Trucks, Cranes, and Tiffanys: The Surprising World of Belger

When most long-time Kansas Citians hear the name “Belger,” images of glossy black cranes and trucks come to mind. Since 1919, Belger Cartage Service, Inc. has hoisted or hauled the building blocks of our city as well as set its crown jewels (think Shuttlecocks).  Perhaps the most remarkable part of the company’s history; however, is its creation and development of a thriving, multi-site arts center.

“It’s all about creative problem-solving,” says Belger CEO and President Evelyn Craft Belger. “We have to evaluate and plan effective solutions to complex problems every day.”

In the crane and specialized hauling industry, getting from point A to point B requires a thorough knowledge of the materials at hand, effective communication, and a complete commitment to the process. Every job presents a hands-on learning experience with the end goal of excellence. Sounds a lot like making art, doesn’t it?

To Dick and Evelyn Craft Belger, a crane company inside of an arts center makes sense.

Located in the headquarters of Belger Cartage Service, Inc., the Belger Arts Center is one of the most unique arts destinations in town. Field superintendents get coffee next to Duane Hanson’s Dockman while accountants hold meetings in a Robert Rauschenberg-filled conference room. The company lives with art in the most extraordinary way.

From Tiffany lamps and mid-century furniture to contemporary ceramics, the Belgers are life-long collectors.  As Dick puts it, “If you’re collecting, you’re learning. If you’re not learning, you’re dead.” When Dick began collecting the work of contemporary American artists in the 1970s, he developed a strategy that was as intentional as it was disciplined. He selected a small handful of artists to become the core of the John and Maxine Belger Family Foundation and began collecting those artists in-depth: Jasper Johns, Terry Winters, William Christenberry, Renee Stout, Terry Allen, Robert Stackhouse, and William T. Wiley.

“The heart of our programming is the creative process,” says Evelyn Belger. “Art is a powerful universal language. We want to show that art has the ability to spark new ideas in both the maker and the viewer…to cause a paradigm shift in the way people think.”

Drawing upon the Foundation collection as well as a rich variety of local, national, and international artists, the Belger Arts Center has staged over 70 large-scale exhibitions since 2000. While presenting some of the best in contemporary art, Belger views the exhibition space as a teaching tool; an opportunity to encourage viewers to explore, question, and deepen their understanding of art and of the world around them. Free, docent-led tours help ensure the galleries are accessible to the entire community, not just those well versed in contemporary art.

The addition of a ceramics studio in 2010 added an important hands-on element to the Art Center’s programming.  Not only can visitors explore the creativity of others in the galleries, they can explore their own through a variety of workshops, classes, and summer art camps.

In 2013, the Belger Arts Center expanded its footprint, opening a second location in the east Crossroads/Jazz District. Belger Crane Yard Studios overlooks the company’s actual crane yard, providing an additional 56,000 square feet of classroom, studio, exhibition, and retail space.

While the programming focus of the flagship location is mid-career and established artists, Crane Yard Studios encourages the creative process of emerging artists. The space generates a different kind of energy – an “immediacy,” according to Belger – that reflects the community of artists who utilize the space. Over 50 ceramic artists share the state-of-the-art kilns and studios with 6 artists-in-residence. The highly competitive residency program draws national and international artists who play an integral role in designing educational opportunities for the community.

In addition to ceramics, Crane Yard Studios also houses artist Asheer Akram’s metal studio, Lawrence Lithography Workshop, and Crane Yard Clay, a ceramic equipment and supply business.

I recently asked Evelyn Belger what impact all of this art has on her employees. Without a second’s hesitation, she said, “Quality. The artwork is a reflection of the company’s brand.” A brand built on creative problem-solving and the pursuit of excellence, 96 years in the making.

Current Exhibitions

January marked the beginning of Belger ‘s NCECA celebration! The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts will host their annual conference in Kansas City March 16th – 19th. In response, Belger is hosting 10 exciting exhibitions and a variety of workshops at the Belger Arts Center and Belger Crane Yard Studios.

Belger Arts Center
2011 Walnut Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64108

Wednesday – Friday: 10 am – 4 pm
Saturday: 12 – 4 pm
First Friday: 10 am  – 9 pm

“Every Semester: Collecting KCAI Ceramics”
January 8th – March 19th, 2016

“Desire – Lighton International Artists Exchange Program”
February 5th  – May 21st, 2016

“The Garden Party”
February 5th – May 21st, 2016

Belger Crane Yard Studios
2011 Tracy Avenue
Kansas City, Missouri  64108

Wednesday – Friday: 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm
First Friday: 10 am – 9 pm

February 5th – May 21st, 2016

“The Kansas City Connection: Victor Babu, John Balistreri, Matt Long and Chris Gustin”
February 5th – May 21st, 2016

–Kelly Seward, Belger-Cartage Service Inc. and Affiliates

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