Let Your Imagination Run Wild! The Cornell Complex

This center will be transformational for downtown Joplin and for the continued development of arts and culture in Joplin. Sharon Beshore

By Kathleen Swift

By all accounts, the Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex will be a state-of-the-art facility that will strengthen the cultural opportunities in the Joplin area. The new facility will be located on what is now the parking lot of Memorial Hall on West 7th Street in Joplin.

“The evolution of downtown Joplin over the last 10 years has set the stage for the development of the Cornell Complex,” explained Sharon Beshore, Connect2Culture board chair. “That 10 years also provided the time needed for the arts to be more fully woven into the fabric of the Joplin area. This center will be transformational for downtown Joplin and for the continued development of arts and culture in Joplin.

“The Cornell Complex will create a gathering place which will be a significant landmark on Route 66 with a very current, up-to-date and flexible design that will appeal to both young and old. It will provide more accessibility in our region to quality visual and performing arts, support educational development, as well as play an important role in community life and community building. Such access will help retain existing residents and attract investments from tourists, businesses and new residents who want a creative and vibrant community. It will support our visual and performing artists who call our region home, as well as attract artists who see Joplin as a place where they can develop and find support.”

As plans for the Cornell Complex continue, Clifford Wert, president and CFO of Connect2Culture said in mid-February, “We have 130 donors who have committed $12.6 million to the project. That is 90 percent of the minimum $14 million required in the Memorandum of Understanding we have with Joplin that will lead to the transfer of the Memorial Hall parking lot for construction. We fully expect to reach that 14 million mark by June 1.

“Our real goal is $16 million for construction, but we will build within the capabilities of the amount of money committed to the project. We will build within our budget set by our donations.”

The Cornell Complex will be a showcase for the visual and performing arts. It will house Connect2Culture, a not-for-profit arts organization originally founded in 2009 to make the Cornell Complex a reality. Also, it is now Joplin’s community arts agency and performing arts presenter purposed to enhance community through culture, expand audiences, and develop resources to strengthen the arts, culture and entertainment in Joplin. The Complex will also be home to Spiva Center for the Arts, which brings visual arts and art education to the area and will occupy the second floor of the building.

“Spiva will see a significant increase in exhibit space when we are located within the Cornell Complex,” said Josie Mai, executive director of Spiva Center for the Arts. “We hope to occupy in total approximately one-third of the building and will still have three galleries and two classrooms, but they will be larger. We will have more flexibility with moveable walls. One of the biggest changes will be that being in the Cornell Complex will enable us to bring in museum-quality exhibits that require the climate control and security the new building will provide. We will still be Spiva Center for the Arts, and our name will be on the outside of the building.”

Wert said Connect2Culture will “occupy a similar amount of space in the building and will include a 450-seat indoor multipurpose performance hall with a versatile seating configuration and a main stage with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. Since the floor will be flat with a raised stage, and a second-floor balcony, it gives us many options. Versatile seating that is not fixed to the floor will allow us to add the use of round tables and high-top tables for all types of functions from casual to more structured. The facility will house a catering and warming kitchen, too, which will allow the complex to host performances, seminars, dance recitals, weddings, reunions and everything and anything.”

In addition to the incredible indoor spaces, the Cornell Complex will include an outdoor festival plaza with 1,500-person capacity featuring an amphitheater with a covered stage and canopy area perfect for concerts, plays, film festivals and other performances. And to top it off, so to speak, the roof of the building will include a stunning rooftop terrace with festive lighting. This 2,200-square-foot venue will allow for intimate performances, weddings and other gatherings.

“Imagine using the rooftop for wedding receptions, small poetry readings, concerts or artist gatherings,” said Wert. “You can let your imagination run wild!”