By Ann Leach

The Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex, a new home for the performing and visual arts, began as a dream of area arts leaders 15 years ago, and this month, it becomes a reality as the Cornell Complex opens its doors with celebrations that include a community opening celebration November 12 from noon until 5 pm. The Cornell Complex, located at 212 West Seventh Street in downtown Joplin, is the new home of George A. Spiva Center for the Arts and Connect2Culture.

The regional arts and entertainment center began as a grassroots initiative in 2007 and since then has involved hundreds of arts enthusiasts and volunteers who have contributed to its realization. Championing the effort is Connect2Culture, Joplin’s community arts agency and a performing arts presenter. Both Sharon Beshore, Connect2Culture chair and Cornell Complex president, and Clifford Wert, Connect2Culture president/CFO and Cornell Complex treasurer, have played a pivotal role in the development of this community asset.

Leading the fundraising drive was former Leggett & Platt, Incorporated, President and CEO Harry M. Cornell with a lead gift that inspired over 350 other citizens, businesses and foundations to pledge an excess of $19 million toward the establishment of the Cornell Complex. Cornell’s daughter, Sharon Beshore, recalled her father’s interest in and encouragement of area artists. “He valued and respected what they were able to do creatively that he couldn’t,” she said. “He was an encourager, not just for artists, but even when it came to people’s work and careers.”

Cornell passed away May 8, 2022 but was able to attend the Cornell Complex groundbreaking in February the previous year. “He was excited to see it take shape whenever he was driven by it,” Beshore said. “He thought the Complex would be a great asset for Joplin, and it will be a legacy of something he believed in and valued.” 

Also contributing significantly to the vision was support from the City of Joplin, which provided the land for the Complex, and the State of Missouri. “The State of Missouri showed their support by investing $1.5 million in 2021,” Beshore said. “We are so thankful for over $19 million provided to make this vision a reality.”

Wert said, “The Cornell Complex was always envisioned as a building that will benefit the entire community and have a major economic impact on Joplin. We’re fostering relationships with other organizations in ways that will benefit the community economically as well as its lifestyle.”

Designed with a nod to Joplin’s mining days and built on the site of Joplin’s original Shubert Theatre, the Cornell Complex features Connect2Culture’s 435-seat, multifunctional Beshore Performance Hall with versatile seating and exceptionally designed acoustics, sound and lighting. An outdoor amphitheater on the Leggett & Platt Green will host outdoor concerts and events.

The building is also the new home for George A. Spiva Center for the Arts with its four galleries, improved lighting and security, and the flexibility provided by its moveable walls. “Our new space on the Complex’s second floor will offer more than 2,000 additional square feet than we had at the Cosgrove building and with four galleries instead of the three we had before,” Spiva’s Executive Director Heather Lesmeister said. “We can really spread our wings.”

The four galleries include the Freeman Health System Main Gallery, the Harry M. Cornell Permanent Collection Gallery, the Four-States Gallery (featuring works by regional artists) and the Jo Mueller Reserve Gallery. The new, state-of-the-art galleries were designed with climate-control capabilities in mind, allowing staff to control temperature, humidity and daylight within the gallery to meet Smithsonian standards for collection loans. 

In addition to numerous exhibitions, Spiva offers art education for children, teens and adults, and provides creative outreach programs to area organizations. With the amenities of the Complex, these services will continue and grow going forward. 

“I want Spiva to continue to be a warm and welcoming place,” Lesmeister said. “I want people to discover things they never knew they’d enjoy because, after all, art is for everyone.”

Connect2Culture Executive Director Emily Frankoski agreed. “Connect2Culture has a number of resources to help people discover all the Joplin arts scene offers the area, from our directory of arts and cultural organizations to a weekly event calendar emailed to our subscribers and an annual roundtable series,” she said. “Our mission of ‘igniting a passion for the arts, culture and entertainment’ will continue to grow in our new home.” 

The new space at the Cornell Complex will allow Connect2Culture to expand its already successful offerings, like the Curtains Up Series that brings nationally known touring artists of all genres to Joplin. Their inaugural season inside the Complex will showcase the launch of two new series. The Ignite Series will ignite a passion for arts and culture outside of the classroom through special performances and educational outreach opportunities, while the Cornell Series will honor Harry M. Cornell and his passion for supporting local artists. “We can’t wait,” Frankoski said. “There will indeed be something for everyone.”

Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex


George A. Spiva Center for the Arts

Connect2Culture Performances:


Connect2Culture & Pro Musica present:

Schumann Quartet + Jon Nakamatsu (Chamber/String Quartet/Piano)

Beshore Performance Hall

November 15, 2022 | 7:30 pm

Ticket price: FREE (reservations required)


Connect2Culture’s Cornell Series presents:

Glenda Austin (Piano/Holiday)

Beshore Performance Hall

December 10, 2022 | 6 pm

Ticket price: $10

Connect2Culture’s Curtains Up Series presents:

Annie Moses Band (Instrumental/Holiday)

Beshore Performance Hall

December 17, 2022 | 3 pm & 7 pm

Ticket prices: $35-$45

George A. Spiva Center for the Arts

212 West 7th Street, Joplin

  • 417.623.0183

Upcoming exhibits (all exhibits are free to view, but donations are welcome):

Freeman Health System Main Gallery

  • Membership Show | November 12-December 31 with Juror Nick Nelson, director Springfield Art Museum
  • Holly Wilson: On Turtles Back | January 14-March 4
  • PhotoSpiva | March 18-May 13 with Juror Jennifer Thoreson

 Four-States Gallery

  • THB Lithos | November 12-March 4
  • Small Works | March 18-May 12

Harry M. Cornell Permanent Collection Gallery

  • Experiencing Africa: Selections from the Harry M. Cornell Jr. Collection | November 12-January 21

Jo Mueller Reserve Gallery

  • Joplin Regional Artists Coalition 
  • Emerging Artists Show | November 12-December 31
  • 3rd Graders Installation | January 14-March 13
  • PhotoSpiva Kids/Tweens | March 18-April 22