observations on the human condition


take a trip with me

Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 14 August 2005

Happy Birthday, Naoma

This is the heavy harvest time for my garden.  I've been bringing in 20-plus pounds of tomatoes daily:  sweet golden tomatoes that make a perfect sauce, meaty Romas great for salsa or drying, Celebrity and Brandywine tomatoes chopped up and canned for enjoyment later.  I've also got bell peppers warming to red, brilliant Cayennes for a little spice, and hot hot hot Habaneros to roast and use in sauces to shake off winter's deepest chill.  All thanks to the extra time and work I put in this spring, prepping the ground, selecting plants, laying the soaker hoses, putting down a thick mat of straw to retain moisture and keep out weeds.

This is, or at least should be, harvest time for someone else I know and respect.  Someone who has toiled and sacrificed for a quarter century, planting seeds and carefully tending the garden of her dreams.  Someone who arguably has done more for the arts in Columbia than all the gallery owners we've ever had.  Someone who thinks that even the poor or those with a disability should be able to explore their creativity.  Someone by the name of Naoma Powell.

Naoma is and has been the driving force behind "Access Arts - School of Service" since it's beginning.  Oh, she's had plenty of helpers along the way.  Countless instructors who were paid not nearly what they were worth.  Volunteers who gave of their time freely, because they respected what Access Arts is all about.  Businesses and individuals who have donated money and goods which have always been in short supply.  And of course all the students who have been the reason for Access Arts to exist.

But it's been Naoma who kept Access Arts going.  In the interest of full disclosure, "School of Service" was initially sponsored by local architect Hurst John. It evolved into "Access Arts - School of Service" when Naoma came on the scene, because of her interest in the arts.  I'm married to Martha John, one of Hurst's daughters, but he died some years before I met Martha.  So I'm connected to Naoma in this way, and have a bias towards her and Access Arts.  And it's been Naoma who never lost sight of the vision of a place for people of all ages, incomes, and abilities to come and learn and create and share a love for art.

Naoma turned 80 this past Friday.  Friends and supporters gave a dinner in her honor, because those who know her respect all she has accomplished for Columbia.  It's not just that she's been the driving force behind Access Arts.  It's the way she has struggled and sacrificed to keep the vision alive and growing.  I think she's still driving the same station wagon she was driving when the school started.  I know she's contributed half her Social Security checks every month to keep the lights on and supplies on hand.  She's donated her house for use by the school, keeping only her bedroom for herself, and even at that it's her office space.

So this should be a time of harvest for her, after a quarter century of giving to others.  Drop her a note and tell her you appreciate what she's done for Columbia, how her efforts have borne fruit.  Send her a birthday card, and if you've got a few dollars you can spare, include them with the card.  Knowing Naoma, she won't keep the money for herself, but use it to offset the class fees for an underprivileged child or someone with a disability on a limited income.  You can reach her at 1724 McAlester Street, Columbia MO 65201.  And if you'd like to find out more about the classes offered by Access Arts, check out their website or give them a call at (573) 875-0275.

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-present
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-present
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