April 17, 2001
Several columns lately have dealt with the origin and eventual extinction of the Perry Arts & Humanities Council, a lively organization that once was composed of hundreds of Perry area residents hungering for an occasional cultural event in our community. The impetus came primarily from the opening of the new Perry high school auditorium in 1973. For the first time in years, the auditorium provided a stage worthy of performances by major artists.
During its brief time of existence in the 1970s, the Council succeeded in bringing in some memorable concerts by Tulsa and Oklahoma City symphonic orchestras, a ballet, a solo by local piano virtuoso Anne Sherwood and OCUís Madrigal Singers. Eventually the Cherokee Strip Arts Company (which included many of the former members of the Perry Brush & Palette Club), and Stagecoach Community Theatre embraced the Council. All three groups joined in a united membership drive to raise a small portion of their operating funds.
Before the Arts & Humanities Council came into existence, a group of art enthusiasts had formed the Perry Brush & Palette Club. Its members found a great deal of pleasure in creating water colors, oil paintings, charcoal sketches, or tackling new media to expand their appreciation and love of art. Their instructor, Jacques Hans Gallrein, was a widely known artist and teacher in this area. He spurred his Perry students to reach their potentials, whatever they might be, and he encouraged them in many ways. Later came the Cherokee Strip Arts Company. Eventually the two organizations became one, and they joined the Arts & Humanities Council in a united membership campaign to bolster their finances.
In 1975 the Stagecoach Community Theatre was born with a debut production of the wonderful Rogers & Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma!, as their premier production. They also joined the artists and the A&H Council in conducting a membership drive in this community. Stagecoach is the sole survivor of that group today. Local artists have no organization to assist them with exhibitions or instruction.
To step back in time a bit more, our city also once had a Community Concert Association to help fill the need for an occasional refreshing splash of classical music on feverish Perry brows. This group flourished for a few years in the 1950s, and many other cities of varying sizes still enjoy the benefits of a Community Concert Association. When we were involved, we formed a Perry chapter by selling memberships to individuals and organizations. The dues gave us an operating fund. We received a catalog listing from a subsidiary of Columbia Records showing vocal and instrumental artists who were available, and the fees we would have to pay to bring them here. Because we had a small population base to work from, we could only afford two or three low-priced performers, but we did manage to bring in some legitimate professional talent. A young folk-singer named Susan Reed, who accompanied herself on the zither, was probably the best known artist to perform in the old Perry high school auditorium. In time, interest and memberships lagged, and our Perry Community Concert Association went out of business, as did the art associations and the Arts & Humanities Council several years later.
This has been a very capsulized summary of what happened to those worthy organizations. We owe a salute to those who breathed life into them years ago. They accounted for some memorable evenings of beautiful, soul-satisfying music and art shows. I think we still need that, and perhaps at some future date they will be revived in some format to rejoin our Stagecoach Community Theatre players as cultural icons in the Perry community.