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Gaines builds upon the past in order to strengthen future

More than 30 years ago, three members of the Hannibal arts community invited Michael Gaines to apply for the vacant position of director of the Hannibal Arts Council. Recently, Michael Gaines was pictured with two of those local artists, Jean Vincent, at right, and Veronica Buben, left. The third arts support was the late Charles Anton. Contributed photo.


When Michael Gaines was growing up on his family’s Shelby County farm in the 1970s, he didn’t have a clear vision as to what his life would look like.

In high school, he played the piano, participated in concert and marching band, and was named an All-State band member on the bass clarinet.

As a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, he was invited to join the symphony, and volunteered at the Columbia Art League. In addition, he volunteered at the University of Missouri Medical Center.

But when time came to select a major at the university, he chose path far different from music or volunteerism.

“I was an accounting major for two years,” he said. “My accounting advisor said, ‘You’re intelligent enough, but I don’t feel that you will be completely fulfilled in going on to be a CPA.’ Even though I was getting good grades, I changed my degree path to a rural tourism development major, one of first degree programs (of its kind) in the U.S. The professors who wrote the text book taught as MU.”

Gaines describes the concept. “I grew up in the Bethel area, which was a tourist attraction. The idea of community-based development was planted. Looking at assets of community, or highlighting the assets; making communities better through whatever means.”

The next phase of his life education began after graduation, when he purchased a one-way ticket to Europe, planning to stay for three weeks.

“From MU I went to working at an international conference center in Vienna. They offered me the job as office manager, and said, ‘stay as long as you want to.’ I learned to work with people to get a job done,” while gaining administrative skills.

“I got to live in Europe, travel. I grew up on a farm, so the opportunity to live internationally at 20 years old and travel to most countries in Western Europe by myself was a pretty growing experience.”

He then returned to the Shelby County area, surrounded by his extensive family, and put his educational skills and life experiences into play.

He went to work for the Historic Bethel German Colony, a National Register Historic site, doing folk arts programing and historic preservation. The colony ran a restaurant and they had lots of bus tours, 30 to 40 buses in summer and four to six festivals a year. It is a town of 100 people, Gaines said, with historic architecture and a very interesting history.

“The things I’ve experienced have built upon each other, good or bad,” Gaines said.

While working for the colony, he attended meetings hosted by the Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies.

At those meetings, he became acquainted with three community-minded individuals from Hannibal: Jean Vincent, Veronica Buben and Charles Anton.

That was 31 years ago. “They collectively said, ‘Hey, you really should apply for the Hannibal Arts Council job opening.’ That’s how it started.

“I was drawn to Hannibal first for the people, then growing up I remember coming to Hannibal for dentist and shopping. Familiarity; it wasn’t a big move, before Hannibal I had moved to Europe and New York City. Being close to home and family was important, and the river was a draw.

“There was a foundation of arts,” in Hannibal, he said, “The Concert Association, Community Theater, Ice House Theater, and the Hannibal Art Club had a presence. The arts council had been around since 1975, I came here in 1993.

“Hannibal had a strong foundation; I felt the organization was open to expanding; by hiring some young director, they were open to all of that. New directions, new ideas.

“The HAC had gone through tumultuous times prior to 1993; they weren’t totally cohesive. There was opportunity to bring the arts together, involving the artists with the arts council. I felt there was a gap.”

When he started his new job in Hannibal in July 1993, the arts council was operating out of an historic structure donated to the organization by Helen Cruikshank Knighton upon her death. The HAC had just sold the mansion when Gaines started to work. He asked himself at the time, “What do we look like physically?”

They moved the HAC offices. “We got down off the hill into the more everyday community and traffic at the (Market Street) wedge.

Tapping into his educational background, “Arts was the asset that I nabbed onto when I came to Hannibal. I didn’t think about it then, but the ideas were planted,” he said.

They gutted part of the building at the Wedge, which facilitated the organization’s first real gallery space. The HAC remained in this unique and historic building for 16 years, before moving to its current location at 105 S. Main Street, where they have been for nearly 15 years.

In order to make the move downtown, “We raised about $250,000 to purchase and renovate the two floors of their current facility.”

If he had a crystal ball in order to see into the future, that future would include additional space dedicated to workshops, and potential space for slightly larger performances. “We could definitely use more space,” he said.

Over the years, he has watched HAC programs come and go. “I tend to be so forward thinking, asking ‘what can we do next?’ Some programs use up their effectiveness, which allows time and energy for new things.”

Eighteen years ago, in 2005, Gaines accepted a second job, that of leader of the state-wide arts group, Missouri Association of Community Arts Organization. MACAA has recently expanded by two people, one working out of Mexico, and the other out of Springfield.

In addition, the HAC has turned a part-time position into a full time position. “Brenda, (Beck Fisher) program coordinator, who has worked for the HAC for 12 or 13 years, just went full time as office administrator. “She makes a huge difference. We have great committees and our board is amazing, but the capacity of our staff had to be expanded.”

“We’re such a team. We all have things we contribute.”

On Saturday, Feb. 3, the Hannibal Area Chamber of Commerce honored Michael Gaines as Pacesetter of the Year. 

As for the chamber award, Gaines said, “I’d like to think that longevity of an entity is something the Chamber thinks is important. Pacesetter, it is the long hall, long-term community development. They felt that I was worthy. It was a nice surprise.”

Michael Gaines, who has served as director of the Hannibal Arts Council for more than three decades, reflects on time served, and future goals. Contributed photo

Mary Lou Montgomery retired from the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014, after 39 years as a community journalist.


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