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Panelists 'In The Thick Of Judging' For Largest Public Art Project In Kansas City's History

Courtesy Build KCI
The stairwells in the garage at the new terminal at KCI will incorporate hanging installations of public art.

Kansas City International Airport’s new $1.5 billion terminal and parking garage is scheduled to open in 2023. The project has a budget of $5.65 million for public art, making it the largest One Percent for Art project in the city’s history.

Kansas City's call for public art at the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport has drawn a huge response.

“It’s been fascinating, really rewarding, delightful, overwhelming,” said Municipal Art Commission member and artist Héctor Casanova.

In October, artists were asked to submit proposals for four locations in the new terminal scheduled to open in 2023, including a hanging sculpture for the check-in hall and a work inspired by fountains for a retail node.

“The response was tremendous,” said public art administrator James Martin. He said artists submitted 1,068 applications, and they were able to apply for more than one location.

“So the average number of responses for each of the four locations is 265 artists,” Martin said. And now, he added, the selection panel is in the “thick of judging.”

courtesy Build KCI
A heat map shows locations, budgets and dates for artwork at the new terminal and parking garage at KCI.

The process is complicated and time-intensive.

Three staggered calls for artists are scheduled. Each includes its own selection panel, a group of more than a dozen diverse arts professionals and community members.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are baked into the process, Martin said.

“So, what I would expect from having multiple selection panels is that this airport might end up looking a bit more eclectic than an airport that has a single selection panel for the entire project,” he said.

“And I think that's a good thing because when we look at the demographics of our city, what do we see? We see that as quite eclectic.”

A core group will serve on each of the three panels. It will include Martin and arts consultant Holly Hayden as non-voting advisory members. An Aviation Department representative and Municipal Art Commission members Christel Highland and David Wayne Reed will also serve.

“We have an impressive selection (of artwork),” Reed said during a Jan. 8 Municipal Art Commission meeting, “It’s a big job to get through all of those.”

Highland said she welcomed the task.

“In a time where I feel the political landscape is sort of out of control and divisive, and we’re in a pandemic, it’s been this real bright spot for me personally,” she said. “That's just been an example of cooperation and shared responsibility and, you know, civic duty.”

Highland added, “There’s definitely a responsibility and a certain weight that it carries, but by and large, it's been sort of a gift.”

Courtesy Build KCI
The check-in hall at the new terminal at KCI is included in two calls for artists -- in the first, for a hanging sculpture, and the second, for large floor-based ceramics.

Casanova, who’s also an assistant professor in illustration at the Kansas City Art Institute, has focused his efforts on two locations, including the great hall, the check-in area for the new terminal.

“So it's a 700-foot wall," he said, "and we're looking for artwork that is going to unify, that’s going to hang in front of that wall and visually unify the entire breadth of the airport."

Selection panelists, for this first round, are expected to submit numerical scores for each application by Jan. 10. A series of meetings this week will narrow down the semi-finalists.

The voting process will take place with a smaller cohort of seven, including the core group, as well as arts professionals and community members.

A second call for artists is open now through Feb. 13, for areas calling for large-scale ceramics, sculptural installations, lighting, and experiential artwork — including the stairwell and arrivals roadway of the parking garage. Information sessions for artists were recorded and will be posted on-line.

According to Martin, the final call in April might appeal to artists with less public art experience. The concourses, he says, will have more traditionally formatted works, such as paintings, textiles, prints, photographs and sculptural works.

"So it should be a little more accessible," he said, "which will, of course, mean that that will also be extremely competitive."

"People who aren't from the Midwest are often surprised about the cultural richness in Kansas City," Casanova said. But perhaps, he says, public art at KCI can provide an introduction for travelers.

“It feels like an amazing opportunity to show that Kansas City is decidedly not flyover country," he said, "and that we are a cultural hub for the United States.”

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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