Four Voices in Arts Education

Always actively pushing themselves in their individual practices, dedicated to young minds, and committed to community-enhancing progressive dialogue, these four Artist Educators lead by example, shaping Kansas City’s artistic heritage.


Installation Artist Jill Downen – Photos by Mark Berndt

Jill Downen, assistant professor of sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute, is an artist deeply interested in space. There is a construction to the work that plays with the senses in a mysterious, meaningful manner. Downen actively highlights, if not creates, anomalies in the surface of the gallery, celebrating the history of the previous artistic inhabitants of the space. For example, in the second part of her two-part installation at the Contemporary Museum St. Louis, Beauty Mark examines a long crack in the concrete floor’s surface by filling it with molten gold leaf in a stride reminiscent of Japanese Kintsugi pottery or Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth at the Tate Modern in 2007.

Of her approach to art-making, Downen says, “My role as an artist is to create culture and communicate ideas in meaningful ways. The visual-spatial language that I use to address abstract concepts takes precedent over spoken language. When viewers respond to the art, through heightened senses and ways of knowing that are often private and experiential, the creative process fully enlarges.”

An adept installation artist, Downen honors the body’s interaction in an environment within architecture, oftentimes creating a feeling that one has entered a living organism with a conscience and will of its own. A Studios INC resident with work on display in the current group exhibition, her next solo exhibition Mansions of Memory opens in April in St. Louis at Bruno David Projects.

As a professor of art, Downen says, “I see myself as a guide on a journey of discovery along with the students. I desire to see each student develop a personal voice. This involves learning 21st century skills for research and development, collaboration, critical thinking and the ability to persevere through failures and first attempts. As students define success for themselves, they begin to recognize their value in culture and the importance of others within their world view.”

To view her work, visit jilldownen.com.


Writer and Social Art Practitioner José Faus

“To me art is so many different things. I like to think I facilitate a lot of different things.” -José Faus

José Faus describes himself as artist, poet, writer, community and social activist, muralist. The multi-talented José Faus is interested as well in immigrant labor practices, techniques called “deep journalism,” the nature of work, and the human desire to control nature.

“Neither art nor progress exists in a vacuum” states Faus. “We are building webs.” These webs, he says, make the community and artists stronger. He considers it his responsibility to connect artists and community members who can help each other. “The simplest things can be the richest” and community is of them.

As a board member at the Writer’s Place, he teaches writing and storytelling workshops to students in Kansas City’s urban core. He is also a facilitator with the Artist INC professional training program where he mentors artists whose goals for themselves include improved business acumen and artistic practice. He founded the Vox Narro program which pairs individual writers with immigrant communities to encourage exploration of different cultures. Each project culminates in a program designed to reach a continually broadening audience.

Faus adds detail to his 6′ x 17′ scroll drawing

Look for his poetry performance at the Spring Fever Salon, an exclusive multi-layered art experience, on March 7. In April he will travel to Minneapolis, Minn., to participate on a panel discussing Erotic Literature for the Latin American Artists Coalition. Also in the plans for spring, Faus will lead a team of students and art educators in the completion of a mural project at the 9th & Van Brunt Athletic Fields Park.

Faus will open an exciting new drawing and painting (and undoubtedly, poetry performance) exhibition through the Garcia Squared Contemporary Gallery April 3-May 29 in the newly remodeled Bauer Building in the Crossroads. This work will examine the lawnmower as an urban machine, featuring immigrants at the controls. He became fascinated with this idea years ago when his relaxation at a park was disturbed by a team of lawnmowers. Faus’ questions about the lawnmowers as “an urban army, attacking what?” have continued to interest the artist and have inspired this exhibition.


Performance Artist/Curator Jessica Borusky

Performance artist and educator Jessica Borusky has a busy year ahead as an arts practitioner and curator. She teaches Digital Foundations courses at University of Missouri-Kansas City and Longview Community College as well as Performance, a new offering, at UMKC.

Borusky describes her practice with ease, saying that she is an “Artist Educator and Facilitator in Performance and Critical Art Practice.” The second part of that description might be a challenge for those not versed in performance art practice, but at the center is research. Her work, as well as that of her students, always begins with environment-based research. She strives to “create a safe place that encourages critical thought about the visual culture one consumes and produces.” For example, her students begin their semester examining logos of local businesses in their everyday experiences as the beginning of opening awareness to their surroundings.

“What I call the ‘Aha’ moment is always imbued with discomfort and empowerment,” which is also a part of her practice. She uses her body as a tool to provide a moment of catharsis and self-discovery.

Jessica Borusky delivers a lecture on photography, photoshop, and artistic production.

At La Esquina April 16-19, her students’ hard work will culminate in a post-symposium performance alongside students from KU, KCAI, local performance artists and 10 national performance-based art practitioners. The show titled, Yeah, No, I mean it: Time, Situation, Dexterity will be a one-of-a kind art experience. Additionally, Borusky who is a 2015 Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition Curatorial and Writing Fellow will curate and facilitate the Alt. Lecture KC at Talk Shop March 12.

This summer, she will travel to Boston and New York for a series of duration-based performances, and teach workshops for teens through the Johnson County and Jackson County library systems. This industrious Kansas City-based artist is one whose career is certain to take off in 2015.


Film-Focused Artist Caitlin Horsmon

“Whether or not we admit it, we all learn as much from students as they are from us,” says Caitlin Horsmon, a film-focused artist-educator. Horsmon concentrates on non-fiction and experimental work exploring perspectives, visual language, perception and history. She is fascinated by visual connections lends to memory.

Like her art, her educational process is unique. She approaches her film students as a mentor, their guide through the process of filmmaking. She considers it a matter of learning what we know, because we all know film. The process relies on the “disassembling/reassembling” approach, with the students’ objectives as the central concern. Horsmon says, “I want my students to realize their goals.”

A Southern California native who began her career with the Chicago International Film Festival, she moved to the University of Iowa for grad school. She has been teaching Production, History, Sound Design, Theory, Art of Short Film and Animation at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for nine years.

Caitlin Horsmon reviews research for her upcoming summer course on genre films and gender theory in the TV studio at UMKC. -Photos by Mark Berndt

Horsmon’s work can be seen at the Hown’s Den: Nomadic + Domestic Exhibition Space located at 5624 Lydia in KCMO, March 21. Beginning April 8 some of her collaborative works with Mara Gibson will be viewable at the Prairie Logic space downtown as part of the Art in the Loop Creative Placemaking Program. Each spring, her students’ works are featured in a showcase at the Tivoli. Adding to an already busy life, and as a founding member of the PLUG Projects Collective, this artist/educator joins the PLUG team in curating the PLUG Projects’ programming, including films and concrete visual representation.

Keep up with her exhibition schedule at caitlinhorsmon.com and PLUG Projects programming at plugprojects.com

Christel Highland

Christel Highland is an Artist, Curator, Designer and Realtor/Investor living and working in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District who also has the distinct honor of serving on the Municipal Arts Commission as well as the Executive Committee for the new Kansas City International Airport. Her most cherished life’s work is being the Mother to Clive and Otto.

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