Chris Stevens named manager of Office of Cultural Affairs

BY Eric Holmberg

COLUMBIA — Chris Stevens was named manager of the Office of Cultural Affairs, City Manager Mike Matthes announced Friday.

Marie Nau Hunter resigned as the cultural affairs manager in November 2010, and the position was vacant until March when Columbia Water and Light’s Connie Kacprowicz took over the job on an interim basis. Stevens will begin the job on Dec. 19 and will earn $60,700 annually.

Stevens is the co-owner of Perlow-Stevens Gallery with his wife, Jennifer Perlow, and he formerly worked at Boone County National Bank and, more recently, worked at Pure Marketing. He has served on the Cultural Affairs Committee and the Standing Committee for Public Art, according to the city’s press release.

One of his major goals is to bridge the gap in how citizens view the arts and how often they attend performances. Helping organizations such as the Missouri Symphony Orchestra with marketing would help bring more people to live shows, he said.

“These agencies were very good at putting on whatever the programming was, but sometimes one of the areas they lacked was being able to market it,” Stevens said.

With the growth of the North Village Arts District, where his gallery is located, Stevens hopes better marketing will result in a psychological shift.

“I want to take the citizens of Columbia from just general awareness of the arts to true art consumers,” he said.

As Stevens takes over the job, the Office of Cultural Affairs faces a number of fiscal challenges.

The city has $99,000 in grants to give out in fiscal 2012, but the office has been drawing about $15,000 a year from a restricted fund.

The city manager’s budget for this fiscal year states that “if this spending trend continues, the fund will be depleted after FY2013.”

A year from now, arts funding could be cut 15 percent if the city doesn’t step in with additional money.

That’s why Stevens would like to create a non-profit arts foundation that would create a parallel funding track for artists and organizations under the Community Foundation of Central Missouri.

“As the director, if I can find alternative streams of income to be able to grow the office without taking city money … the more we can grow and the less stress that puts on the city to come up with additional money to help fund the arts,” he said.

Under his plan, the city would administer the money, and it could supplement the office’s $350,000 budget.

He said he was “well aware of the challenges that face this job.”

Stevens’ first big test will be the city’s Missouri Arts Council grant, which is due at the end of February. Columbia is usually highly ranked in their selection criteria and he said he doesn’t want to be the guy responsible for those scores going down.

The Missouri Arts Council gave just more than $31,000 to the Office of Cultural Affairs in fiscal 2012.

Since he is taking on this new position, Stevens will step down as treasurer and a member of Ragtag Cinema’s board of directors because it receives city money. He has served on the Ragtag board for a little more than a year. He will also end his relationship with Friends of Music at MU.

He serves on the Missouri Arts Council Community Arts panel which allocates arts funding for small towns in Missouri. Columbia is not involved with that process, so he thinks he can remain on the panel without a conflict of interest.

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