Readers of a certain age will remember a childhood spent playing outside all day and into the evening under the watchful eyes of familiar neighbors sitting on front porches. Pat Jordan knows a neighborhood where those front porches are still in use, and she and her partners at the Gem Cultural and Educational Center are inviting artists and other creative types to become part of it.
The Gem has purchased a two-story bungalow at 2735 Brooklyn in Kansas City and will be establishing an artist-in-residence program there known as “The Art House” as part of an innovative neighborhood stabilization program. The Gem will be partnering closely with the Key Coalition Neighborhood Association throughout the project. Significantly, after a one-year period, the Gem will work with the artist to arrange financing to purchase the home.
According to Jordan, one of the first steps needed before reaching out to artists is to work with the neighborhood association and other stakeholders to determine what types of creative services would benefit the area most. Once this information has been gathered, an artist selection process will be established and outreach to artists can begin. Initial program ideas include workshops not only about art, but also potentially addressing topics like interior design, landscaping, horticulture, theater, history and the humanities. They would be conducted at the house and in Spring Valley Park nearby.
According to information provided by the Gem, there are nearly 12,000 vacant and foreclosed homes in KCMO. In addition, artists list the creation of live/work space as one of their top 10 needs. As the organization states, “The Gem’s mission is to make the arts more accessible to neighborhoods. It can think of no better way to fulfill this mission than to have a physical presence within the neighborhood while at the same time fulfilling a need for neighborhood revitalization.” Key blocks that are at a “tipping point” will be given priority as the program expands.
Much has been discussed about the organic growth in the Crossroads that led to gentrification after artists had moved in and established homes and studios. From Jordan’s perspective, The Art House project differs greatly: “It’s an intentional process initiated and managed by a non-profit, meant to keep the property affordable as a bulwark against the potential for gentrification.”
The rehab process at the 2735 address has revealed structural challenges that are “daunting” according to Jordan. However, she is quick to add that the Gem organization possesses a lot of rehab expertise as the owners of a 1912 theater, and that they are fortunate to have the help of architect Jon Taylor, a member of the Gem Board of Directors.