Arts News: Mattie Rhodes Expands Its Arts Presence

Rendering by el dorado inc of the interior of the new Mattie Rhodes Cultural Arts Center (el dorado inc)

Mattie Rhodes is preparing to assume an even larger role in the Kansas City arts scene. el dorado inc and McCown Gordon Construction have begun construction of a new 10,000-square-foot Cultural Arts Center at 1707 Jarboe St. with completion scheduled in November and a grand opening in the spring of 2022.

The Mattie Rhodes Center has a storied history in Kansas City. Founded in 1894, it serves about 15,000 people each year — primarily, but not exclusively, from the Hispanic community — with a wide range of social and behavioral health services, as well as the arts.

A key component of its mission is its arts program, which has been located in the Mattie Rhodes Art Gallery at 917 W. 17th Street in KCMO, but which will be relocated to the new Cultural Arts Center.

Rendering by el dorado inc of the exterior of the new Mattie Rhodes Cultural Arts Center at 1707 Jarboe St. (el dorado inc)

The center piece of the arts program will be its “Hand-in-Hand” folk art collection. The collection, comprised largely of Hispanic and Native American/Pueblo art, was started by Alice Ann Biggerstaff, an avid collector, who was born in Liberty, graduated from William Jewell College, and worked for over 30 years as a creative designer at Hallmark Cards.

Biggerstaff retired in 1986, moved to Santa Fe, and in 1995 donated some 800 pieces of her collection to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. Four years later, GKCCF gifted the collection to the Mattie Rhodes Center. Mattie Rhodes has continued to add to what now totals some 1,500 pieces of folk sculpture, ceramics, toys, dolls, masks and textiles.

In addition to housing the new Art Gallery and the “Hand-in-Hand” collection, the Cultural Arts Center will provide a creative outlet for area children and adults, with access to several artistic media including ceramics and digital media; project-based learning; art therapy; and exhibits, performances and poetry readings promoting the contributions of the Hispanic community to the national culture.

John Fierro, president and CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center (Mattie Rhodes Center)

John Fierro, president and CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center, explains how art supports the Center’s mission: It “speaks to the community and offers people creative ways to come to terms with, and express themselves in response to, the challenges in their daily lives.”

Jenny Mendez, director of cultural arts at the Mattie Rhodes Center (Mattie Rhodes Center)

Jenny Mendez, a third-generation Mexican American, an accomplished artist, teacher and cultural arts director, speaks enthusiastically of her role in Mattie Rhodes’ arts program.

“As a young girl attending the (Art) Craft Center in the ’70s (which became the Mattie Rhodes Gallery in 1986), I was in awe of the art and of what was available for me to create and thrilled to meet so many others in my community. Art and community became my passion,” she explains, as she went on to the Kansas City Art Institute and returned to Mattie Rhodes, where she has been for the past 25 years. Her work “has been pure joy.”

Bank of America provided the essential, initial support for Mattie Rhodes’ successful capital campaign, which has topped $3 million and provided the financial resources for the new Cultural Arts Center.

 “Kansas City is a community that thrives on our diverse cultures and unique artistic opportunities,” says Matt Linski, president, Bank of America Kansas City. “The new cultural arts center will be a major development in continuing Mattie Rhodes’ important mission of being a special place for residents of diverse backgrounds to express themselves.”

For updates on construction of Mattie Rhodes Cultural Arts Center and its opening, go to: https://mattierhodes.org/capital-campaign

Bryan F. Le Beau

Bryan F. Le Beau is retired from the University of Saint Mary, where he served as Professor of History, Provost, and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He is the author of several books on American cultural and religious history.

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