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Artists Get Decision-Making Roles For Public Art At Kansas City's New Airport Terminal

A rendering of the approach to KCI and its parking garage.

More artists will now have a say in what public art will look like at Kansas City International Airport's new $1.5 billion terminal.

With a construction budget that devotes $5.6 million for public art as part of the city's 1% for art program, where that art will be located and who gets to decide have been pressing issues. Construction is already underway, with the new terminal scheduled to open in 2023. 

"The design is ongoing," said Jordan Pierce of the architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, part of the team designing the airport. "The faster this (public art) process moves forward, the better chance we stand to integrate art into the project."

RELATED: Here's What $5 Million In Public Art At KCI's New Terminal Could Look Like

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who was sworn in last August, has been putting his stamp on city commissions, including appointing new members to four-year terms on the Municipal Art Commission

While the 12-member, all-volunteer commission has in recent years been weighted toward architects, many new members are working artists or have ties to arts institutions: 

  • Meghan Lewis (chair), shareholder, Sandberg Phoenix
  • Héctor Casanova, artist, illustrator, and assistant professor, Kansas City Art Institute 
  • David Wayne Reed, actor, writer, director, and producer
  • Christel Highland, artist, designer, writer, and curator
  • Kaitlyn Bunch, executive assistant to director and CEO, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • Tyrone Aiken, chief artistic officer, Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey
  • Sharon Sanders Brooks, former Kansas City, Missouri, Councilwoman and former Missouri State Representative
  • Kreshaun McKinney, audience engagement manager, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • Celia Ruiz, artist and community volunteer
  • Will Toney, photographer and mixed media artist
  • Mary Sedeno-Brain, managing partner, Sterner-Sedeno Marketing
  • Christy Cubbage (no expiration), chief financial officer, Support KC
  • Carlota Halpern (no expiration), founder and executive director and president, Kansas City Chalk and Walk Festival
  • Jack Holland, managing director, Stifel (serves as President of the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners)
  • Babette Macy, founding principal, LINK (serves as Chair of the City Plan Commission)
Credit Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
In December, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill released updated renderings, including this view of a retail area with a fountain in the center.

On Monday, new commissioners attended their first monthly meeting at City Hall, where they were given a crash course on the status of the airport from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Pierce, along with new public art administrator James Martin and art consultants Community Arts International, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. 

Michael Lerner, vice president of CAI, said his organization has been "in research mode," visiting with area arts and cultural institutions to "understand the local flavor and the local talent," since previous arts commissioners endorsed CAI's consulting role in January.

CAI is, he said, "trying to get our hands around what we've come to realize very quickly is a very vibrant and engaged arts community."

Commissioners Christel Highland and David Wayne Reed, with Hector Casanova as an alternate, will represent the Municipal Art Commission on an executive or working committee to help make decisions about public art in the airport. This design planning team is still being formed, but it's likely to also include other members of the arts community, as well as CAI staffers and the KCI project team. This group is expected to explore issues such as the placement, quantity and budget of the artwork, as well as the role of international, national or regional artists. 

Reed, a playwright, actor and filmmaker, said he's looking forward to the challenges ahead. 

"I’m so honored and humbled to have been appointed by Mayor Lucas to serve on the Municipal Arts Commission of Kansas City!" he wrote in a Facebook post. "It is my utmost pleasure to serve in this capacity for this incredible city that I love and the world class art that it holds and nurtures."

Besides the new members of the Art Commission, an additional committee of up to five professional artists from the Kansas City metro will be contracted to participate in the planning team from March through May. Their job will be to "innovatively and thoughtfully collaborate to the design process for the New Terminal and Parking at KCI." Applications to participate are due on February 21.

And, in March, the KCI project team will schedule three or four meetings for public input and community engagement. 

"As you may know, we have, throughout the course of this project, on a variety of issues, from concessions to the design of the building, held, at this point what must be nearly 100 community meetings," said Pierce.

"So it's not something we're unfamiliar with. We'll be working as a group to identify the best times and locations." 

A call for artists to create artwork for KCI's new terminal, and parking garage, is expected in the summer or fall. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can follow 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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