Cultural Capitols & Capital


New Kansas Art Centers Improve Life and Economy

 Story by Fally Afani

A little art opening can go a long way when it’s in the right spot. Just ask anyone who’s ever attended an art show, watched a performance, gone out to dinner, tipped a busker, and then recommended an area to friends. Art dollars add up for a community, which is why creative arts districts are popping up in more cities across the state.

One of those arts district is in Johnson County, home to InterUrban ArtHouse, an organization working hard to keeping artists and their community financially stable. Currently, the facility is two buildings that offer a community center for art events and affordable workspaces for approximately 40 artists. A recent Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is helping InterUrban plan a new arts district in the Overland Park area.

That creative space can be difficult for artists to find on their own. InterUrban’s chief executive officer Angi Hejduk says the area was facing rapid real estate growth. Developers were buying up property, sending home, office and rental properties up. A good thing for the community, but a development that tends to push out smaller businesses such as individual artists.

Filling a Void

It wasn’t hard to see the need to coordinate on artist space in Johnson County, the prosperous Kansas region along the Missouri-Kansas border in Kansas City. A feasibility study by the Arts Council of Johnson County just over a decade ago showed a need for a centralized workshop where artists could create. InterUrban founder and artistic director Nicole Emanuel says that art events and collectives in neighboring Kansas City tended to pull attention and resources away from the Overland Park region and the artists who wanted to work there.

“There was a void for artists out here. Many artists out here are raising families. We’re out here for the school district, for the affordability of good public education,” Emanuel says. “We need something nearer to our homes.”

Keeping art spaces in a growing residential community can be tricky, but Emanuel notes the key is to keep artists visible. That’s where creative arts districts come in. “There is a need, on the part of communities that are healthy, to have a sense of place, a sense of space, and a sense of culture. Artists that are involved in performance, public art, and cultural expression validate the variety in our community,” Emanuel says. “When you have artist districts and cultural districts and innovative districts, you’re leveraging the proximity of creative people to form an interesting area where people can eat and live and play and have a sense of community.”

Countering the Soho Effect

Like InterUrban, Wichita’s Fisch Haus also provides a space for community art events. Organizer Elizabeth Stevenson has been hard at work in the Wichita arts district battling what is known as the “Soho Effect,” when an artistic area’s popularity makes it attractive, but too expensive for artists to work or rent in the area. “That’s not happening in Wichita because the Commerce Street Arts District is artist-owned,” she says. “Most of the buildings on Commerce Street offer art services. I think all of them are owned by the artists that work there or show there or host events there, so nobody’s going to get evicted by a landlord that wants to sell the building to a developer.”

Stevenson says one of the keys to keeping artists in the area, despite rising property values, is the diversity of the environment. “There’s a mixed use district, there’s a wood shop. It’s very industrial/residential/commercial,” she says, noting that Commerce Street is where authenticity matters. “I think sometimes arts districts that are created by the civic endeavor, I think people sense the artificiality of that, and it doesn’t ring true. The Commerce Street district is interesting. People understand that artists still live and work there, and not demonstrating glass blowing for tourists. There are real artists living on Commerce Street making art every day, and I think people really enjoy that. Other artists want to be around that; it’s stimulating. Art lovers want to be around that as well.”

The Creative Impulse

Creative arts districts, like the one envisioned by InterUrban in Johnson County, are now changing the way developers look at the area. “City planners and urban planners have been asking artist creatives to have a seat at the table for community development,” says Emanuel, noting that arts districts could be the antidote to cookie-cutter communities. “People are really sick of that. When things are cookie-cutter, they seek the artist and authenticity, and that’s representative of the diversity of that area.”

Across the state in Wichita, Stevenson knows this, and it’s what keeps her pushing forward. “It’s important for the community that we have art, the creative impulse,” she says. “We all need access to good design and beauty and music and creative thinking. That’s essentially the marker of a successful and productive community. I don’t think you can live without art.”

The Economic Impact

This year, Americans for the Arts released its Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 Study. This tracked the economic impact the arts have on various regions in Kansas. In the Kansas City Metropolitan area alone, the impact was $276 million. Other results for that region include:

  • A 40 percent increase in spending by audiences: $96.6 million spent in 2015
  • Patrons spent an average of $25.12 per person, per event
  • State and local government revenue generated by the industry was $24.6 million in 2015 (up from $21.8 million in 2010)
  • Area nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generated 8,970 full-time jobs in 2015
  • Source: Arts Council of Johnson County

 On a National Level

  • Arts and cultural organizations spent $63.8 billion in 2015
  • Arts audiences spent $102.5 billion in 2015
  • The total economic impact of the arts nationally: $166.3 billion
  • Arts and culture represented 4.6 million jobs in 2015
  • The arts generated $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal government in 2015


Department of Commerce Grants

The Kansas Department of Commerce supports art center initiatives such as Fisch Haus, InterUrban ArtHouse and others through the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (CAIC) and its series of grants and matching fund projects. For a full list of projects that have received funds—and used them to benefit the community—go online at



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