Kansas City Art Institute plans downtown facility

05/16/2014 7:59 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Move over University of Missouri-Kansas City, another prominent institution of higher education is planning to come downtown.

The Kansas City Art Institute has been given the Grand Arts building at 1819 Grand Blvd. by alumna and philanthropist Margaret Silva. The four-year college of art and design, located at 44th Street and Warwick Boulevard near the Country Club Plaza, wants to use it for a new graduate program in the works.

A primary goal would be to equip artists with the business skills necessary to run their own galleries, work with agents and handle commissions. The number of students who might attend the planned graduate program is yet to be determined.

“It seemed ideal to have it be downtown in the heart of the action,” said Jacqueline Chanda, president of the art institute. “When Margaret Silva came up with the idea that we could potentially house the program at Grand Arts, it seemed perfect.”

Just last week, UMKC announced anonymous benefactors had donated a city block valued at $6 million for the proposed relocation of its Conservatory of Music and Dance.

That block is immediately south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and five blocks west on 18th Street from the Grand Arts building.

If UMKC moves forward with relocating the conservatory and its 730 students and faculty, it would mean the Crossroads Arts District would become the home of two arts-related outposts of major local institutions of higher learning over the next few years.

“You’re seeing a growing trend of universities putting students in an environment with real-life applications,” said Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council. “This would be good from a creative aspect and for their business acumen, and would add to the vitality of the Crossroads.”

It’s been almost 20 years since Silva, the granddaughter of Hallmark founder Joyce Hall, transformed what had been the Old North Tire Co. building into the Grand Arts contemporary art space.

Greenlee Schmidt Architects created a smooth contemporary facade for the 4,000-square-foot building that includes studio, gallery and residential space for visiting artists. Over the years, it’s been a cultural touchstone, featuring some of the most cutting-edge contemporary art exhibitions in Kansas City.

But last year, Silva announced she wanted to close the space in 2015.

“When I knew we’d be closing, I started thinking about what could the building ultimately become,” she said. “I wanted to look for a not-for-profit.

“I looked around and listened and when the art institute started talking about finding a space to do this graduate program, my ears perked up. I said this building would be great.”

Silva is a graduate of the institute and also served on its board for about 20 years before stepping down earlier this year.

In late 2012, about the same time UMKC said it was considering relocating its music conservatory downtown, Chanda told an audience at the Central Library that her institution also was considering locating a potential graduate program in downtown. The school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 820 students.

“I did a presentation at the downtown library and expanded on the idea of how more than one campus could come together to create a kind of synergy in the arts where you would have dancers, musicians and visual artists all in one area,” she said.

“Also, in thinking about a master’s program, I didn’t want it to interfere with our bachelor of fine arts program, and there really isn’t room for both on our Warwick campus.”

The exact curriculum of the graduate program is still being developed by the faculty at the art institute. At one point, it was envisioned as a master’s of business fine arts degree, but Chanda said that idea may not be achievable. The program, however, would be at a graduate level, and business classes would be part of the mix.

“The idea is to provide tools for artists to be successful in a variety of missions,” she said.

“As we think about partnerships with local corporations, such as Zahner, it seems perfect that way, too, because it would be relatively close to them,” Chanda said.

Zahner is a specialty metal fabricating firm in downtown Kansas City with a reputation for working with world-renowned architects including Frank Gehry and Moshe Safdie, the designer of the Kauffman Center.

In the meantime, the art institute is launching a fifth-year, post-baccalaureate program in art education in early June. That program will have classes at the Warwick campus and its continuing education campus at 1801 N.W. Platte Road in Riverside.

The timetable for the art institute opening its new graduate program downtown is still being worked out, but would likely occur in 2016 or 2017.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter @kckansascity

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