Enthusiasm for art revved up at Populous last summer when the global design practice hosted the 2016-17 launch of the Kansas City Collection IV, featuring artworks by 15 Kansas City artists chosen by a committee of experts.
The vibe hit Bob White, Populous’ communications director, when staffers strode up to him and said things like “Boy, this art is great — it’s good to look at this stuff when we come in to work.”
The Kansas City Collection, created by The Collectors Fund in 2010, disseminates the work of local artists through a unique rotation program. Businesses that buy in to the program receive a new selection of art work every six months during an 18-month rotation period, now in its fourth iteration.
“It’s been a big success,” White said. “We’ve had some people say that when the program is over they hope we’ll purchase some of the art, because those white walls will look awfully blank otherwise.”
“It’s a great concept,” said Dan Fromm, president and chief operating officer of the Barkley design firm, another partner in this year’s rotation. “We’re a creative company and we recruit a lot of creative people from Kansas City and other communities. Our space is a critical component of that recruiting process — having a great place to work that’s inspiring, that inspires creativity. So having great art in the space is one component to having a place that inspires creativity.”
Besides Populous and Barkley, this year’s sponsoring partners are Black & Veatch, KCP&L, Polsinelli, Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City and Waddell & Reed.
“This is the fourth time the rotating art collection has gone around, and we’ve had a slightly different mix of companies each time,” said Christine Kemper, co-founder of The Collectors Fund. “If you’re a law firm in the group, you’re the law firm that’s participating this year. If you’re a health care organization, you get to be the health care organization this year. So it helps the companies have a little special differentiator in their marketing.”
The average partnering entity invests about $35,000 in the program, Kemper said. “How much money you put into the collection determines how much art you get to keep at the end. Some companies will want to keep more, so they might put in more dollars. For that they’re given points, and they use those points to bid at the end of the program.”
Through the program, participating businesses purchased almost $500,000 worth of art from Kansas City area artists during the first three collection rotations from 2010 to 2015.
In addition, anyone can buy the art works while they are on display during the rotation.
The current collection consists of 125 works by 15 area artists who work in a wide variety of artistic media.
“We start with a nominating committee made up of arts professionals from Kansas City and the previous participating artists,” said Brian Hearn, The Collectors Fund collections manager. “We generally have between 150 and 200 nominees. Maybe half of those actually apply. Then we have a curatorial committee, made up of four arts professionals in the area, and we invite a nationally recognized artist to come in and lead that committee. They evaluate all the applications and they narrow it down to the final 15 artists.”
The selection committee does not know who the submitting artists are, so the works are judged solely on their own merits.
“A huge differentiating piece of what we do is we guarantee sales to the artists,” Kemper said. “It’s an opportunity to lift regional artists and give them more visibility.”
One thing different about the current collection is that the vast majority of the artists — 13 out of 15 — are women. “That’s never happened before,” Hearn said.
One of the artists exhibiting in this year’s collection is Laura Berman, who specializes in print work. “It brings our work to a wider audience automatically,” she said. “Wherever the work is exhibited, there are people who will not necessarily see it at the galleries we show at, but can see it in the workplace and experience being with the work.”
Berman said the day the collection was installed at Populous she received an email from someone who works there, wanting to know more about her work and how much it costs. “So I was already making new acquaintances in terms of people who are fans of art and attracted to the works that I make. That’s been great, to further my connections in the local community.”
Another artist exhibiting in the current collection is Kim Eichler-Messmer, who specializes in hand-made quilts. “I don’t show my work in galleries that often,” she said. “I’m not the greatest at putting myself out there. So this is a chance to have that done for me, and reach people who normally wouldn’t see my work, and that’s really exciting.”
Photographer Gloria Baker Feinstein, who also is exhibiting in the current rotation, said, “So often, an artist’s work is viewed once or twice by a gallery or museum visitor. Giving the viewer the opportunity to see the pieces on a daily basis for a period of time extends the possibilities of developing a real relationship with the artwork.”
Emily Eddins, the gallerist at Haw Contemporary, said the program also benefits local galleries that represent artists who exhibit in the collection. The collection compensates the artist directly for all art sold, and the artist in turn compensates her or his gallery for the gallery’s commission, she said.
“The artists we represent and work with gain more exposure and also benefit from sales,” Eddins said. “We’ve already seen a result from that. We’ve been approached to see additional works by the artists. We’re happy to participate.”
The program benefits the wider community as well, Kemper said. “There’s been a lot of talk the past several years about Kansas City being the creative crossroads. We feel like this program more than any other brings that to life. Art for many people can be very remote and inaccessible. With a program like this, all of a sudden it’s very relatable and inspiring. We think that has a ripple effect in business and in life.”