- Melissa RJ Mills
Crossroads to Stockyard, Kansas City’s neighborhoods boast a number of buzzing contemporary art galleries and spaces, complemented by regular events such as the First Friday art walks. We take a closer look at KC’s lively art scene and pick out ten of the best independent galleries in the city, from the experimental PLUG Projects to the much-loved Blue Gallery.
In business for over 13 years, Blue Gallery is a popular and respected fixture on Kansas City’s lively art scene. Its underlying philosophy reminds visitors of the owner Kelly Kuhn’s genuine commitment to the arts: she treats art and beauty as fundamental elements of life and instills this mood into her exhibition space. Blue Gallery hosts a number of rotating group exhibitions each year while priding itself on several long-standing collaborations with acclaimed local artists, such as painter and light installation artist Lisa Lala, whose work demonstrates an inherent tension between sharpness and vagueness, and artist collective KOLLABS, whose mixed media creations question the relationship between human and nature. Located in KC’s Crossroads arts district, Blue Gallery joins a number of other art spaces in the area and makes for a great spot to begin an artsy afternoon walk.
Blue Gallery, 118 Southwest Blvd, Kansas City, MO, USA, +1 816 527 0823
Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
A lasting commitment to education and community outreach has defined the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center since its establishment in 1985. Home to local, US-based, and international artists with varying degrees of experience, the gallery features five exhibition rooms, where sculpture, painting, and installation art are equally welcome. Some of the most recent exhibitions have included the ethereal, hand-woven textiles by Kansas City native Debbie Barrett-Jones, and the mixed media works of Chinese artist Lei Yan. An active participant in KC’s First Friday art walks in the Crossroads district, the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center is a popular, respected member of the local arts community and a must-see art space in KC.
Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave, Kansas City, MO, USA, +1 816 474 1919
Established by a collaborative of five local artists, PLUG Projects is a free-thinking, forward-looking gem on KC’s contemporary art scene. The gallery’s dedication to the local arts community is what drives the enterprise; regular and moderated Critique Nights, for example, allow artists and arts professionals to exchange ideas on selected works of art, and exhibitions are regularly accompanied by further side projects to elucidate the works on show. Recent exhibitions at PLUG Projects have included All Fun & Games by Oklahoma-based Matthew Kaney, who questions contemporary culture by bridging the gap between computer technology and art, and We Are Not This Body, the stunning geometric collages and sculptures by KC native Scott Dickson which search for a sense of place and transcendence in their voyage across American nature.
PLUG Projects, 1613 Genessee St., Kansas City, MO, USA, +1 646 535 7584
H&R Block Artspace
Benefitting from its location in and relation to the Kansas City Art Institute, the H&R Block Artspace began operations in 1999, and has since motivated to develop a high-quality exhibition space in the city. Showing the work of graduating students, alumni, and staff in addition to established artists, the space has hosted over 100 shows since its inception, and is home to an annual BFA exhibit. The building’s west wall is a canvas for the Artspace Project Wall – a public ‘gallery’ that allows various artists from the region and further afield to display their projects.
Displaying works by local and international artists, Haw Contemporary attempts to bring a wide perspective on art to its Stockyard district location and does it with flair and panache despite its young age (it was founded in September 2013). Bill Haw, the owner, assures that in picking out the gallery’s artists and works, ‘it’s all about finding what’s great, and what fits’ – he does not limit the art space to one given genre or style. Indeed, the gallery’s comprehensive outlook on culture and art is attested by its diverse activities; Laura Berman’s recent exhibit, for example, featured the local artist’s intensely colored prints and was complemented by a fashion show by Finefolk, a KC-based clothing shop. Haw Contemporary is only two blocks away from PLUG Projects: the two are best visited during the same culture-filled afternoon in Kansas City.
Haw Contemporary, 1600 Liberty St,, Kansas City, MO, USA, +1 816 842 4415
An unofficial non-profit art space, Subterranean was established by Ayla Rexroth in 2010 and it finds itself in the basement of her apartment block. With five major exhibitions per year, the gallery complements its schedule with other events that are free for the public to attend, from film screenings to the signature Hot Tub Lectures in 2012 and creative writing classes. Although no longer in Rexroth’s hands – she is currently studying for an MFA in New York – the gallery still maintains its alternative, underground character, catering to an eclectic crowd. Subterranean recently hosted its first-ever group show, but usually focuses in-depth on creatives such as installation artist Amanda Martinez and video and photography work by Chicago-based Robert Heishman. The gallery is open on event nights and by appointment.
Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art
With almost 30 years of experience behind its belt, Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art is one of the most respected players on the KC art scene. Its aim has always been to present high-quality works by a range of artists, including emerging and well-established names. Nebraska-based Japanese artist Jun Kaneko has exhibited here twice in recent years, but Sherry Leedy’s roster includes many other, interesting artists, from the complex ceramic creations of Chris Gustin to the textured paintings of Julia Fernandez-Pol. The gallery participates actively in Kansas City’s First Fridays, and opens its doors to the public, presenting new exhibitions and projects, on every first Friday of the month.
Kansas City Artists Coalition
The Kansas City Artists Coalition, or KCAC for short, is run by and for artists. Their mission is to promote the visual arts in Missouri and beyond while nurturing the professional opportunities available to local creatives. Since 1976, the coalition has been organizing events, residencies, and exhibitions of a creatively free, experimental nature, spanning university undergrad shows, Lebanese artist Helen Zughaib and Kansas-based printmaker and sculptor Shawn Bitters. The sheer openness of the organization makes it an invaluable presence in KC and Missouri, and the definitive art space in the city to get to grips with the local culture climate.
KCAC, 201 Wyandotte Street, Kansas City, MO, USA, +1 816 421 5222