Look up the concept, “grassroots,” and the non-profit organization, Charlotte Street Foundation, may best represent the notion that the individual artist or artist group must find support that starts more as a groundswell rather than from the larger and more traditional structures.
The organization’s co-directors, Kate Hackman and David Hughes, both admit that Charlotte Street Foundation is not easily definable. It is a multi-faceted entity that has many tendrils branching out and impacting many art forms in Kansas City. First, there is the presentation, promotion and development of new and existing artists. These individual artists may be overlooked within a larger macrocosm, but Charlotte Street makes sure that the microcosm of a budding art community is not lost. By supporting these burgeoning artists and art groups, Charlotte Street Foundation also fosters economic and neighborhood development.
Hughes says he learned about the need to give back to his community from his parents. The interest in art came through art history classes in college. He graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree and moved on to Yale for his master’s in public and private management. “When I moved back from New York in the mid to late 1980s, I met individual artists, dancers, musicians, curators, and gallerists working at the grassroots level,” Hughes says. Gallerist Dorry Gates introduced Hughes to local art and many artists, including artist John Puscheck, a 1971 KCAI graduate. Puscheck’s house on Charlotte St. was a gathering spot for all kinds of artists. There, Hughes gained a glimpse into the vitality and potential of the artists’ community.
Over the years, Hughes has served on boards for numerous visual art, theater and dance organizations, including the Kansas City Art Institute. “Generally when I served on boards, my interest was in individual artists – who didn’t receive much attention. I felt that the artists as well as the city would benefit from increased awareness and support for individual artists.” He was inspired to create Charlotte Street Foundation, named in honor of his friend Puscheck, to garner support and recognition for Kansas City artists. Founded in 1997, Charlotte Street began as a small gesture, and was actually one of the first programs in the country to give unrestricted cash grants to artists.
Hackman also understands non-profits. Many in her family work for non-profits, and her mother both made art while she was growing up and ran the Albany League of Arts, making grants to arts organizations in Upstate New York. Hackman’s love of the arts was also fueled when she taught art classes for neighborhood kids in her backyard. She then jumped into an art history program at Williams College, where opportunities in museum work study opened the doors to work in the field. She served as the assistant director of Exit Art, a non-profit, multi-disciplinary contemporary art space in New York City. “This was an exciting and dynamic experience that confirmed my interest in working with living artists and supporting creative experimentation.”
Her father, Larry Hackman, served as the director of the Truman Library from 1995 until his recent retirement. Hackman moved to Kansas City to be closer to family. “I realized that Kansas City was a place steeped in the ever-churning process of invention. I stayed and dug in.” She was founding editor of Review magazine and curated exhibitions at such locations as Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University, H&R Block Artspace at KCAI, and Urban Culture Project’s la Esquina, Paragraph, and Project Space galleries. She has taught at Kansas City Art Institute and frequently lectures about artists and the arts community in Kansas City.
The two understand the vitality of the city. They bring in artists and constantly serve as ambassadors and hosts, but their jobs are so much more. Hackman says individual artist impact then adds to the larger arts community and eventually the city as a whole. “It is empowerment,” she says. “We are smart, I think, about developing processes and structures, but we are also at the leading edge, being challenged and taking risks, right along with the artists.”
In this support, Charlotte Street Foundation may also be defined as a “nurturer” and a “catalyst.” “It is a sort of ground-up movement rather than the top-down mentality,” Hughes says. Hackman says many of the artists are young and emerging. “Through the foundation, they have many opportunities that are open to them. They find their place in the artistic ecosystem.”
Over 15 years, more than 75 visual artists have received cash awards that have been used for financial support and they have also benefited from increased exposure. This year’s 2012 Visual Artist Awards Fellows are Marcus Cain, Anne Austin Pearce and Luke Rocha. Their work will be featured in the 2012 Charlotte Street Visual Artist Awards Exhibition opening in October 2012 at the H&R Block Artspace at Kansas City Art Institute.
There are also the Rocket Grant Project Awards for the Kansas City Region. These grants are another collaborative effort with the Foundation, the KU Spencer Museum of Art, with funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. These grants are supporting the creation and presentation of art in non-traditional spaces. And there is Charlotte Street’s Studio Residency Program, providing free studios on vacant floors of downtown office buildings to visual and performing artists. The biannual open studios event is May 18 and 19.
Along with the visual arts awards, the Foundation also gives out Generative Performing Artist Awards. These recognize artists in the fields of dance, theater, music, performance art and interdisciplinary hybrids. Like the visual artists, they receive monetary support and exposure. “We believe in advocacy. Small organizations and individual artists lack attention, awareness and support,” Hughes says. Hackman says when artists are supported, they are empowered. “They are themselves activists, ambassadors, and advocates for the city. They seek out ways to better their worlds around them. They bring creative thinking to many contexts,” she says. “However, they need advocacy for the importance of their contributions.”