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Kansas City Artists Coalition Moves Into New Midtown Home — And Expands Footprint Across Metro

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Visitors head in for a Hard Hat Happy Hour for a sneak peek of the Kansas City Artists Coalition's new location at 3200 Gillham Road.

The Kansas City Artists Coalition on Thursday opens its new location at the corner of Linwood Avenue and Gillham Road.

The Acme Building, boarded-up and vacant for nearly a decade, now incorporates office and gallery space on the first floor, as well as basement studios, for the Artists Coalition. The rest of the building includes 27 mostly one-bedroom apartments. 

"I'm really excited to be on that ground floor level where people can access the space just right from the sidewalk and not hidden away on an upper floor somewhere," said painter Laura Nugent, who was part of the search committee. 

In October, the Artists Coalition learned that the building in the River Market that they'd occupied for 33 years had sold. Executive director Marissa Starke says the impending move sparked conversations about the model for the organization, established in 1976 as a nonprofit supporting visual artists. 

"It worked well. We were plugging along," says Starke. "And then we realized, 'Hey, we're in the 21st century.' How do we function in this way differently?"

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Artists Coalition Executive Director Marissa Starke has big plans for their new space in the historic Acme building. After more than 30 years at 2nd and Wyandotte, the organization of more than 400 artists has moved into the Tower East area.

According to Starke, the organization used the timing as a springboard to reach out to the artists and non-artists in their network, asking what they could be doing better, and if artists' needs were being met. 

"And one of the things that really stood out in that conversation was the need for affordable, safe, live/work," says Starke. "And we knew we couldn't do the live part yet, but we knew that we could potentially tackle the work part." 

Starting in October, in the basement of the Acme Building, they'll offer studio spaces for 8 to 10 artists, priced at $100 to $300 a month. 

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
KCAC executive director Marissa Starke gives a tour of the old fur storage space in the basement that will soon have artist studios.

The new location has a smaller gallery footprint than their previous site in the River Market, from 5,000 square feet to about 1,700. 

"So it's a significant decrease," Starke says, "but it also gives me the opportunity, as the primary curator, to have a little bit more of a hands-on experience with the artists, to go and have studio visits, talk about what they're working towards." 

And they're also collaborating with area galleries and organizations, like the Johnson County Library, to extend their reach.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Artists and board members get a preview of the progress of renovation during a recent Hard Hat Happy Hour. The first exhibition features a juried exhibition of work done by members of the Kansas City Society of Contemporary Photography.

Local arts librarian Bryan Voell says nine of the 14 Johnson County Library branches have an art gallery space, and they've partnered with organizations like The Arts Asylum and InterUrban ArtHouse. So, when they heard that the Artists Coalition was moving, they reached out. 

"We see our arts partners as the experts in the arts fields," says Voell. "They have the most connections. They are the most in tune with artists living and working in Johnson County and beyond."

As a result, the Artists Coalition will be showing works in two Overland Park, Kansas, locations, Oak Park Library at 9500 Bluejacket St., and the Blue Valley Library at 9000 W. 151st Street.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Kansas City Artists Coalition will have office and gallery space on the first floor. Mostly one-bedroom apartments will occupy the rest of the building.

Exact Partners, architect Caleb Buland of Kansas City and developer Ilan Salzburg of Denver, renovated the Acme Building, which opened in 1925 as a fur company, and later, a cleaning business. 

It was a project that they started looking at about five years ago, when the building, Buland says, "was really blighted, water in the basement, it was just falling apart." But now, he says, it's probably one of his favorite properties.

The team has also worked to restore other historic buildings, such as the Wonder Shops and Flats at 30th Street and Troost. For the Acme Building, they turned to neighborhood residents for input about what kind of business might be the best fit. And, he says, residents shared that they wanted something experience based, as well as culture and community based.

"And we were lucky with KCAC," says Buland. "Because nothing fit as perfectly as this community based arts group that was about bringing people together." 

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Visitors gather on the rooftop patio during a recent Hard Hat Happy Hour.

The Artists Coalition helped to pioneer redevelopment in the River Market. And now, Starke says, the organization plans to build on the revitalization efforts already underway in the area dubbed "Tower East," for its proximity to the bright, orange 1,000 foot tower at 31st and Grand. 

"It's already kind of gotten a bit of a push, rather than us moving in and doing all the heavy lifting ourselves," she says. "We get to kind of plug in and support what's already here, which is what we're really excited about." 

The Kansas City Artists Coalition hosts a ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration at 3200 Gillham Rd, Kansas City, Missouri, on Thursday, September 12, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., with basement studio tours, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Two Johnson County Library shows open Wednesday, September 11, 5 p.m - 7 p.m. And on Friday, September 13, two exhibitions open at KCAC, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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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