The Missouri Arts Council board, comprised mostly of current and former educators, business leaders and lawyers focused in economic development, recently added the voice of a person active in the arts — Presser Performing Arts Center Executive Director Lois Brace.

She was asked to join the board by council Executive Director Michael Donovan. Brace attended her first council board meeting June 19 in Hannibal, where she was appointed to the planning committee for the Missouri Bicentennial celebration. She thinks she was chosen for the council board because of her employment at Presser and the programs the center provides, she said.

"I have to do some research, but I think this will be the first time in a very long time — maybe 30 years — where this region has been represented (on the council)," Brace said, adding most board members come from larger cities, such as Columbia, Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City.

Adding rural representation as well as another person to the board currently active in arts programs will be nice, she said.

"I think this will be a good move for me, for Audrain County and our surrounding areas," she said.

Brace's appointment to the board will give her a chance to advocate not only for Presser, but for other rural and smaller arts groups seeking support from the Missouri Arts Council. The council board helps direct policymaking efforts regarding the arts as well as overseeing Missouri Arts Council-related programming. The board meets three times annually to review recommendations, develop statewide programs and initiatives and consider arts-related issues facing the state.

The council is financially managed through the Missouri Arts Council Trust. Trust members include Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and state representatives and senators from throughout Missouri, including State Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Brace said she plans to advocate for arts programs for aging adults. Presser has a program known as Daylighters that provides arts-related activities for older adults during daytime hours. Daylighters programs are available for those who may not have the ability to travel or have limited vision after dark.

"Our focus is on mobility and keeping people in their homes while older. In metropolitan areas, the focus is more on [larger] facilities," Brace said.

She has worked closely with council staff member Virginia R. Sanders, who coordinates special initiatives of the council, such as arts and aging. The pair went to an Arts and Aging Convening meeting in April where Brace was the guest speaker.

Workshops lead to original play

Brace also is gearing up for the presentation of her original play about aging adults, "Dances with Crows Feet," which is running the first two weekends of September in the Stribling Black Box Theater. The suggested audience is teens and adults.

Brace and a group of Mexico women began developing the play last year. She and the group of approximately 30 women worked with Deborah Campbell, executive director of Arts & AGEing KC, who led the first development workshops.

"We had about 182 questions written down, and the ladies took booklets home and journaled answers to some of those questions," Brace said.

She then condensed the responses into the play's script. The play will explore small-town America, aging and how the women express their experiences. A majority of the actors are playing themselves. A couple of the women did not want to act in the play, but other community members will take on their stories, Brace said.

"The dramas we put on at Presser are about people and their stories, and our own people go through more in their life stories than some of the dramas, so I thought they needed to be shared," she said. "It's amazing how the actor can take their story and put a whole new outlook on how it is interpreted."

The play will give the community a new perspective on the women who take part in the play and whose stories are being told, she said.

"These local ladies' stories — most people think they know their stories, but they don't,” she said. “It's very in-depth, insightful of how some of the experiences they've had have affected and impacted the entire community."

The play was written to tell the story of everyday women, even if audience members don't know the woman on stage, she said. "It will resonate with everyone," she said.