Nicole Emmanuel and the Interurban Arthouse…


What happens with the power of one? One person with a vivid and productive imagination can decide to dream. And what does this one person dream about … the future of the arts in Downtown Overland Park and the metropolitan community. As a matter of fact, that dream has become reality as the InterUrban ArtHouse and continues to expand each and every week under the guiding merits and abilities of the ever-energetic Nicole Emanuel.

A few years ago, Emanuel spent time with artists, arts organizations and civic and business leaders in and around northeast Johnson County. The need for an artistic “hub” rose to the forefront.  This creative and cultural hub would be another anchor point in the growing metropolitan arts community with the Crossroads and the Downtown Kansas City art scene that also reaches into Johnson County with the Nerman Museum and the Johnson County Community College programs.

Emanuel has surrounded herself with artists and supporters. She has found a cadre of supporters, both personally and professionally to take the existing building at the intersection of Conser and West 80th Street and turn it into a true artistic center. With the addition of a proposed sculptural park, InterUrban ArtHouse will take up the block from Newton Street to West 80th and Conser. Rick Howell, PLAID, is the landscape architect whose job will be to take the half of the land designated residential and create a park. Howell’s credentials include the Henry Moore Sculpture Park at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. “It’s about a quarter acre that we could use for outdoor lessons and of course, space for art. It’s going to have a very green and ecological bent. We are aiming for sustainable materials in the garden.”

And Emanuel wants to make sure the garden is a continuation of the inviting nature of the center. “We want the neighbors to come and share in this sort of European-feel garden space. It’s going to be communal.” The garden space could also be used to show outdoor films and other community activities. Howell sees the garden as a way to utilize any and all space for accessible arts.

The construction team is led by Pat McCown of McCownGordon. Chris Heinz with Hollis & Miller takes charge of architecture and Bill Zahner is creating a new grand entrance (metal elements) that will cover both stories and create an artistic vision from the moment people see the building, Emanuel says. As much of the materials as possible will come from Planet Reuse. Many of these leaders are also part of the strategic partners team.

InterUrban Arthouse Assistant Director Nick Carswell and Executive Director Nicole Emmanuel look at plans for this new art center with supporters.

Emanuel’s cadre of supporters also includes those who will be tenants. Tatiana and Stanislav Ioudenitch will have classrooms and studio space. Rita Blitt will continue her drawing center and she also plans to have space that will serve as a satellite space for the Kansas City Art Institute. The U.S. Post Office will retain some space. Two significant tenants are Public Glassworks KC and Snow & Co.

Sara LaGrand, owner of Public Glassworks KC, met Emanuel in 2012 through friend and fellow glass artist Dierk Van Keppel. “He knew I was looking for space and introduced us. Initially people were a little concerned about my flame working, but the glass working studio space got the green light from city officials and the fire marshal.”

While her work is on the smaller scale as she describes it, LaGrand brings knowledge from the broader world, having studied and taught all over Europe and Canada. “How lucky we are to have Nicole. It’s easy to champion this space. We need more access for enrichment in Johnson County. The arts community is thriving, but quiet. That should change. We have artists who live on the Kansas side who need affordable space. When you choose a city to live in, it’s not only the job and schools, but the cultural opportunities we have.”

Jerry Nevins and Andy Talbert of Snow & Co are taking their frozen drink business and their business acumen to InterUrban. This will be their second location. Talbert and Emanuel met over a Passover meal. He was taken with Emanuel’s energy and creativity. “It’s thrilling to think that we can be part of a rising artist community,” Talbert says. Nevins says the two men may also offer artists some classes and workshops to be better business people.

On the second floor, artists will go through a selection process and can find artists’ spaces. The other offices on this floor will be the Art & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park, the offices of InterUrban ArtHouse, Nicole Emanuel Studios, Reggie Banks and Kelvin Banks Sr. of Blackberry Castle, Sherri Jacobs Art Therapy and the Arts Council of Johnson County.


Arts Council of Johnson County Executive Director Sarah Van Landuyt says she met Emanuel at an art forum in 2011. “It was interesting to offer support amid the difficult economic and political atmosphere of the day. Listening to Nicole talk about needing to get out of her basement studio space just proved that many suburban artists had similar needs. What she wants fits in with the 2005 study that urged for the creation of an arts center. By having our office there, it’s going to put us in an arts-centric environment. We can help with the professional development and make sure our resources are aiding those who need them. I believe we will complement each other’s strengths.”

ArtsKC Regional Arts Council President Harlan Brownlee is also supportive of Emanuel’s efforts. “As the regional arts council, ArtsKC’s strategic partnership with the InterUrban ArtHouse is built on the idea that the arts are a regional proposition and the InterUrban ArtHouse represents an important area of the region outside of the downtown corridor. As individual artists mature, establish families, and put roots down into a community, many of them choose to live in suburban environments,” he says. “Whether in the Crossroads Arts District or in downtown Overland Park, the arts benefit the region in two primary ways. One, they are an economic engine, encouraging development and tourism and two, they build communities, magnetize neighborhoods, and  encourage intergenerational activities. The needs of artists across the region are universal in the sense that they need places to do their work and to be engaged with their community. We believe that the InterUrban ArtHouse meets the needs of artists living in Johnson County and are pleased to be one of their strategic partners.”

While the physical structure has yet to be renovated and expanded, InterUrban ArtHouse has been busy. Assistant Executive Director Nick Carswell maintains the statistics on how many people are impacted through the four concurrent program strands: ArtWORKS, ArtMATTERS, ArtsCONNECT and ArtSMART. The first is aiding in professional development training; the second promotes and supports artistic excellence for artists of all ages. ArtsCONNECT is the community networking and outreach strand and the fourth is the educational programming. “I keep the engagement piece and we have more than 2,700 individual arts experiences through all this programming,” he says.

After Emanuel shepherds this project to its opening, hopefully in the summer of 2015, she plans to step back from her role as executive director and focus on her art. She expects that a director will be hired after that.  After all, she has helped propel a project similar to this in San Francisco where she facilitated community murals and found the artists living and working spaces in the 1980s. One of the core objectives of the InterUrban ArtHouse is to create space for artists to work in that is both sustainable and affordable, similar to her San Francisco model.

Reggie Banks gives Emanuel the credit for steering this project. “She knows how to bring like-minded people together. She brings out the best in what they do and it all benefits the larger community. She is a great conduit to make this happen. The others agree. Nevins and Talbert call her collaborative and gifted in cross-pollinating the project. Reggie Banks says, “We are folks who believe in the grassroots effort and all of us have strong skill sets.

One of the core objectives of the InterUrban ArtHouse is to create space for artists to work in that is both sustainable and affordable. Our business model allows for below-market rental space for artists and non-profit arts organizations and is designed to be self-sustaining within 3 years. What does that mean? It means that the full renovation and installation of the facility within our capital fundraising campaign will then allow for artists to take leases that are at an affordable rate, ensuring that the InterUrban ArtHouse is a viable economic model to be self-sustaining into the future.

Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach sees the InterUrban ArtHouse as a response to the growing number of local and regional artists who have located in Downtown Overland Park, a strong move by the area’s creative class. “This is all part of an effort in creative placemaking,” he says. “Arts can be the differentiating factor for a community that attracts companies and individuals. Nicole is further fostering historic Downtown Overland Park as a much desired location for various forms of art, from visual to performance, with her InterUrban ArtHouse.”

Carswell, who works hand in hand with Emanuel, knows that the InterUrban ArtHouse is a national pilot that has gained National Endowment for the Arts funding. The Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park, in collaboration with Emanuel and the City of Overland Park, is one of the grantees and will receive $150,000 to help fund the InterUrban ArtHouse project. Through Our Town, the NEA supports creative placemaking projects that help transform communities into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core. InterUrban ArtHouse also received a $50,000 grant from the Kansas State Arts Funding. The $50,000 Creative Economy Project Support grant funds initiatives “that encourage dynamic partnerships between public, private, and cultural sectors that create jobs, generate real income, promote economic development, revitalize communities, and attract cultural tourists.

“We are excited to collect stories and share the data,” Carswell says. “It’s going to take that excitement to get the funds raised and see this project to completion.” That makes Emanuel smile. “The arts are a bridge. The state line can be ignored, but the arts can’t and they connect people in ways that are deeply felt. The InterUrban ArtHouse will be that incredible instrument for years to come,” she 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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