Lots of Words on this post. This is an article from NYARTSMAGAZINE on line now with the hardcopy coming out soon. If you search their site (www.nyartsmagazine.com) there are four articles about the KC art scene. Link to my article (also posted below)
Kansas City Cross-section
Artist Oz McGuire
As a native son I never planned to move back to Kansas City after graduation from a nearby University. After a failed attempt to gain employment on the West Coast after the dotcom bubble burst, I retreated back to my hometown, like the Prodigal Son I was, enveloped in a support system that I never imagined could exist for a young contemporary artist in a small landlocked city in the Bible Belt. The support and infrastructure is wide and varied; from grass-roots non-profits dedicated to the support of progressive work like the Urban Culture Project, working artists who always encourage dialogue and studio visits, long standing institutions like the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and the Kansas City Art Institute, newer contemporary art space Grand Arts and Johnson County Community College, corporate collections of Hallmark and Sprint, and maybe most important–space and time.
One of the oddest places to find support for contemporary art, from major international artist down to the emerging locals, is in the suburbs of Kansas City at Johnson County Community College. Curator Bruce Hartman explains that their commitment to art preceded his arrival, "when, in 1980, the board of trustees decided to acquire art of our time." Currently, the college has a collection of 500 works that would give any Ivy League collection a run for its money. Most impressive is the college’s outdoor site-specific sculptures that include work by the likes of Louis Bourgois, Jonothan Borofsky and Dennis Oppenheim, exposing an audience who wouldn't routinely have interaction with contemporary art. Harmans predicts 2007 will be a breakout year for national and international awareness of Kansas City with the opening of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (http://gallery.jccc.net/nerman) opening at Johnson County Community College and the major expansion of a contemporary wing of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, designed by famed architect Stephen Holl.
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (http://www.kemperart.org) opened just over 10 years ago and is situated on the same block as the Kansas City Art Institute, and the Nelson. In 2002, Elizabeth Dunbar was hired as curator and immediately made an impact with a strong commitment to give more exposure to local artists. In her first year in town she visited over 50 local artist's studios and invited many of them to give lectures at the museum about their work and practice. H & R Block Space is also in the same proximity to the Kemper, chief curator Raechell Smith has brought in artists Wenda Gu, Ghada Amer and curators and critics from New York and Los Angeles for lectures and studio visits with artists. The biennale Flatfiles show at Artspace is an invitational show with over 140 local prominent artists submitting flatwork and videos that allow visitors to shuffle through portfolios of work and judge for themselves the health of activity in the art community.
Recently hired curator of Grand Arts (http://www.grandarts.com), Stacey Switzer has shown a commitment to bring young national artists to Kansas City before they become bona fide art stars. Recent shows at Grand Arts have included Nadine Robinson, Alexis Rockman, Alfredo Jaar, and the Los Angeles collective C-Level, whose David Koresh inspired Waco Resurrection allowed viewers to play a gun-wielding Koresh in a Doom-like video game version of the Texas massacre.
The One Percent for the Arts program has granted established artist’s major commissions in the city, including local artist James Woodfill (www.jameswoodfill.com). The Avenue of the Arts is an annual public arts initiative that rewards six local progressive artists a $4000 budget to create public work that is on display for six months in downtown Kansas City. Recent work has included a sound piece, a movable automobile sculpture and a commercial litho with images from a television show based on the Iraq War (by the author). Recent additions to the public artscape are the Art in the Loop Foundation, which started commissioning KCAI graduates large-scale site-specific installations this last year.
A joint venture between the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and DST Systems is also commissioning permanent major art downtown. In October, the second in a series of five permanent public works was installed, Michael Rees' putto 2x2x4, consists of an 18-foot tall sculpture and a video display monitor of an animated scene of the sculpture.
The Cross-Roads art district is the home to most commercial galleries in the city (Byron Cohen, Sherry Leedy, Leedy-Voulkous Art Center) and attracts upwards of 10,000 visitors for the first Friday gallery walks. On the fringe of downtown lies the West-Bottoms, which has for years attracted artists and galleries looking for optimum amounts of space for minimum amounts of money (imagine 7000 sq. feet renting for under $1000 dollars a month). The Farenheit Gallery, the Taxidermy Gallery, and the Green Door gallery all have been operational for over five years in the Bottoms.
The newest part of the city to attract progressive art shows, events and studios is downtown proper, which is undergoing a major facelift while construction is underway to revive the core of the city with lofts, an arena and an entertainment district all set to be completed in the next two years. In the meantime the Urban Culture Project (http://www.urbancultureproject.org) has worked to build bridges between downtown landlords (some of which have not had tenants in 20 years) and local young artists. Four gallery spaces and over 20 art studios have been donated to artists rent-free (with the agreement that when the space finds a new tenant the artists must move on).
I had never curated a show before visiting the Boley building. Immediately I knew I had to put a show together for the space. Over 10,000 sq feet of raw space with diagonal floor-to-ceiling beams, open windows, bank vaults in the middle of downtown. The space would a central component in many of the site-specific works in "Conditions of Sound," a show that Heather Lustfeld and myself curated in the spring that featured ten local artists working in the sound medium. Besides "Conditions" Boley has hosted two "Time:base" shows featuring national video artists, a fashion/rock/art event, a hiphop/graff/b-boy event, and a night of Balinese Gamelan music. Other project spaces under the UCP umbrella are the Bank on 11th and Baltimore, Paragraph, Jenkins and Boley on 12th and Walnut (a former gallery space was rented out, seen as a success of the program raising awareness of the property). Paragraph’s former curator, Hesse McGraw was recently hired at Max Protech as the associate director. Before leaving, McGraw exported group shows of Kansas City artists to Rare Gallery in New York and Rocket in London. Recently, the local art magazine Review acquired an entire building donated by a local developer intent on bringing activity to a formerly blighted area. Review Studios (as it is now dubbed) features a gallery, the Review offices and large studios (1000 to 10,000 sq. feet) that are given to mid-career artists rent-free. When an artist visiting the area was given a tour of the facilities he thought he was dreaming and immediately decided to relocate.
In the near future I imagine quite a few artists will be relocating to the area. Hamza Walker, Director of Education for the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago noted: There seems to be a critical mass necessary to create a community, and even more important a sense of community, one aware of the different roles played by various individuals and institutions (artists, schools, museums, collectors, philanthropists, etc.) as they work in concert to create an overall cultural ecology."
Up until now the City has not offered a significant MFA program, but that will change next year when University of Missouri Kansas City plans on creating one–KCAI also has been discussing starting an MFA program as well. The local collector base seems to be jumping on the local art bandwagon too, with more Kansas City artists selling work in first tier cities, and curators like Hartman encouraging leading the charge of acquiring it only seems like a matter of time before all elements will be in place for Kansas City to become the biggest small city art Mecca.