Arts News: Kansas City Artists Coalition Sets Ambitious Goals in New Location

Last fall marked a milestone for the Kansas City Artists Coalition, as the popular organization bid farewell to its River Market location and moved to the Tower East Neighborhood.

The Coalition’s new home, at 3200 Gillham Road, is in the old Acme Building. Marissa Starke, the executive director, says that the whole process happened quickly, after the River Market building was sold roughly a year ago. Over a span of just five months, her team looked at 23 properties to determine which space could best meet the needs of the KCAC and its community. Starke sings the praises of the board of directors, staff and volunteers who stepped in and asked, “How can we help?”

Although the KCAC had been part of the River Market since 1986, it began its tenure in the Kansas City community a decade prior. In the ensuing 43 years, the Coalition strove to be more than a mere exhibition space. What set them apart, according to Starke, “is that our mission since 1976 is to support artists at every level — just beginning, mid-career — we are here to assist them as a resource with whatever they need.”

And to be sure, these needs often include gallery space. During its time in the River Market, the KCAC hosted almost 600 exhibitions, bringing the work of 4,000 artists to the community. Beyond serving as a venue, though, the organization offers a full spectrum of support to local artists, including workshops and residencies, research opportunities, grant assistance, and even matching artists with clients.

The Coalition’s presence in Tower East will enable it to honor its mandate in even bolder ways. In response to feedback from Kansas City’s artistic community, KCAC now offers affordable studio space for working artists. Initially, eight to 10 small studios will be available, but they are flexible to accommodate anyone seeking community studio space. As the cost of housing and workspace continues to rise in Kansas City’s art neighborhoods, this program represents an important way that KCAC will remain a champion for local artists.

Inspired by the success of KCAC’s 40th anniversary block party in 2016, Starke is optimistic that the organization’s values and inclusive history will be a good fit with the new neighborhood. That event “really resonated,” Starke says, and everyone “felt ownership in the space that day. We strive to break down barriers between artists and visitors. All are welcome.”

Bringing this accessibility and openness to its new location will be a priority for the Coalition, and Starke, who has served the organization for 10 years, looks forward to also raising awareness of the Tower East neighborhood and its community.

In a testament to the KCAC’s relentless drive to empower artists and make their work accessible, Starke is quick to frame the logistical challenges of the move as opportunities in disguise. One issue involved adapting to less exhibition space in the new location — from five galleries and 4,000 square feet to two galleries and 1,400 square feet. To resolve the dilemma this posed for artists whose shows had already been scheduled at the River Market location, the KCAC reached out to other galleries and spaces to find new venues. The resulting collaborations further affirmed that the KCAC has an important place in the family of Kansas City’s arts organizations.

As it settles into its new neighborhood, the KCAC has already established some ambitious goals. Within five years, Starke hopes to be able to offer reasonably priced residential space to artists, in addition to studios. A need identified by virtue of the Coalition’s ongoing dialogue with the people it serves, this would be a transformative step and further enhance the quality of life and opportunities for artists working in the Kansas City region.

But for now, Starke wants the organization to start laying down roots to show that it remains viable and vital. “We’ll face challenges as they come up, but we can do this. It’s going to be great. People still believe in us as an entity.”

The Kansas City Artists Coalition, 3200 Gillham Rd., is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For more information, www.kansascityartistscoalition.org.

Matthew Thompson

Matthew Thompson is an educator, historian, and writer who has lived in Kansas since 2005. His research interests include Progressivism and the Socialist Party of America, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. He enjoys studying visual arts to help make the world and its history accessible and exciting to others.

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