The Arts as Public Good…

Residents, artists and business leaders have begun to understand how critical art is to the “public good.” A thriving and vibrant art scene benefits everyone: tourism dollars as visitors visit museums and art galleries; national attention with such the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts; and folks from the community, taking time from their busy weeks to see what arts lie in their own backyards.

On both sides of the state line, the Kansas City region has a number of creative businesses and individuals and it is important to note the role of nurturing the creative life of the city, something businesses and individuals are embracing through the Arts Council and its ArtsKC Fund. The communal psyche improves when art is put on display or performed. There is an act of preservation in visual art for the enjoyment of future generations. There’s education and history that helps define the Kansas City culture.

Kansas City Councilwoman Jan Marcason says the city council restored support for the ArtsKC Fund when they approved the budget last year. “The arts are an important part of economic development strategy. First tourists come to town, looking for museums and other destinations. Businesses seek communities that have activities and adventures for their employees and creative people will come if there are great jobs and weekends that are full with art.”

Marcason says city officials need to lead by example. The One Percent for Public Art is such an example that most capital projects require one percent set aside for public art. The structures on top of Bartle Hall and the installations near KCI Airport are part of this public art. “We need to do a better job in celebrating our diversity. If we are going to label ourselves with the tagline ‘Creative Crossroads,’ let’s promote this. We don’t need to disregard what we do here, but rather embrace it. We need to be proud.” Civic leader Mike Burke leads a committee to look at art as an economic development tool.

Johnson County Commissioner Ed Peterson knows that the arts thrive in the workplace. The county employs about 3,500 and the fundraising pursuits are organized by volunteer groups of employees. They support the United Way, Feed the Need and the ArtsKC Fund. “They chose to put on an art show where the employee-artists from around the many county facilities presented their works. There was an Internet vote, not a juried art show, but it generated interest. During this show, people are asked to make pledges or contributions. We have had significant growth in the numbers of employees contributing and in the amount. The county gave $10,000.”

Peterson says the arts are uplifting. “The employees who don’t produce art are thrilled for their co-workers. There is a positive experience. Then you have the employees who have been afraid to show the art they create, but here they find a friendly place to show their work. Some of our employees have even branched out to galleries in the community.” The third benefit, Peterson says, is the ability to promote other artistic endeavors in the community through the donations to the ArtsKC Fund. “If we as a county are enthusiastic and lead by example, we can share the value of the program. Hopefully we can share the appeal.”

Kansas City ranks high in comparison to other cities in the nation in the community response to the arts. However, Peterson says the art produced in the metropolitan area is not as appreciated outside the region as say an artist from New York. “We know the value of the arts here, performing and visual. We see the community artists as vital components. It’s unfortunate that the quality and extent is not appreciated outside.”

Kansas City has the reputation of moving to the forefront of art. “My vision for the community is to encourage a more vibrant and widespread arts community. When there is energy and creativity, it spills into all spheres of life … in business, government and beyond. People think of Chicago, Boston or New York for art and a sense of engagement by all of its citizens. My hope is that we achieve that same footing within the community so our community is thought of in the same breath,” Peterson says.

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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