Lois Brace was nominated for the
Missouri Arts Council 2017
Leadership in the Arts award!
By Katie Azdell
At any production in Presser Performing Arts Center Lois Brace will be sitting in the last seat in the back of the house. She quietly observes the actors, directors, but most importantly the audience. I have watched her laugh, cry, sigh, and sometimes shake her head. These productions are her namesakes, and will continue to be so long after she leaves her position. Presser Performing Arts Center is a Lois Brace creation. Her drive to create and encourage arts in Mexico, Missouri is why working adults want to learn theatre, when they have never been on a stage in their life. It’s the reason young kids come bounding through the doors singing and dancing. It’s how Presser Performing Arts Center has made the unaccepted the most confident person in the room.
Lois has charisma and character, she is kind, understanding, and has a knack for getting people excited for the arts. She believes in art being a healing force in this world. The art world is lucky to have a campaigner like Lois; it is the single reason why the entire community of Mexico has donated towards the growth of Presser Performing Arts Center.
In 2012 the Presser Performing Arts Center’s board of directors by Lois’s suggestion and knowledge, started on a campaign to increase the workable space in the building. There will be additional classrooms built for art, music, dance, and theatre classes. The biggest jewel will be the addition of a black box theatre. Presser will be able to host smaller productions and give budding directors a place to start.
As I am writing this she is working on program development. Creative aging in the arts is a newer approach to engaging an aging community. There will be programs in place that will hopefully curb the loneliness that so many seniors feel. Again, she is being a leader in the community and offering something that has not existed. She is the epitome of a visionary and her dream is a reality, since construction has already started!
Mexico, Missouri is a small town located in central Missouri. It has a population of a little over 11,000. Like most small towns across the states, Mexico has seen up’s and down’s. It is full of beautiful buildings that used to be a shining symbol of what people could look forward to in the future. Presser Performing Arts Center sits in one of those buildings, a reminder of the good, but also a reminder of how time has changed. Lois has encouraged the community to see past what it once was and to see it for what it is and what it is becoming.
Lois has encouraged local artists and actors to participate in the productions, which the community has fully supported. She has filled our 900-seat auditorium to capacity with musicals such as Shrek, Mary Poppins, and this year, Into The Woods. I don’t believe that any other community would or could have a theatre program like Presser Performing Arts Center, and frankly I think Lois Brace is the reason why it works here.
Being a true leader is more than getting people to work under you, it is getting people to work with you. Lois leads by example and with a great amount of class and dignity. She is not beneath mopping the stage after a show or giving a student a place to sleep when they have no other options. Being a leader means being that one person many people can turn to.
Last year Presser Performing Arts Center offered 4 summer camps, which ranged between theatre and film. Lois offered 16 kids from lower income homes scholarships, sometimes to youth’s that have never participated in the arts before. The parents of these students then came and volunteered their time back to Presser! That is remarkable. Lois has the ability to get people involved, sometimes for the first time in their lives.
Presser Performing Arts Center houses 2 piano instructors that Lois sought out. That program is now completely full and has a waiting list. She spearheaded the effort in raising money for the two pianos and a renovation of the piano studio. Presser is encouraging adult participation with photography and poetry competitions that have had up to 400 entries Lois created a relationship with Missouri Contemporary Ballet who now has an extension school at Presser and is teaching classes from Creative Movement to Ballet III. Voice has been a popular class with over 16 enrolled. Some students travel as far as 65 miles to attend, because of this outreach Presser Performing Arts Center is now a regional center that serves 21 zip codes within our 30 mile radius, with 12,500 visitors coming through the door in 2016. There is a new partnership with Missouri Military Academy to provide Theatre Arts to their students through Lois’ direction because there was a void on their campus and she was the best one to provide it through the center’s new state of the art facilities. She started an Art Summit event to host area art teachers and professionals for a professional development day and now it’s so big the state organization wants to take it over.
Because of Lois’s ability to relate to people, Presser has had the opportunity to reach community members that have never been involved in the arts. People that volunteer their time and resources to work in costumes, or the VFW volunteering to build all our sets. Because of those relationships, Presser Performing Arts Center will be a standing fixture in Mexico. I admire Lois’s ability to be involved in things that make a difference to Presser or our community. She supports the local Chamber of Commerce; she is active in her local church, on top of the Philanthropic Education Organization, the Missouri Association Community Arts Agencies, the National Guild Community Arts Education, National Center for Creative Aging and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Lois ran one of the most busy and successful years at Presser, all while battling breast cancer. She didn’t stop working, or push off her obligations. She worked hard and took everything that was handed to her in stride. She stayed late helping with the production, she sat with kids and parents while they told her about difficulties at home or at school, she even pitched in and helped her own staff with menial jobs.
There are few people in this world that are as impressive as her. She is the ultimate strong female role that so many people admire, along with being a friend, teacher, mentor, and fellow art enthusiast.