If you want to get Nicole Emanuel worked up, string the words “boring” and “Overland Park” together within her earshot.
The founder and executive director of InterUrban ArtHouse has made it her mission to educate people that the city’s colorful history has helped pave the way for artists today.
“I want to combat a stereotype about this area that it’s all beige and vapid,” Emanuel says. “I work with people of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and to me that’s critically important.”
As is the location of the organization, with its historic downtown, situated on the Santa Fe Trail. The Steam Electric Interurban Railroad Line ran from the old town to the urban core, and it was that line that inspired the group’s name.
“There have been studies that mapped arts activity in the metro area, and there’s a swath of all kinds of arts organizations along the line, from downtown, through the Crossroads, around the Nelson-Atkins, out here,” she says. “We named it InterUrban because we wanted to be part of a system that’s all connected.”
The mission of the nonprofit is to create a place where artists of all types can work and prosper. Emanuel and other supporters of the group, which now has a presence in a small storefront at 7927 Floyd St., have plans to expand at 8010 Conser St. State funding of $50,000, along with more from the National Endowment for the Arts, are earmarked to help create a new cultural hub in the downtown area.
An existing U.S. Post Office, which has downsized, will be one of many tenants committed to the space. More than 35,000 square feet is designated for artist studios, stores, and schools. A sculpture garden is integral to the plans, as well. Emanuel ticks off a list of tenants already .
“I want the very best people involved in designing every part of this building,” Emanuel says. Her one employee, Nick Carswell, is an example of the type of people who find the organization valuable. His production company is called Silly Goose and his band, Carswell and Hope, has an album out.
“He’s just an amazing musician,” she says, then pauses to laugh. “I know he’ll be discovered, but I hope it’s not until we’re really going.”
Emanuel’s artistic career started in San Francisco in the 1980s, where she was a community muralist before moving here.
“Someone once described my art as a fine line between Sesame Street and Goya,” says Emanuel, who lives in Overland Park with her husband and two school-aged children. “ I just loved that.”
“We moved from the urban core to the suburbs,” she says. “I found myself doing art in my basement near my washer and dryer, and I was freaked out a little.”
She started looking for a studio space and came up empty. That’s when her background working for nonprofit art groups kicked in.
“I knew I wasn’t alone,” she says. “We did a survey and artists told us they wanted five things, along with an affordable place to work.”
InterUrban now touches on all five points: art education for children, entrepreneurial training, a place to gather as a community, a connection to the community and a place to use art for the common good.
“We paired with existing programs in areas like ArtHeals. We go for the partners with the most successful existing programs, so we’re not reinventing things.” Organizations that pull together independent artists are vital to the health of a community, she says.
“From culinary arts to fashion, photography, printmaking, and writing, we have a lot of people involved in the arts here,” Emanuel says.
“Now, I’m no longer the lonely artist in the suburbs. I walk down the street and I know so many people.”