Ashland’s Mid-Missouri Arts Alliance creates community, camaraderie for artists in the region
Every week, artists shuffle into the Mid-Missouri Arts Alliance for Tuesday’s drawing session. The room is full of tables and folding chairs, artwork covers the walls and a still-life scene welcomes artists of varying skill levels as they enter the room.
On this particular Tuesday, an assortment of irons, a white shirt and a small ironing board set the scene. The artists begin to discuss how they’re going to approach the setup, complimenting and gently criticizing each other’s work.
Richard Ward has been a member of the Arts Alliance since 2019, and said he began taking art classes years ago to help him deal with the stress of his job at a railroad and communications company.
“This is really a good getaway from stress and reality to get to come in here and just apply my mind to the art,” Ward said.
He’s now in his 80s and has been retired for about 20 years, but art still helps him deal with challenges. Right now, it’s taking care of his wife, Jan, who’s in hospice.
Three months ago, doctors gave Jan five days to live, but Ward said "she's still here and just as ornery as ever."
Ward said he stepped down from the Alliance’s board when Jan entered hospice, but he still carves out time for drawing Tuesdays.
“These are my buddies,” Ward said. “They can tell when I'm having a difficult time at home, and they sort of give me support. So, between the art and these are artists keep me going.”
He said he and Jan have a volunteer caretaker come in to stay with her during class. So, once his pencil hits the paper, his attention can be fully focused on simpler issues – like how to balance the scene’s background and foreground.
Janet Flett, a resident artist and a Board member, creates the scenes each week for the artists to draw. She said people can come and go as they like, and she loves seeing the connection among Alliance members.
“We can understand why this place is sort of a— I guess it can be a sanctuary for some people in a way,” Flett said.
Ward said the hobby he picked up so many years ago still helps him through hard times because it keeps “advancing the mind.”
“Be[ing] around these gals is really something else,” Ward added. “To see the energy they put into this and the ideas – they're inspiring. They really are.”
After a few hours of working on his drawing, Ward gets up to go.
Ward said Jan looks forward to drawing Tuesdays as much as he does. As soon as he walks through the door of their house, “she says I want to see what you’ve done… you don't have to explain it to me.”
He said Jan likes to thoroughly “examine” his work while he starts dinner, and Jan shouts advice from her bed in the living room – where old and new paintings alike adorn the walls.
The creation of the Mid-Missouri Arts Alliance
The Mid-Missouri Arts Alliance, or MMAA, is now a full non-profit run by a Board, but its beginnings are a little more humble. The three founders – Tracy Titmus, Diana Fogle and Sharon Horton began holding meetings in 2012 in public spaces throughout the community, such as the Copper Kettle restaurant and the Southern Boone County Library.
Then, in 2015, the group incorporated as a non-profit with the help of Madeleine LeMieux. LeMieux, a well-connected member of the regional arts community, had shared studio space at Orr Street Studios in Columbia with Titmus.
Titmus said it was renting this studio space with LeMieux at Orr Street Studios that inspired her to create an accessible studio space in Ashland.
“It’s nice for artists in any community of any size to have a space to call home that’s not their actual house,” LeMieux said. “It can be difficult to separate work life stuff from art making sometimes.”
She added that there’s another payoff. “You get the benefits of being around other artists…and be able to grow from other people. So I think that it’s great that Ashland is offering that to its residents.”
The physical studio and gallery – located on 115 E. Broadway in Ashland – now features the work of 18 artists, in many different mediums: paintings, photographs and glass jewelry among others.
Janet Flett, the current president on the MMAA board, has been with the alliance for seven years. She said the Board meets monthly and they decide what goes on display in the gallery.
The gallery display rotates every two to three months, and to display work, artists need to be members of the Alliance; the least expensive dues start at $45 a year.
“I think it's really been good for the community, the people who appreciate art and what it can do for you, you know, it can be relaxing and rejuvenating at the same time,” Flett said.
The Alliance also has rentable studio space for up four artists. To rent a space, artists have a monthly payments and volunteer eight hours of their time each month.
They also hold monthly classes – ranging from painting to photography – to help established artists try new things and bring art-minded community members through the door.
“There's always something to learn,” Flett said. “You never stop learning. There's always another medium, another style.”
At the end of the day, the Mid-Missouri Arts Alliance hopes to provide local artists the opportunity to express themselves and create art in a welcoming, casual environment – just a little closer to home.
“We hope it does make an impact. We try to make art more accessible to the public,” said Titmus. “They can make a connection to what they see and feel less intimidated.”
This piece was done in collaboration with students from JOURN 4180: Newsroom Content Creation, a sophomore-level journalism class at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Editors: Kathy Kiely, Mae Bruce, Rebecca Smith
Reporters: Laine Cibulskis, Sarah Goodson, Jessie Zhao, Ashley Dickey