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After A 20-Year Run Of ‘Extraordinary Freedom’ For Artists, Grand Arts Closes

courtesy Grand Arts

After a 20-year run in the Crossroads Arts District, this First Friday will be the last for Grand Arts. The closing reception for the exhibition "Universe of Collisions," by The Propeller Group, a collective based in Vietnam and California, marks the end of the non-profit arts residency venue.

Founder Margaret Silva announced plans last year to donate the Grand Arts building, a former auto shop at 1819 Grand Boulevard, to the Kansas City Art Institute for its graduate program.

For dozens of artists, creative thinkers, and scientific researchers, Grand Arts provided funding, technical expertise, equipment and housing. And time – lots of it. Often projects took one or two years, and sometimes as many as five.

“Artists have always, and the staff have always, appreciated the freedom that we’ve had at Grand Arts and the trust we’ve had,” says Stacy Switzer, artistic director since 2004. “If something didn’t come through, if we took a risk and it didn’t materialize in the way we expected, that was OK. That’s always been OK on every level – and that’s a really extraordinary thing.”

Switzer and the five other staff members have spent the last two years going through their archives. A book, scheduled for publication in early 2016, documents thirty projects considered the most complicated, challenging, provocative and interesting.

“The thing that I always used to say – it’s still true – is that my favorite project has always been the one that I’m working on now,” she says.

The Propeller Group's project presented significant technical challenges as the team attempted to collide two bullets, one from an AK-47 and the other from an M16.

"We weren't even sure we would be able to realize the show ... before Grand Arts closed," Switzer says. "But we decided to make a go of it and try."

They're still researching how the work, inside a clear gel block, can be preserved beyond the exhibition. 

Credit E. G. Schempf / courtesy Grand Arts
courtesy Grand Arts
In Glenn Kaino's 'Tank,' species of coral engaged in a battle for survival.

Taking inspiration from Silva and her “visionary support of risky projects,” Switzer plans to continue her work with artists such as The Propeller Group, Glenn Kaino, and Sissel Tolaas through a new initiative called Fathomers, a private philanthropic research institute. It's scheduled to launch on January 1, 2016. 

“The emphasis is on collaborations with thinkers in all different fields, but in particular, science and technology,” she says. Plans call for teaming up with artists, arts organizations and universities on long-term projects. And, she says, a few of the Grand Arts staffers will be joining her. 

“Many of us feel like we’ve honed a skill set in terms of how to attack these projects that are a leap into the unknown,” she says. “And we want to continue to do that.”

The Propeller Group "A Universe of Collisions" at Grand Arts, 1819 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri, closes on Friday, with a reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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