A lead gift that will support funding of the Joplin Arts & Entertainment Center in downtown Joplin was announced Thursday, December 14, 10:00 a.m. at George A. Spiva Center for the Arts. Harry M. Cornell, Jr., Joplin, has committed the lead gift of $5 million to support funding of the Arts and Entertainment Center in downtown Joplin. This is the first major gift to be announced by Connect2Culture and George A. Spiva Center for the Arts for funding of the proposed $14 – $16 million project. The $5 million donation provides a naming opportunity for the entire Center which will be announced at a later date, and kicks-off the project’s capital campaign. Mr. Cornell has also committed to provide some ongoing funding over the next 15 years to support sustainability of the project.

Clifford Wert, Josie Mai, Sharon Beshore, Lance Beshore, Emily Frankoski

Plans for the Center include a multi-functional 500-seat performing arts venue that presents varied opportunities for usage, an expanded home for George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, and a 1,800-2,000 capacity outdoor amphitheater/festival plaza to be located in the present parking lot in front of Memorial Hall. Connect2Culture will operate the 500-seat venue and the festival plaza, while George A. Spiva Center for the Arts will manage and control their venue.

Connect2Culture and the City of Joplin entered into a Memorandum of Understanding dated October 2, 2017 whereby the City would grant the entire parking lot in front of Memorial Hall to Connect2Culture provided it obtains a minimum of $14 million in commitments for funding the construction project by November 30, 2018. Connect2Culture has obtained satisfactory core drilling samples from the parking lot and the City continues with its efforts to finalize the land swap for the southwest corner of the parking lot with the State of Missouri by July 1, 2018. Additionally, the City is taking steps to pursue placement of Memorial Hall on the National Register of Historic Places. With such action, Connect2Culture has engaged its architects to revise Center plans to facilitate the project within the construction budget.

Harry M. Cornell, Jr. | Photo: Greg Hall, Leggett & Platt, Inc.

Harry M. Cornell, Jr., chairman emeritus of Leggett & Platt, Incorporated, Carthage, Missouri, transformed a small regional company founded in 1883 into a Fortune 500 manufacturing giant traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The grandson of a founder of Leggett & Platt, Cornell joined the company in sales in 1950 and advanced through the ranks from high school summers spent unloading rail cars to his post-college years as a traveling salesman. He excelled in his work as a plant manager in Ennis, Texas and his leadership skills eventually led him to become president and chief executive officer in 1960. During the next 52 years, he transformed Leggett & Platt from five plants and $7 million in annual sales into a $4 billion company with 130 plants in 18 countries. Leggett & Platt is a world leader in manufacturing a diverse group of products found throughout the home, the office, and in automobiles. The company employs nearly 19,000 around the globe. In 2014, Cornell was inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame as an Industry Fellow. In 2016, the world headquarters of Leggett & Platt was dedicated as the Cornell Campus to honor his role in the success of Leggett & Platt.

Clifford Wert, President and CFO, Connect2Culture, said, “We are delighted to receive this important commitment from Mr. Cornell. His very generous gift to our Capital Campaign is a major step in making the Center a reality. This lead gift will have a lasting legacy impact upon Joplin and the region. Connect2Culture and Spiva leadership are working very hard to reach the capital campaign goal of $14 – $16 million and plan to have more naming gift announcements in early 2018.”

Sharon Beshore, Chairman of the Board of Connect2Culture and Cornell family representative said, “Mr. Cornell has valued the role the arts play in everyday life. When Mr. Cornell thinks about art, it is in the context of a quote by artist Robert Henri, The Art Spirit. He has the quote framed and sitting in his kitchen. He has referenced this ‘art spirit’ in conversation over the many years. It reads, ‘Art when really understood is the province of every human being…when the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature.’”

Beshore continued, “Early on in the development of the Center, Mr. Cornell understood the vision and importance of creating a visual and performing arts center as a cultural cornerstone in downtown Joplin – one that could support a vibrant downtown and a contribution to the richness and improved quality of life for citizens from Joplin and the region. For many years, he has been a philanthropist to visual and performing arts organizations, including Connect2Culture and George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, so this was a natural fit. He is very pleased that he can help leave a lasting cultural legacy in the community.”

In reference to his lead gift, Cornell said, “Accessibility to the arts and cultural experiences in a community is an important asset to create a better quality of life, support economic development, and provide educational opportunity for our children and our citizens. I am confident that this gift will have an impact on making the arts more accessible. I encourage other individuals and business leaders in our area to step forward to answer the call for support.”

Mr. Cornell has supported a number of philanthropic endeavors over the years. At the University of Missouri, his alma mater, Mr. Cornell helped conceptualize and support the development of the new Business School building, dedicated as Cornell Hall in 2002. In 2003, the University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Law. He also conceptualized and funds the highly selective Cornell Leadership Program at MU which provides scholarships and a specially designed program that takes business school students beyond the traditional classroom experience to provide leadership skills to succeed. In 2015, Freeman Health System renamed its cancer institute the Cornell-Beshore Cancer Institute after a $3 million gift to improve cancer treatment facilities and upgrade technologies to benefit patients with cancer. In 2017, Mr. Cornell made a $10 million gift to the Joplin Campus of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, recognized as the Harry M. Cornell Medical Education Center.

Josie Mai, Executive Director of George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for Spiva to begin the transition to its fourth home as we celebrate Spiva’s 70th anniversary this year. This new facility will provide state-of-the-art exhibition spaces, with expanded and improved space to exhibit nationally touring exhibits, larger regional artist exhibitions, share the growing permanent collection, and provide more educational programming at Spiva. This will be a facility that will continue the legacy of Spiva and be a home for Spiva for many years into the future. We are so pleased that Mr. Cornell has made this lead gift to the project. He has been a longtime supporter of Spiva through his financial support yearly of staff salaries, nationally touring exhibitions, and the annual fund drive.”

[spacer height=”0px”]Connect2Culture and George A. Spiva Center for the Arts leadership, the City of Joplin, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, and many citizens and arts organizations have worked since 2009 to support Joplin’s arts, culture, and entertainment scene. They believe that the Center will educate, enlighten and entertain children and families; attract more people and activities to downtown, directly benefiting retailers, restaurants and other businesses; generate new sales tax revenues for the City; reinforce Joplin’s strength as the region’s center for entertainment; showcase and nurture the region’s creativity through visual and performing artists; and bring artists from across the U.S. and world to Joplin. It will create a sense of place and a destination identified with Joplin. The Center will attract and retain residents, as well as become a tourism driver attracting the approximately 409,000 people who live within a 60 minute drive of Joplin. It will provide a “cultural amenity” which will make people want to live, work, play and stay in Joplin.

The creatively designed Center will support a myriad of functions ranging from concerts, theater productions, and ballet performances to world-class visual arts exhibitions through Spiva to corporate/community events, seminars, ceremonies, receptions, and celebrations. Connect2Culture plans to present programming by nationally recognized artists and entertainers that is not offered by other organizations. Local performing arts organizations such as Pro Musica, Heartland Opera Theatre, Midwest Regional Ballet, and Missouri Southern State University symphony, jazz, and choral groups will have an opportunity to utilize the venue to support their program development. Finally, the Center will create synergies that will have a profound impact on Joplin’s downtown revitalization, our community’s arts and cultural organizations, and the quality of life, economic development and education in our region.

[spacer height=”0px”]Connect2Culture is unlike any organization in the Joplin area – respected community arts agency, leader of the Joplin Arts & Entertainment Center initiative, and performing arts presenter. It is a not-for-profit arts organization purposed to enhance community through culture. It continues to grow audiences and develop resources that strengthen the arts, culture, and entertainment in the City and strives to “ignite a passion for the arts, culture, and entertainment” in the region.

George A. Spiva Center for the Arts’ mission is to celebrate the creative experience. Its vision is to be a community catalyst, joining culture, community, education, business, and the arts as one, endeavoring to be a model for art centers across the nation. Originally incorporated as the Ozark Artists Guild, George A. Spiva Center for the Arts has presented visual arts experiences to the four-state region since 1947. George A. Spiva was a businessman, philanthropist, and lover of the arts who helped establish Joplin’s first art center in 1958. Founded on the belief that opportunities in the arts should be available to all, the regional Center continues to flourish through the generosity of members, friends, corporate and business support, and those who share that vision. First located in the Zelleken House at 4th & Sergeant, Spiva moved in 1967 to the campus of Missouri Southern State University before relocating to its current home in the historic Cosgrove Building at 3rd and Wall in downtown Joplin in 1996.

Connect2Culture has received professional support throughout Phases I and II leading to this Phase III capital campaign juncture in the Center’s development. In 2010, Connect2Culture engaged Halsey and Alice North of The North Group Inc. www.northgroup.biz, known for their successful work with nonprofit arts organizations nationwide, including the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The North Group continues to work with C2C today to ensure the success of the development of the Center. Since 2010, C2C has also worked with nationally and internationally recognized New York architects Westlake Reed Leskosky and DLR Group www.wrldesign.com, and local architects Corner Greer & Associates http://www.cornergreer.com to create exterior and interior renderings that support dynamic yet functional spaces. Renderings will be revised by the project’s architects for the capital campaign to meet needs and anticipated private financial support.

To discuss gifts to the project and naming opportunities, interested donors can contact Clifford Wert, (417) 439-0385 or Sharon Beshore, (417) 437-1772.