NCECA Conference Will Fire Up KC Ceramics Community

A giant spotlight will shine on the Kansas City area’s ceramics community March 16-19, when the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) holds its 50th annual conference here. The conference is expected to draw more than 5,000 artists, students, teachers, collectors and enthusiasts from around the world.

Besides bringing added recognition and prestige to Kansas City, the conference is expected to generate nearly $6 million in economic activity here, according to NCECA.

Offerings will include lectures, panel discussions, artist projects and demonstrations, networking and dozens of exhibitions. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about ceramics study, residencies, services and products.

Exposure generated by the conference is expected to have an impact on the entire region. “It will highlight Kansas City as a very strong arts community,” says Paul Donnelly, an assistant professor of ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute. Donnelly, who will serve as an on-site liaison at the conference, says the conference will raise the profile of KCAI and its ceramics department, which underwent a major renovation last summer.

The 2016 conference, slated for the Kansas City Convention Center, will mark the fourth time NCECA has brought the event here. Joshua Green, NCECA’s executive director, says Kansas City and the Midwest “hold a very special place in the imaginations of people who are involved in ceramics in the U.S. There’s been a legendary legacy and great education that have come out of the Kansas City Art Institute.”

“We are thrilled that the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts will host their annual conference in KC,” says Ronnie Burt, president & CEO of Visit KC. “Their selection of KC is a testament to our vibrant arts and culture scene, which includes internationally known museums, dynamic galleries in the Crossroads Arts District, live performance venues like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and everything else in between. In addition, we are excited to welcome the 5,000 attendees and encourage them to experience our city by enjoying the many amenities in close proximity to the Convention Center.”

Green says Kansas City-area artists and those who take an interest in art will benefit from the 105 exhibitions to be held in connection with the conference. “It’s going to be a unique opportunity to experience a wide expanse of expressive approaches to ceramics by contemporary artists and contemporary studio followers.”

The exhibitions will include “Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change,” the 2016 NCECA Invitational which NCECA is organizing and hosting with Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art director of curatorial affairs, Catherine Futter.

Green says many of the planned exhibitions are being produced without sponsorship by NCECA, but have been scheduled “because of the attraction of the conference. People know that thousands of informed viewers from around the world will be coming to Kansas City. Artists are attracted to mount exhibitions because of the audience they’re going to reach.”

Michael Baxley, gallery manager and curator at Belger Crane Yard Studios, says NCECA chose Kansas City for the conference site because of our town’s imprint on the evolving world of ceramic arts. “The Kansas City Art Institute was key in bringing ceramics into the fine art world. We’re already on everyone’s radar, but this will bring more awareness. It’s not just exhibitions. They have lectures and workshops. They have so many events it’s impossible to do them all.”

For example, an NCECA pre-conference workshop is scheduled for March 12-13 at Belger Crane Yard Studios, 2011 Tracy Ave. The presenters will be Chris Gustin, John Balistreri and Matt Long—three KCAI alumni who represent 20 years of the ceramic department’s dynamic legacy.

The pre-conference is “geared toward makers,” Baxley says. “It’s about sharing ideas and sharing techniques and philosophies.”

Kelly Seward, marketing manager for Belger Cartage Service Inc. and affiliates, says the conference coming to Kansas City highlights the evolution of ceramics toward the fine arts end of the art spectrum, as opposed to the functional end. “Our huge gallery community showing support for the ceramics community is going to be wonderful.”

Support for ceramic arts by Evelyn Craft Belger and Dick Belger, founders of the Belger Arts Center and related entities, will be recognized at the conference when the couple receives the 2016 NCECA Regional Award of Excellence.

And while our state line continues to foment a border war in areas such as economic development, the NCECA conference is expected to benefit arts-related entities in Kansas as well as Missouri.

“It’s not just a conference in a convention center,” says Amy Duke, public programs and visitor experience manager for the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  Duke, who also will serve as an on-site liaison, characterizes the conference as a “community-wide celebration of clay in all of its forms.”

For more information about the conference, visit nceca.net/2016-kansas-city.

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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