JCCC Plans New Visual Arts Building near Nerman Museum

In a move that reflects the Kansas City area’s burgeoning arts scene, a new visual arts building is on the drawing board at Johnson County Community College.

The new building, which could open its doors by January 2019, will offer classes in disciplines such as painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, graphic arts and photography, as well as a new film making program.

The new location will allow JCCC’s visual arts programs to move out of the Arts and Technology Building they currently share with industrial programs such as HVAC, welding, automotive and electrical technology classes.

“The vision is that we’re creating an arts neighborhood, so to speak, on the east side of the campus.”
— Barbara A. Larson, executive vice president of finance and administrative services at JCCC

“We’re cramped,” said Mark Cowardin, chair of JCCC’s fine arts and photography department. “We need more space to do what we do.”

Cowardin noted that JCCC’s arts curriculum “is designed so that when students leave our classes, they get the equivalent credit they would be getting at primary transfer institutions like KU or K State. It’s important that I keep up with them and do the same things they’re doing in their beginning courses, and that requires upgrades to our facilities.”

The need for a new visual arts building was flagged in a JCCC facilities master plan that the college’s board of trustees approved in October.

“The master plan saw the need for a fine arts facility for the next 25 to 50 years to serve our student populations and the industry that uses our students,” said James T. Lane Jr., JCCC’s dean of arts, humanities and social sciences. “We would love to be offering classes in it by January 2019, which means we would be in construction most of ‘18.”

The new building is expected to accommodate 1,800 fine arts students, along with 400 photography students and 700 art history students, Lane said.

JCCC’s visual arts programs are preparing students for jobs in the local workforce, Lane said. “They provide artists, they provide graphic designers. Kansas City is a prolific arts scene, and these students are benefitting from that and contributing to it.”

Cowardin agreed. “It’s not just that our students are going to become sculptors or painters. They’re going to become gallery workers or gallery owners or museum employees. The economic development that has happened in the Crossroads over the past 20 years has been spectacular. That’s a model that happens all over the place.”

The new building also will include space for a new filmmaking program to be headed by Tonia Hughes, currently an assistant professor of filmmaking and photography at the college.

Hughes said filmmakers “are starting to see the great potential of the Midwest, and we’re seeing growth in that field here. I think that motivation is going to spill over into jobs.”

While the new building is a couple of years in the future, filmmaking classes are expected to begin on campus this fall. Cowardin said the program is still under development and might include a fine arts path and a career path, which would offer a certificate.

Many details of the new building have yet to be decided, such as square footage and cost. The college hopes to hire an architect by this spring, Larson said.

What is known is that the new building will stand near the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. “The vision is that we’re creating an arts neighborhood, so to speak, on the east side of the campus,” said Barbara A. Larson, JCCC’s executive vice president of finance and administrative services. “It would be close to the Nerman, closer to our Carlsen Center (which houses performing arts venues), closer to our Hospitality and Culinary Academy Building.”

That arrangement appeals to Bruce Hartman, executive director and chief curator of the Nerman. “We’re thrilled about the arts building being located on this side of the campus,” he said. “It will make the museum a much more accessible resource for students who are taking art classes. We’re starting to explore other kinds of programming that might be possible as a consequence.”

Mary Wessel, a JCCC adjunct professor in fine art photography, said housing the arts programs in the same building near the Nerman Museum will create synergy. “And it fits a tone that says the arts are important on this campus. A lot of what we do will be better seen and appreciated when we have our own space. It’s a way for us to grow.”

Hughes also looks forward to the connectivity of the campus arts cluster. “My filmmaking students will be able to easily collaborate with chefs for cooking shows. Photography students will be able to collaborate with graphic design. Having this building so readily accessible to the other arts is going to make far more versatile students, no matter what their degree or certificate or program is.”

The new building also will give JCCC greater capability to offer non-credit continuing education courses in the arts, Cowardin added.

Above: In late January, Johnson County Community College sculpture students worked in the college’s Arts and Technology Building, which they share with students in industrial programs. A planned new building dedicated to visual arts will give art students more room. (photo by Jim Barcus)

About The Author: Julius Karash

Julius Karash

Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person. He formerly was a business reporter for the Kansas City Star and executive editor of KC Business magazine. He devours business and economic news, and is keenly interested in the relationship between arts and economic development in the Kansas City area.

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