Name: Kelly Downes
Organization: Arts Council of Southeast Missouri
Time in current position: Two years
Location: Cape Girardeau, Missouri
To learn more about Kelly and the Arts Council MACAA asked her a few questions…
What is the most rewarding part of working in the arts, or your organization and/or community specifically?
I live in an area of Missouri that is rich in culture, lore, and tradition. However, like anywhere else in rural America, the SEMO region is also an area challenged by a lack of access to the resources found in major metropolitan areas. I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago, and grew up with unlimited access to arts and culture. When I moved here, I had to search for opportunities. What I found in the spirit of the land, and in the spirit of the people, is a natural resiliency. With small communities, each person is called upon to share in the work, and to innovate when what is needed does not exist. There is a natural reliance on one’s self and one’s abilities. There is a natural reliance on one’s neighbors. People invest in one another. Community organizations and businesses depend on one another to thrive. In this context, providing access to the arts has a manifold effect on the tenor of the community. For an artist trying to carve out a niche within city art scenes, one can get lost in the cacophony. Yet, in these self-determined hamlets of left-behind America, one has no recourse but to determine one’s own value. I feel really fortunate to live here, and to witness the inherent beauty and possibility in the fly-over spaces.
What is the favorite program/service your organization offers?
My favorite program is The Happy Campers Project. As an Art Educator, I am a dogged advocate for the healing power of the arts. The Happy Campers project was a two-fold concept premised on Nelson Mandela’s mentorship credo, “Each One, Teach One.” The first objective is to provide free access to multi-disciplinary arts experiences for students on free and reduced lunch. Each community organization involved in the HCP volunteered to create meaningful arts experiences for the SPARKS summer camp run by the City of Cape Girardeau. The SPARKS program also ensures that students in the backpack program have access to food in the summer months.
The second tier of the concept is intended to give businesses and organizations the opportunity to host camps at their individual studios, and to give parents whose children who are not active in sports an option to enrich their child’s summer camp experiences. Each organization provides scholarships to students interested in the intensive arts programs who are unable to afford tuition. But, many of these outfits also rely on the tuition fees from paying customers to supplement income in the slower summer months when the university is out of session. As a community, we are really proud of this program, the partnerships that have developed, and its impact on the community.
What characteristics do you feel leaders must have?
Resiliency, Curiosity, Self-Awareness, Self-Trust, Humility, Courage, Empathy, Foresight, Insight, and Adaptability. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
How did you happen to find yourself as the leader of your current organization?
Over the course of the pandemic, a lot has shifted for workers the world over. Many have had to make difficult decisions for themselves, and for their families. I happened to be the Gallery Manager and Community Outreach Coordinator for The Arts Council, and when our former Director left for a position at the university, I was fortunate enough to be considered. My dad was an Art Director for advertising firms in downtown Chicago, so I feel like I owe a lot to his guidance and leadership in the art world.
Have you been involved for some time?
I am coming up on my fourth year with The Arts Council.
Do you have background/training/interest in a certain art form?
I am a multi-disciplinary artist. This is primarily because I want to make sure that I keep learning new approaches to making, and continue to encourage curiosity in creativity. My background is in sculpture, photography, and painting. My current obsession is glitch photography, and Marshall McLuhan’s treatise that the ‘medium is the message’.