As the annual St. Avips ball approaches another decade in Joplin, it continues to morph from an exclusive, talk-of-the-town event into a more community- friendly and visible fundraiser for the arts.

The ball is hosted each spring by Friends of St. Avips, a group of about 40 local women who volunteer to promote and raise funds for the Spiva Center for the Arts.

The first ball was organized in April 1963 by Maridan Stanley Kassab and nearly a dozen other women, who charged $25 per couple and later presented a check for $1,037.17 to Spiva. Today, the balls draw community members from across Joplin and raise tens of thousands of dollars each year. As of 2019, Friends of St. Avips — which is Spiva spelled backward — has donated nearly $1.3 million to keeping the arts alive at Spiva.

“I think it’s great how the event has kept its importance,” said Kassab, who has been to every St. Avips ball.

As the arts have blossomed in Joplin over the years, St. Avips organizers have adjusted the tone and formality of the annual ball. Art is more accessible than ever, they say, and that’s only expected to increase once the Harry M. Cornell Arts & Entertainment Complex is built near downtown Joplin, providing a new home for Spiva and venues for the visual and performance arts.

“I think one thing that has changed is art is for everyone,” said Emily Stanley, a Friends of St. Avips volunteer and former chairwoman of the event. “As Spiva has changed, really expanding the reach and touch of Spiva, that allowed us to expand who might come to St. Avips. We’ve tried to evolve but keep true to our core mission — supporting Spiva.”

In addition to the annual ball, Friends of St. Avips over the years has donated trees for landscaping, contributed funds to mural campaigns and helped purchase paintings for the state of Missouri. An art auction was added in 1999, featuring the original works of local artists.

The arts are important to preserve, Emily Stanley said, because they are an indicator of a healthy and growing community, and they can help attract and retain residents who are looking for culturally diverse entertainment options.

“Art speaks to renewal,” she said. “It’s amazing to see its ripples out into the community.”

It’s also personal. For the Stanley family, the dedication to Spiva and St. Avips runs deep. Kassab, one of the founding members of St. Avips, is the aunt of the husbands of both Amanda Stanley and Emily Stanley, who are St. Avips volunteers. Amanda Stanley is the chairwoman of this year’s ball.

“I feel like for us, it’s a different commitment because of the legacy,” Amanda Stanley said. “For us, it’s part of our family history.”

After the ball last year was postponed and then moved completely online in the fall, this year’s St. Avips ball is scheduled for Friday at the Roxy and Amelie Event Centers in downtown Joplin. The event will be held in person, with hybrid and virtual options available. The theme is “Mirror, Mirror,” a play on the light/dark and fairytale concepts of Snow White.

For ticket information, go to friendsofstavips. com.

Source: The Joplin Globe