Youth arts program gets a new home in Independence

Tyler Marek’s photographs are now in showroom condition.

In recent weeks, Tyler, a client of Jackson County’s MyARTS youth program, has been busy in the wet darkroom at the program’s new headquarters in a former Independence car dealership.

Officials dedicated the renovated building only in November, but already Tyler has seen his images displayed and sold in the former dealership showroom.

It’s a full-throttle feeling, he said.

“That’s exciting, to see the process through from idea to completion, from making the image, framing it and then seeing it sold,” said Tyler, 17, a senior at William Chrisman High School.

That kind of self-empowerment is the idea, program officials say.

MyARTS has been operating since 2006. Funded in part by the county’s anti-drug tax, the apprenticeship program offers 15- through 19-year-olds the tools and space to express themselves in positive ways.

For years it has operated out of smaller space at 1522 Holmes St., which the program still uses. But supporters of the new facility, which underwent a $1.1 million renovation, see at least two advantages in the Independence location.

First, it makes the program more accessible for young people in eastern Jackson County. And it offers an imaginative re-use of the former dealership just north of the old Independence Square, which that city’s leaders long have been working to revitalize.

For Tyler, the first reason is the crucial one.

Where previously he had to carpool to the program’s Holmes Street space, he now can walk to the new MyARTS facility from William Chrisman.

Such convenience was one reason Dennis Waits, an Independence lawyer and Jackson County legislator, supported the new facility.

“We had some kids out in eastern Jackson County, such as in Fort Osage, who were involved in MyARTS, but that was quite a drive,” Waits said.

Recently the MyARTS program merged with Sentenced to the Arts, through which juveniles brought before the Jackson County Family Court for various offenses could gain access to arts education when it is deemed appropriate. But many current MyARTS students are enrolled simply as part of the program’s prevention component, said Angela Gravino, anti-drug program administrator for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office.

“We try to sell school officials on how important it is for young people to be involved in activities after school,” she said.

Individual rooms in the Independence building are devoted to specific pursuits, including a kiln room for ceramics enthusiasts. But the bulk of the building’s hangar-type space has been retained, promoting community and collaboration, said Jade Osborne, MyARTS lead artist mentor.

“There’s a different kind of peer pressure created here,” she said. “It’s an environment for young people where it’s OK to be arts-connected.

“It’s the culture here, not the subculture.”

Momentum for the renovation goes back to at least 1998, when Independence purchased the building with federal community development block grant funds.

In 2008, Jackson County set aside up to $175,000 to remediate the facility and remove any hazardous materials, and Independence agreed to make it available for purchase for $1.

Independence officials see an opportunity to drive more pedestrian traffic near Independence Square. Last year the Independence City Council approved $67,500 in federal grant funding to finance a walkway along MyARTS’ south wall.

When visiting the city’s farmers market on warm-weather Wednesdays and Saturdays, pedestrians will use the walkway while headed to the city’s transit center and perhaps consider a visit to the MyARTS showroom.

The Independence building will be fully operational this week, Gravino said.

She also has workshops planned every month for adults and children.