December 19, 2020

By Sandy Foster

The Missouri Arts Awards are the state’s highest honor in the arts. Recipients are chosen by the Missouri Arts Council annually. A Missouri Arts Council press release dated December 4, 2020 explained what the honorees have in common and why they were chosen. “Honorees are recognized for their profound and lasting contributions to Missouri’s artistic and cultural legacy.”

Several categories of honorees are chosen each year. They are Arts Education, Creative Community, Philanthropy, Leadership in the Arts, Arts Organization, and Individual Artist. This year, Ben Martin of Lee’s Summit is the recipient of the Council’s award in the Arts Education category.

Mr. Martin’s experience in working for and volunteering with the goal of furthering the arts in education is extensive and dates back more than three decades when he started his career as a teacher. The last 18 years of his teaching career were spent at Lee’s Summit High School, where he taught Speech, Debate, and Theater. He was the 2003 Teacher of the Year for the district. During his tenure as a teacher, Mr. Martin was also actively involved in the Speech and Theater Association of Missouri. Previous student Bryson Bruce, who was a leading performer in two national tours of “Hamilton,” said of Mr. Martin, “He always had a way of engaging his students and instilling lifelong lessons.”

After retiring from the school district, Ben worked with the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education for ten years, seven of them as Executive Director. “As Executive Director, my role was to advocate for arts education with state and community officials. I tried to impress how important arts education is. Practically speaking, sometimes art class is the only reason some kids go to school. It’s often a way for students to access the world around them,” he explained in a recent interview.

Ben is currently involved with Missouri Citizens for the Arts, which is an art advocacy group, and he is state captain for Americans for the Arts. As state captain, Mr. Martin communicates what is going on with art education in Missouri and he is kept abreast of art education issues in Washington.

Ben said the bigger picture behind art education is to give more people access to the arts. He is concerned about the effects the pandemic has had on the arts in general. “The arts, such as ballet, concerts, and plays were the first to shut down and will probably be the last to fully open,” he said.

He encourages everyone to continue to support live-streaming art events that are popping up. “People have gotten creative and found ways to make it work, yet many small arts groups are closing. We need to support the arts and encourage school districts to continue to make art a priority within their schools.”

Honoree awards are given in Jefferson City on the statewide Arts Advocacy Day in February. This year the event will be virtual due to the pandemic.