Arts News: One House, One Neighborhood at a Time

A horse sculpture by Butch Murphy stands outside the Art House at 2735 Brooklyn. (photo by Jim Barcus)

Felix Maull, a painter and graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, has been officially installed as the first artist-in-residence at The Art House (previously discussed by James Martin in January 2017). The idea of creating The Art House was championed by Pat Jordan, president of the Gem Cultural and Educational Center, and her partners at the center. As Jordan explains, “The idea for The Art House was born after I learned there were literally thousands of vacant houses in Kansas City’s urban core.”

The modest home at 2735 Brooklyn has been updated, rehabilitated and freshly painted. A sculpture of a horse installed on the front lawn often inspires passersby to initiate a conversation with Maull. The main area of the first floor has been subdivided to provide a small exhibition gallery in addition to a space for teaching or socializing. Maull’s goal is to interact with his neighbors and lead art workshops for any children or young adults living nearby.

But the bigger goal is to provide a stable cultural presence within the neighborhood. As Jordan points out, “A study called ‘Magnetizing Neighborhoods through Amateur Arts’ reports that over a five-year span, low-income neighborhoods with more arts influenced positive change in housing values, lost fewer residents and showed a decrease in property crime rates.”

Maull finds his students through word of mouth or by distributing flyers advertising the workshops. The classes are small, which encourages a lot of interaction between the teacher and students. Music playing in the background adds to the relaxed atmosphere. Maull is an affable and inventive instructor; one recent assignment was to create a portrait of a noted African American such as Martin Luther King or Jean-Michel Basquiat and include a quotation by the subject. At another workshop, the students began by drawing on paper, then segued to a canvas on a small easel but were limited to just three colors of paint. Maull is determined to motivate those who say they don’t want to make art and keep them interested in the process. Rachel Durfee, one of Maull’s students, spoke highly of the experience and felt that “it made me step out of my comfort zone of realistic drawings and paintings.”

While colorful portraits by Maull graced the walls of the exhibition space the day I visited, he hopes to give another artist, preferably one from the neighborhood, an opportunity to show their work at The Art House. There may be other activities outdoors when the weather permits. Maull wants to maximize the potential of the house with performance art, or poetry combined with visual effects.

In late March, the workshops had been suspended due to the city’s emergency prohibitions over the corona virus. Fortunately, Maull had the foresight to welcome his students’ families to observe his classes, and the hope is that they can encourage the young artists to continue making art. He will be living and working in The Art House until the end of August, when the house may be offered for sale, and another abandoned house will become the next project.

Says Jordan, “True, we’re just beginning, but the good news is, we’ve started. Our goal is to utilize this prototype to construct other Art Houses. One house, one neighborhood at a time. Stay tuned.”

Nan Chisholm

Nan Chisholm is an art consultant and appraiser of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. After a long association with Sotheby’s, she founded her own business in 2003. She has appeared as a fine art appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” since its inception in 1995.

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