Julius A. Karash on Business and the Arts: KCAI Sponsored Studio Provides Business with Art Services and Students with Real-World Experience

When UMB Financial Corp. wanted streetscape art to illustrate space it was providing for the School of Economics, a nonprofit that teaches children about business, it contacted the Kansas City Art Institute.

“They needed a streetscape of small business storefronts and a city hall,” said Randy Williams, the art institute’s senior director of corporate programs.

In response to the call, students from KCAI’s Sponsored Studio program went to work on the streetscape project, which took shape in a UMB office building downtown. Among the artists was Michelle Julmisse, an illustrator who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the art institute in May of this year.

“I had never worked on something like that before,” said Julmisse, who uses digital and traditional media to create two-dimensional works. “It was jarring working with so many people and trying to make everyone happy.”

Julimisse, who has participated in several Sponsored Studio projects, said the program “teaches you to come up with several ideas quickly and pick the best one, be able to execute it effectively, and make sure it communicates what the client is asking for.”

That kind of real-world experience is a crucial component of Sponsored Studio, a program that KCAI launched in 2013. “It’s a way for us to offer local businesses and nonprofit organizations access to creative talent,” Williams said. “It gives students insight into industries they had never thought about working in.”

Fifty-nine KCAI students worked on projects through the Sponsored Studio program during the past year. Kathy St. Clair, KCAI’s assistant director of marketing communications, said the program teaches students to be good at business as well as art.

“Whether they’re going to be studio artists or work in more of a corporate setting, they’re going to need business skills,” she said.

The program has earned kudos from a wide variety of clients, including Children’s Mercy Hospital. As part of its educational mission, Children’s Mercy offers an advanced burn life support course to caregivers such as nurses, physicians, paramedics and emergency medical service personnel.

The course includes a simulation exam that tests one’s ability to determine the percentage of burn on the surface area of a body, the degree of the burn, and what treatment is needed.

“I reached out to other burn centers and asked them what they do for the simulation part,” said Daniel Marx, the hospital’s program manager for children’s surgery and burns. “Some centers have someone put on victim makeup, or they’ll hire actors to come in and they’ll paint ‘burns’ on them. Other places use pictures, or life-sized blow up dolls with burns painted on them.”

But Marx wanted Children’s Mercy’s simulation exam to portray the way burns look on real live victims. He got in touch with Williams at KCAI and struck a deal for Sponsored Studio students to build four manikins that would illustrate four burn scenarios.

“We brought burn nurses to the art institute to collaborate with art students,” Marx said. “These art students had never seen burns before. This was pushing everybody’s boundaries.”

Marx said the art students produced excellent work, and the manikins they created have boosted the effectiveness of the course. “It makes it so much more realistic,” he said.

In another example, Sponsored Studio students created portraits for an exhibition titled “Veteran Reflection,” which explored the loneliness and social isolation experienced by many veterans.

“We wanted to include students in the project, so we contacted the Kansas City Art Institute,” said Lesley Newton, a market development and clinical coordinator for Humana, which spearheaded the project.

Humana arranged for 14 veterans to participate. Twelve KCAI students interviewed veterans and created portraits. One student did two portraits, and one of the portraits was created by an instructor.

The exhibit was displayed in Kansas City and around the country.

“The students did a great job,” Newton said. “The portraits are beautiful. They all tell different stories. The students also made audio recordings of the veterans.”

Julmisse made a portrait of a veteran named Ted. “One of the biggest jobs of an artist is to be able to articulate how people feel, and manifest it into something we can see,” she said. “I got the opportunity to capture his frustration and put it on paper.”

Other Sponsored Studio clients have included the Kansas City Zoo and Kansas City Street Car Authority. The program recently began working with the Kansas City Royals on a project to create animated shorts for a Royals training camp in the Dominican Republic. The animation will highlight topics such as personal finance and dealing with frustration.

Besides the benefits of real-world experiences and artistic expression, Julmisse likes the fact that Sponsored Studio work generates revenue for the art institute, including money designated for student scholarships and stipends.

“Those projects really add up and can put some nice change in your pocket,” she said.

Above: Randy Williams, KCAI senior director of corporate programs, stands with artworks in the “Veteran Reflection” exhibit at the Humana Neighborhood Center in August. The exhibit is part of KCAI’s Sponsored Studio program. (photo by Jim Barcus)

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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