Missouri Arts Council Award highlights Hannibal's expanding art community, various events

Hannibal residents have another reason to celebrate during the town's bicentennial, after America's Hometown received the 2019 Missouri Creative Community Award from the Missouri Arts Council.

Mayor Jim Hark accepted the honor during the annual Missouri Arts Awards ceremony Wednesday, Feb. 6 in the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City. The council has presented the awards to members of Missouri communities since 1983, and independent panel members gave Hannibal the nod as Missouri's Creative Community, reflecting an arts community that has been growing since the 1990s, said fiber artist and writer Bella Erakko, who moved to Hannibal to pursue her artistic passions 14 years ago.

She said that when she considered her move, an opening reception at the Hannibal Arts Council left her “floored by the art, artists and buzz.” She said that local potter Steve Ayers and pen-and-ink artist John Stoeckley asked local banks to “give artists a break” in the 1990s with mortgages one percent lower than the prime rate. From then on, more and more artists called Hannibal home.

“Word of mouth took hold as artists considered Hannibal,” she said. “Hannibal — long recognized as a historically significant river town — was about to become a creative community with tentacles in the visual arts, drama, poetry, photography, dance, fashion, and yes, even steampunk.”

Erakko said the expanding arts scene is fueled by many factors, including the history and landmarks surrounding Mark Twain and his works, an affordable cost of living and picturesque riverfront views combined with Victorian architecture. Local destinations like the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum attract tourists, and several arts organizations and businesses have opened their doors to expand the arts community, including Alliance Art Gallery, Ayers Pottery, AVA Goldworks, Bluff City Theater, Gallery 310, Hannibal History Museum, Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center, Mississippi River Gallery, Studio 57 Productions theatre troupe and the Hannibal Writers Guild.

Hannibal is also home to varied arts-driven festivals year-round, including the Hannibal Folklife Festival, Music Under the Stars outdoor concerts, the plein air River Bluffs Paint Out, Brew Skies Music Festival, Second Saturday Gallery Nights at HAC and the Big River Steampunk Festival. Arts workshops, book signings, lectures and jazz evenings at local restaurants join HAC's variety of gallery exhibits and community arts programs.

HAC Executive Director Michael Gaines said the Creative Community Award encompassed the entire community's artistic endeavors, and the team effort includes countless people in the surrounding region taking on roles of leadership, sponsorship, donation, performance and visiting local galleries, student productions, and special events.

“It is good to be recognized and all of the individuals, businesses and organizations who value and support the arts in Hannibal should be proud,” Gaines said. “The Creative Community Award was presented to the City of Hannibal for our community’s commitment to recognizing what the arts in all its forms bring to our community. This award is not for one organization, business or organization, but for the entire community and all those working to keep the arts in the forefront of our community.”

HAC has several exhibits open to the public at their gallery at 105 S. Main St., including the Hannibal as History Photography Channel exhibit reflecting the community's bicentennial milestone with 288 historic photographs, along with a collection of paintings by Seattle artist Kimberly Trowbridge and a collection of clay works by the late Robert Carlson. Hannibal LaGrange-University and Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center partnered to create “A Never-Told Story in Art, History and Music” celebrating Black History Month. The year-round variety of festivals, events and exhibits from the arts community combine to generate $5.09 million for the local economy each year, Erakko said

“I am awestruck by the explosion of artistic energy in this town,” she said.

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com