The Englewood Arts Center is slated to open in 2022, signaling Independence is 'where art lives'
After years of decline, a four-block stretch of Winner Road in Independence is getting a makeover as an arts hub.
On a recent weekday morning, Teresa Cosgrove stood in front of a red-brick building, a former mental health services center, at 10901 E. Winner Road in Independence — the future home of the Englewood Arts Center.
“We call it, kind of like, a Main Street America feel when you come here,” Cosgrove said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of neat buildings that have kind of a 1950s vibe.’”
Cosgrove is the operations manager of Englewood Arts. The nonprofit bought this vacant building from the city of Independence and took ownership last year, just before the pandemic.
The organization got to work repairing roof leaks, replacing windows and removing rubble to make way for the Englewood Arts Center which will focus on culinary, visual and performing arts. It's expected to open to the public in spring 2022.
“So this building is almost 30,000 square feet,” described Cosgrove as she walked inside. “It is four levels so it provides a lot of opportunities for different art spaces to be within this building."
Englewood Arts sought community and artist input to identify services that weren't offered in the area, ranging from artist residencies to classes and workshops.
“So on the main level, we're going to have a glass blowing studio,” Cosgrove said. “It's called the glass lab, and we wanted to name it that because again, it's all about experimentation with that art form. We want it to feel open to come in and play.”
The main floor also includes an innovation café for culinary artists, as well as a stage for productions, including puppetry. And on the lower level, a neon studio where visitors can learn to bend neon into shapes or letters.
Cosgrove, who's also an artist, points to a large sign with the word "Englewood" spelled out in chunky white letters, and "Where Art Lives Here" in bright red neon.
“This sign will actually live on top of the building,” Cosgrove said. “And it's a call-out for the entire area, just not the arts center that this is Englewood, it's where art lives for this district.”
Affordable housing for the project is key. Cosgrove says artists are moving into the area to work or to live, or both. Some are renting, and some are buying — and the organization has partnered with banks and credit unions to help with financing.
Englewood Arts employed some artists during the pandemic to work on the renovations, such as sculptor Ani Kinney, who graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2019.
“So I was in the basement, grinding the floors,” she explained. “I'm kind of the finisher around here. I make it look nice at the very end.”
Kinney moved from midtown Kansas City to Independence, and says she pays about the same amount of rent here but has more space, including a studio.
“I now live in a house versus an apartment. I have a front and back yard. I have six ducks, a dog, four cats,” Kinney says. “It's like fantastic. So much space. So very different.”
Development of this part of Winner Road dates back to the late 1800s when the district served passengers of the trolley that ran from Independence to Kansas City.
It’s now a mix of empty storefronts and small businesses. The Englewood Theatre, which opened in 1949, closed more than a decade ago after a run of nearly 60 years. The Ben Franklin Five & Dime also closed.
“And it's slowly, unfortunately, been kind of losing its energy over the last 50 years,” Cosgrove said. “So what can bring that energy back? And we really thought, you know, we love art and art brings a lot of creativity, energy to places.”
The timing seemed perfect. In 2011, the city established arts district zoning, requiring businesses, from galleries and coffee shops to salons, to display or sell art. The district now hosts an art walk every third Friday.
Inside B-Vogue, a salon and art gallery located at 11100 E. Winner Road, Joey Marlow sits in his chair at his station where he works as a hair, makeup and eyebrow artist. Marlow is also a musician who moved to the area from Florida.
“Honestly, I didn't know anything about it until I stumbled on it,” Marlow said. “And then after finding out that it was an arts district, I thought, 'Well, obviously that's where I need to live.'”
B-Vogue owner Tammy Parsons relocated her business here in 2000, which pre-dated the district's arts zoning. Parsons is a member of the Englewood Arts board. She now shows the work of local artists at her salon and donates a portion of the proceeds to a local elementary school.
“When we became an arts district, we thought, 'Hey cool, we’re an art district.' But there’s so much more to it,” Parsons said. “And I feel like we’re the water that is nurturing the growth that is happening. And it’s starting to sprout. And it’s very cool.”
Cosgrove says Englewood Arts Center just passed the $2.1 million mark in fundraising with a $3 million goal.
“So, you know, instead of waiting three years or however long it may take to fundraise, we said, 'Let's go ahead put the two together,'” said Cosgrove. “So fundraise and renovate, that way we can get going right away.”
The main floor of the arts center is expected to open in the spring of 2022 while renovations will continue on the upper levels for classes, workshops and a makerspace with hands-on tools for creatives of all ages.