Arts and Events in Columbia

Share this Page


Arts and Events in Columbia, Missouri 2019

Columbia unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve. Emotions are explored and stories are shared at almost every literal turn, thanks to the city’s dynamic and vibrant art scene.

Art is not only appreciated here, but also celebrated. There’s the Unbound Book Festival, the Columbia Experimental Music Festival, the Poetry Out Loud contest, and so much more.

Another beloved – and beautiful – annual tradition is the Traffic Box Art contest.

The creative competition aims to elevate the presence of public art in even the most mundane spaces by sprucing up the streetscape at many intersections. Another advantage is that this beautification project has ended up being a major graffiti deterrent for the traffic boxes, according to Elise Buchheit, program specialist for the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

This year’s contest winner is Battle High School, which designed a wrap that was a collaborative effort by several students. The school is in close proximity to the designated box, so students can walk over from campus as time permits to work on the project.

“An important part of this ongoing project is young people getting involved,” Buchheit said.

Elementary and middle schools have contributed to the ongoing public art project in past years, she added. Including students is key because it mirrors the community and gives young artists unique insight into the field. The city reaps the benefits, too.

“Students offer unique perspectives and artistic viewpoints. It’s really cool for us to have that on display,” Buchheit said. “They can learn the business side of art and take note.”

The selection committee considers both the artistic quality and how well the proposed designs reflect a targeted box’s location. Committee members are also savvy enough to analyze the angles of the art, too. When an image is wrapped around a box, certain vantage points can distort it into something it’s not, Buchheit noted.

For a guided audio tour of Columbia’s public art scene, download the Otocast app. Stay up to date with local art events by signing up to be on the city’s weekly email list for art happenings in town.

One well-received event in town is the newer Unbound Book Festival, which highlights locals’ love for the written word.

Creativity ‘Unbound’

Going on its fourth year, the Unbound festival draws prominent authors to Columbia to celebrate literature of all kinds. Nationally-recognized and bestselling authors from different genres descend on the city to discuss their books, work and lives. It is volunteer-run and free to all who attend the April fest.

“Our efforts build on Columbia’s rich literary traditions, and I hope they add a new element to the cultural fabric of life in our town,” said director Alex George, who owns Skylark Bookshop in town. ›

Q&A is extremely important to the ethos of the event, so at least a third of the time is always dedicated to that and audience interaction, according to George.

“We believe that life should be a conversation, and so every event at Unbound will be wildly interactive,” according to the event website. “There’ll be no boring monologues here. Guest authors will be interviewed by other guest authors.”

Coincidentally enough, in 2018, Columbia was named one of the 20 must-see literary destinations around the world by Expedia Viewfinder.

History Gets a Facelift

If anecdotes and personal insights from days gone by intrigue you, consider also checking out the new Center for Missouri Studies. The center, which has a new facility slated to open in August 2019, is the administrative headquarters of The State Historical Society of Missouri, the premier research center for the study of state and local history.

The new Center for Missouri Studies will be both a physical place and an expanding educational initiative located at Sixth and Elm Streets. The facility will feature a fascinating mix of permanent and rotating exhibits.

The Center for Missouri Studies, fosters ongoing study of the state’s past and encourages connections among scholars in fields like history, geography, folklore, anthropology, journalism and more. This initiative consolidates and extends the State Historical Society of Missouri’s multifaceted efforts to support scholars, publish new works, provide educational programs, and promote greater understanding of The Show-Me State’s history, according to The State Historical Society of Missouri’s website.

Other goings-on in town that promote the arts include the following:

  • Columbia Experimental Music Festival: a three-day celebration of adventurous art and music. The 2018 event featured more than two dozen musicians/artists at 10 venues throughout downtown. In addition, the fest included a film screening and visual art installations.
  • The North Village Arts District, a bustling artists’ enclave that draws visitor from across the country. The downtown artists’ haven has flourished in recent years and is a must-see for visitors and residents alike.
  • The city’s Percent for Art program, which allocates 1 percent of the cost of new construction or renovation over $1 million to be used for site-specific public art. One recent Percent for the Art project is at the Police Precinct/Municipal Service Center North Facility. The second project is the Columbia Sports Fieldhouse, according to city officials. Percent for Art installations can be found at about 30 sites throughout Columbia.
  • The annual Poetry Out Loud competition, which encourages an appreciation of poetry throughout history while also giving high schoolers opportunities to practice public speaking.
  • The city’s annual commemorative poster, which is based on a community contest that aims to chronicle the changing › essence of the area. The tradition dates back to 1992. The 2018 poster is on sale at the OCA office for $15; prints from prior years are for sale online for $10. It’s the perfect time to start a collection.
  • Friday art crawls, which occur on the first Friday night of the month.
  • The Art in the Park Festival – a chance to buy local paintings and much, much more. The fest is truly a family-oriented event, complete with several hands-on creative activities for children. Art in the Park takes place June 1-2 this year, which marks the 60th anniversary. It is put on by the Columbia Art League.
  • The annual Living Windows Festival in December. Shopkeepers throughout The District allow elaborate live holiday performances to be staged in their front windows for passers-by.
  • Film festivals: Columbia was named among the Ten Best Film Festivals you’ve never heard of by Huffington Post for the city’s Citizen Jane and True/False film festivals. Both fests also made it on the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World list for 2015 by www.moviemaker.com.
Museums and Galleries

For a variety of types of art viewing, the city offers a variety of specialty exhibits and collections, including several museums devoted to art, history and other interesting topics. They include the following:

  • Artlandish Gallery
  • Boone County History & Culture Center
  • Columbia Art League Gallery
  • Columbia College Art Galleries
  • George Caleb Bingham Gallery
  • Historic Costume Gallery
  • Museum of Anthropology
  • Museum of Art & Archeology
  • Orr Street Studios
  • Sager Braudis Gallery
  • Wide breadth of theater
  • If upon a stage is where you prefer to view your art, Columbia offers theatrics of varying sizes and styles. Venues include the following:
  • Maplewood Barn is the only live outdoor theater in mid-Missouri. During the off-season in fall and winter, it offers old-fashioned radio theater via local radio station 91.3 FM (KBIA), as well as archived episodes.
  • The city’s colleges offer an array of dramatic experiences. There’s the Missouri Theatre, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, Jesse Auditorium, also located on the University of Missouri campus, is the largest performance venue in Columbia. It has played host to many well-known names and acts, with more than 200 events there every year.
Vibrant local music scene

With both the Missouri Theatre and Jesse Auditorium, the long-running University Concert Series has the space and means to stage everything from intimate musical acts to large-scale musicals and theater. The series, which is a community mainstay, offers an eclectic mix of art, theater and music.

The historic Blue Note is the go-to venue for live music in the city. This iconic spot offers entertainment on several nights of any given week.

Downtown Columbia Summerfest is a warm-weather treat that thousands look forward to every year, with live concerts at Rose Park. Various national touring artists grace the outdoor stage.

From virtually every perspective and vantage point, the city has art to spare and to share. With public art projects, music venues, art galleries, museums, theaters and more, art is certainly at the heart of Columbia.