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After 33 Years In Its River Market Space, The Kansas City Artists Coalition Needs A New Home

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Marissa Starke took over as executive director of the Kansas City Artists Coalition in early January 2019.

The Kansas City Artists Coalition, an organization of more than 400 artists, will leave the space at 2nd and Wyandotte where it's been since 1986.

In October, the building was sold to an outside investor who "is looking to utilize the space in a different way," said Executive Director Marissa Starke. "So we're looking at this point to take the organization and grow it in maybe a new and exciting space — that we have yet to find."

The Coalition, which operates four galleries in its River Market location, has a contract through June 2020. 

Starke took over as executive director on January 2, following the retirement of Janet Simpson, who had led the organization for almost 30 years. Starke had been assistant director since 2010.

RELATED: Kansas City Artists Coalition Director Stepping Down After Nearly Three Decades

The Artists Coalition got its start more than 40 years ago with a meeting of a hundred artists in the studio of Philomene Bennett and Lou Marak.

"They felt that there was no local voice for local artists in the Kansas City area," Starke said. "They decided at that point that they needed to create an organization that would give them voice, that would not only exhibit that works, but also help to lift each other up — giving each other advice on how to photograph your artwork, write an artist's statement, kind of the ins and outs of what makes you a professional artist."

Since then, however, the city's art scene has changed dramatically.

"We're looking at this point to take the organization and grow it in maybe a new and exciting space that we have yet to find."- Kansas City Artists Coalition executive director Marissa Starke

"We were created as a 20th century gallery model. We now live in the 21st century. And what does that model of a gallery space, or a not-for-profit arts gallery look like — both to artists and patrons alike? So we're having a lot of discussions about what we're doing, is it serving the community best, and how we can meet the needs of that community in a really viable way."

The organization's neighborhood has also changed significantly, with new development and the streetcar line in the River Market, which has been "exciting to watch," Starke said.

Starke creditedearly River Market developers Dana Gibson and Mel Mallin for inviting the Artists Coalition into the Artspace Lofts building in the mid-1980s.

It was, she said, "an effort to help educate the community — outside the downtown community — that the River Market was safe again, that we had viable opportunties here for businesses, living. That was 33 years ago, and now we see what that investment in the arts, what that investment in artists and the community really gave back."

Now, she said, it might be time to pioneer another location.

"We've had a membership for the past 43 years that we've served diligently. And we want to continue to do that, whether we're here or whether we're elsewhere," Starke said.

"Wherever that may be, we're really excited to continue to better (that neighborhood's) artful experience and the community that we will be a part of in the future."

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer

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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