When Nicole Emanuel moved from the Crossroads to the suburbs, she couldn’t find a community of artists, so she built one herself.
Founder of InterUrban ArtHouse, at 8001 Conser St. in Overland Park, she and operating officer Angi Hejduk are a two-person team building something bigger than themselves. The nonprofit operates public art programs, as well as grants artists the space and support they need to be part of the economy. InterUrban ArtHouse is within $7,000 of purchasing a former U.S. Postal Service sorting facility debt-free by the end of this month to renovate as a community-wide cultural arts center.
Q. How did you become the founder of an artists’ organization?
A. I took a survey of artists, galleries, arts councils – as many organizations as I could – and it was immediately clear there was a need for a hub for the arts in this area. So we are making a home and a community for artists who are part of the cottage industry. Most of our studio artists are moms who need a place to disengage from their responsibilities at home to work. Artists need each other’s skills and interactivity with neighbors. It’s truly a village sensibility.
Q. Why Overland Park?
A. We are located here because we found a building here, but we serve people as far away as Lawrence, east Kansas City and North Kansas City, and all ages from young children to retirees. I consider us a regional partner in a creative ecosystem, one of many hubs connected through a web of commonality. It’s a place to land outside of the city and reach a constituent base here that needed us.
Q. What was the need?
A. The first thing was permanent space. It’s the SoHo effect: When artists move into an area and start to enliven it with activity, cafes and shops move in and people start walking around, then investors come in and the artists can’t afford to stay there anymore.
That is happening right now in downtown Overland Park. It’s this creative district of hairdressers, artisanal food shops, designers, textile shops, photographers and artists, but developers are coming in and suddenly we’ll have 500 new households. We’re going from this quiet, funky, little Main Street town to something much denser. I want that funkalicious sensibility to stay, to help these creatives survive the transition.
Q. Who are InterUrban ArtHouse’s studio artists?
A. We have 14 artists ranging from graphic and textile artists, to a landscape architect, a writer-historian, a spoken-word poet and a dancer. We actually have a vacancy coming up, which is unusual. We were full within the first 24 hours of renting space, so there wasn’t really a process for selection, but there will be an application process and portfolio submission when we move and expand.
Q. What do you have going on for the public?
A. Coming up, we’re going to be at Fall Fest, Sept. 24. There will be a stage with hip hop dancers, aerialists, fashion, a jazz band, a world music band and classical Indian dancing.
We always welcome the public on Third Fridays to see our featured artists’ exhibits, which change every two months, and we regularly host classes and events in our open area.
Q. What are your biggest community contributions?
A. We run five programs. ArtSmart is our oldest and runs in eight schools. We bring in local artists and pay them a fair wage to teach and mentor students. ArtMatters is artists working with other artists to develop their skills. ArtHeals offers a year of art therapy to homeless girls in shelters, the elderly and military with PTSD. ArtWorks is where we bring in professionals, like lawyers and accountants, to teach practical skills for small businesses. ArtsConnect is anything that connects the community with art, such as Third Fridays, performances at Fall Fest and Morning Brew, where artists talk about what they’re working on. We also partner with organizations like the public library and Jewish Community Center to curate exhibits.
Q. Who coordinates all the programs?
A. You’re looking at the team. Angi slept last week; I’ll sleep this week.
We need volunteers and lots of them. We’re writing a job description right now for someone to help organize volunteers in 12 primary responsibilities. If anyone is interested in helping, whether it’s after-school programs or dance classes, or support in any way, we sure could use them.
Q. What do you see as your role now and in the future?
A. I have this skill set in public art and a strong sense of responsibility. I’ve done this type of work since the ’80s in other cities, like San Francisco and Minneapolis. If I feel I can represent not just myself but certain people in the same situation, I should. And if someone encourages me, I’m all in.
Creative placemaking is part of my art, but I’m also a painter and sculptor. I have an ongoing artist fellowship. My goal is to retreat to part time as the founder and not the executive director. I want to give the opportunity to others to take the rein. I never intended to stay permanently in this position. I know my limits.
Q. What is your plan for expansion?
A. We have been in contract negotiation to buy the federal post office across the street. It is a 10,000-square-foot building that was a sorting facility, but they’re retreating to the southeast corner as just retail. We want to build out studios, exhibition space, class space, a cafe and a gigantic front porch on the former loading dock. That’s Phase 1 that we anticipate opening in the first quarter of next year.
Q. What is your ultimate goal for InterUrban ArtHouse?
A. To be a place of learning, where art is made and purchased, and also just a place to hang around. It will be a particularly beautiful property with meaning. There will be public art projects, events, music storytelling. I want to create this place for other imaginations to take root and do what they want.
Sitting here making this thing happen, I can’t foresee all that it will become. I hope kids start new programs that I can’t even imagine. I drove by this empty building and in my mind clearly saw something big. The idea has grown over the years, and who knows how big it will be in five more years? It will be cultural magic. I love that.