New Home For Artists Opens In Former Police Building On Kansas City’s East Side
A vacant building at 1328 Agnes Ave. in Kansas City, Missouri, is being reimagined as an arts community — with studios, a gallery, and arts-related businesses.
Rising rents and property ownership changes have led to a shortage of affordable studios for Kansas City artists. In recent years, artists have been squeezed out of the Crossroads, Midtown and the River Market.
But a new frontier may be opening up on Kansas City's east side — beginning with a space called Agnes Arts, which is scheduled to open this summer.
On a recent Monday morning, writer and curator C.J. Charbonneau stood inside the white box gallery at Agnes Arts, a former police training facility at 1328 Agnes Ave., just a few miles from Kansas City's downtown.
"I could not be more pleased with how it turned out," she said. "The doors and the height ... you know, everything."
Charbonneau is one of five artists in the Plug Projects collective — known these days as plug. In 2011, it used a Rocket Grant — awarded to visual arts in nontraditional spaces — to move into a storefront in the West Bottoms.
But, as some businesses stayed closed during the pandemic, plug decided to leave that location. And Agnes Arts was looking for someone to take over a new dedicated gallery space.
"It just worked out that the timing was perfect for us and for them," she said. "And so here we are."
Plug's call for proposals for 2021-2022 shows in the space is open through May 31.
Just down a hallway, artist Jorge García Almodóvar sliced through layers of plastic wrapped around a small black canvas.
"I know I wrapped these almost too well," he joked, a nod to his art handling business, JGA Fine Art Services.
Almodóvar moved into his studio at Agnes Arts late last year. This studio is about half the size of his previous studio in the River Market. But with the uncertainty amid the pandemic, Almodóvar said he was ready to downsize. And his new space has windows.
"Right now having a space has been so important for me to just be able to have somewhere to go," he said, "and be able to focus on my creative energy."
Building co-owner Paul Migliazzo has helped develop artist studios in Kansas City for more than a decade.
There was Kunstraum KC, at 1523 Oak St. in the Crossroads Arts District, which closed when Migliazzo and his brother sold the building. Then Consensus KC, which shares space with a coworking studio at 3238 Gillham Road.
The project on Agnes Avenue offered the chance to redevelop a nearly 50,000 square foot building.
"The building, just the size of the building, offered a new challenge," said Migliazzo, "although we're not using all of it right now."
The first phase, opening this summer, includes one level of the original two-story brick building — with small and large studios starting at about $150 a month, up to $450.
"We're hoping this fills up quickly," Migliazzo said, "and we do the same thing upstairs."
Artist Davin Watne has taught classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City since 2002, and he also runs the UMKC Gallery of Art. He's collaborated with Migliazzo on several art studio projects, including Agnes Arts — where he's already moved into a studio.
"So there's a bit of a buzz already," he said, as he walked through the building pointing out some curved walls, larger studios with doors, and smaller starter spaces.
"If this is your first studio," he described, "maybe you're coming out of art school or something like that and you need somewhere to land."
The idea, Migliazzo and Watne said, is to create an artist community — with studios, a gallery, and, down the road, arts-centric businesses.
And plenty of room to just hang out.
"You know, you put a bunch of artists in a box, and they’re going to collaborate, they’re going to talk," Watne said, "and so that’s something we wanted to cultivate a little more here."