JCCC Expands Arts Corridor With Opening of New Fine Arts & Design Studios Building

Architect’s rendering of the west-facing exterior of the new Fine Arts & Design Studios building at Johnson County Community College. (Johnson County Community College)

After years of squeezing arts education into cramped quarters, Johnson County Community College (JCCC) is now holding classes in its new Fine Arts & Design Studios (FADS) building that opened in January.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Mark Cowardin, chair of JCCC’s fine arts, photography and film department, as he was moving into his new office. “In the old space we did really great things, but we were too tight. Here we’ll have designated space for each discipline.”

The new building will provide instruction to approximately 2,500 to 3,000 fine arts, photography, film and graphic design students, Cowardin said.

Built at a cost of $19.2 million, the 37,000-square-foot building includes studios, labs, a library, student lounge, offices and support spaces. Hallways serve as student gallery space, and a large covered courtyard on the south end of the building provides exterior teaching and work space.

JCCC’s visual arts programs previously were housed in the Arts & Technology Building, which was shared with industrial programs such as HVAC, welding, automotive and electrical technology classes.

Safety played a key role in the design of the new building, Cowardin said. “For example, sculpture in the old building didn’t have the separations that were necessary between the wood shop and the metal shop,” he said. “Those had to become their own spaces, which took up a little more square-footage. It’s going to be a super-safe facility.”

Wil Wilcock, who is studying animation at JCCC, said students in the new building will benefit from increased exposure to natural light. “It will help us figure out where the shadows are and take a closer look at the form of each item we’re drawing or painting,” Wilcock said.

Big picture-wise, Wilcock said that “having more space in a dedicated building for the arts is going to help people get into the vibe of art, jump 100 percent into the feeling of art and express themselves with their art.”

The architect for the project was Kansas City-based BNIM. “In addition to providing flexible and vibrant interior studios, the building is thoughtfully sited to provide intimately scaled exterior spaces for the creation and display of art, and integrate and strengthen campus connections,” BNIM said in a release.

The new building stands on the east side of the campus, near the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

Bruce Hartman, executive director of the museum, describes the proximity as “fantastic . . . a dream come true!” and adds, “We have already initiated exciting collaborative projects with arts faculty and students, as well as providing funding for annual visiting artists thanks to a Jedel Family Foundation grant.”

Also in the vicinity of the FADS building are the Carlsen Center performing arts venue and the Wylie Hospitality and Culinary Academy. “We’re in an arts corridor,” Cowardin said.

The new building also serves as a campus passageway, Cowardin said. “There are parking lots to our south and east, so people can enter through our building to enter the core of the campus. In the passageway through the building we’re going to have our galleries to showcase student work. In our old location we had students’ work in the hallways all the time, but people didn’t come through the building very much. Here we’re in a location that will draw people through, so it gives our students much more exposure to the rest of the campus.”

The programs housed in the new building will prepare students for a growing number of jobs in the art world, Cowardin added.

Julius Karash

Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person. He formerly was a business reporter for the Kansas City Star and executive editor of KC Business magazine. He devours business and economic news, and is keenly interested in the relationship between arts and economic development in the Kansas City area.

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