By MeLinda Schnyder - Photography by Madison Ham
Two years away from its 100th birthday, Wichita’s oldest visual arts organization seems young again. This month, the new $20 million Mark Arts, Mary R. Koch Arts Center opens on the southwest corner of 13th Street and Rock Road in east Wichita. First known as the Wichita Art Association, then The Wichita Center for the Arts for three decades, the privately funded nonprofit also renamed itself in 2016.
“The new name is twofold,” said Katy Dorrah, executive director. “First, it honors Mary R. Koch, a beloved benefactor. And it also refers to the maker’s mark that artists leave on their work, whether it’s a brushstroke, potter’s stamp or signature.”
Even with a new name and new legs, the organization’s core mission remains the same: to be a vibrant arts hub in Wichita and the region by providing opportunities to appreciate and create art in an atmosphere of lifelong learning. The art center’s 50-year-old building needed costly repairs and upgrades in useful space and technology for studios where classes are taught. Mark Arts is one of the region’s few arts centers that includes a school, offering classes and workshops for ages ranging from preschool through retirement age.
The Charles Koch Foundation donated 17 acres at the city’s fifth-busiest intersection – land valued at $4.5 million – and The Fred and Mary Koch Foundation made a lead gift of $2 million along with the promise of another $4 million if the community could match it.
“Although it was not easy, the bold vision from our board and the leadership of a strong capital campaign committee, led by Bonnie Bing Honeyman and Mike Michaelis, helped us tell our story and engage the community,” Dorrah said. “Key stakeholders, donors and partners were so supportive, and we were able to build the momentum we needed to proceed with construction three months ahead of schedule. We are thrilled to have finished the building on schedule and on budget.”
Gallery admission will remain free at the prairie-style center, which officially opens Jan. 8 after unveiling festivities on Jan. 6 that include a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition to the 5,000-square-foot gallery that will host national exhibits, there are nine studios, an event center, commons areas for visitors and students, an outdoor sculpture garden and green space for art fairs, special events and plein air classes.
Dorrah, who joined Mark Arts in 2014 after two decades with the United Way of the Plains and is a former president of Junior League of Wichita, said donors, board members and staff want the public to consider this their arts center.
“This building is for you. Everything we do is about elevating the arts and inspiring the artist in all of us,” she said.
VIP: Why does Mark Arts exist?
KD: Mark Arts has a rich history in Wichita, dating to its inception in 1920 as the Wichita Art Association. At that time, Wichita itself was only 50 years old. It was a city of about 100,000 people, and many citizens felt it was time that there be a dedicated organization for highlighting the visual arts in the community. Previously, access to the arts was limited and not really available to the general public.
Our first permanent location was 401 N. Belmont Ave. in College Hill. We were there from 1942 to 1965, when we moved to 9112 E. Central. In 1990, we became The Wichita Center for the Arts. In 2016, we became Mark Arts, the Mary R. Koch Arts Center.
Mary Koch was a skilled artist and loyal benefactor. In fact, Mark Arts owes so much to a trio of visionary women — Mary Koch, Olive Ann Beech and Gladys Wiedemann — so we are absolutely thrilled that all three will be honored in our new building. The Mary R. Koch Arts Center features the Gladys and Karl T. Wiedemann Gallery and the Olive Ann Beech Great Hall Lobby.
VIP: Besides transforming the corner of 13th and Rock with a stunning new building, what can we expect to be different with the new location?
KD: Where do I start? We have three new art studios – one for the culinary arts, one for the digital arts and a dedicated studio for children. We also have a modern and beautiful great hall that was built specifically for events and includes a catering kitchen, green room and cutting-edge technology.
VIP: What does Mark Arts offer?
KD: There are three main components of the new Mark Arts: the School of Creativity, the gallery and the great hall.
School of Creativity: In our School of Creativity, individuals may sign up for a one-time workshop or delve more deeply into their study by enrolling in a class that meets weekly. Our students of all ages and skill levels come back again and again because of the supportive environment and expert instruction.
We offer instruction in the following disciplines: culinary, dance, digital arts, drama, drawing, enameling, jewelry, metalsmithing, painting, photography, printmaking, pottery and sculpture.
Our commons, complete with rotating gallery space for two-dimensional and three-dimensional works, is designed to be a hub and a hangout for Mark Arts students and visitors.
We also offer private parties that can incorporate painting, cooking, sculpting and more. For example, birthday parties, bridal showers, team-building events and employee and client appreciation events.
Gallery: Visitors will find art from our study collection and other exhibitions throughout Mark Arts, but the jewel of the building is the 5,000-square-foot gallery, home to our national juried exhibitions and more. Make Mark Arts your first stop when you are looking for stunning, original artwork to expand your collection and your point of view.
Great Hall: The beautiful new Mark Arts provides a cultural experience unlike anything in Wichita. Mark Arts has an open catering policy, and our event rentals manager will work with clients every step of the way to make sure you have a smooth and superior experience, whether they are planning a business meeting for 20 or a special event for several hundred people. The great hall has a capacity of 350, but when it is rented with other spaces, Mark Arts can accommodate up to 600 guests.
VIP: Do you have a permanent art collection?
KD: We do not have a permanent art collection but do have a study collection. Particular highlights include the work of the famed Prairie Print Makers and our enamel collection. You would be hard-pressed to find another institution with the depth and breadth we have in these two areas.
VIP: How many people visit Mark Arts?
KD: We serve about 10,000 people a year and we certainly expect that to grow in the new building. Our audience for classes is local, but we do have a regional draw for our exhibitions, for our Artisan Academy workshops and for the Eastern Kansas Scholastic Art Awards for middle schoolers and high schoolers in 70 eastern Kansas counties.
VIP: How large is your organization?
KD: We have a full-time staff of seven, several part-time employees and 40 instructors. Mark Arts is governed by a 25-member Board of Trustees. We are also lucky to have the support of a strong network of volunteers, including the 100-plus members of Designing Women. This group organizes Holiday Tables, a beloved fundraising event that celebrated its 50th year in 2017.
We have more than 400 member families. Memberships start at $75 and include discounts on classes, invitation to member receptions and more. We also have a patron group called the Vault for members who give $500 or more annually. Vault members receive invitations to exclusive events and special art-related opportunities.
VIP: How is Mark Arts funded?
KD: As a privately funded nonprofit, we generate revenue through tuition, art sales, event rentals, memberships, special events, grants, endowment earnings and other gifts.
VIP: The Kochs were instrumental in making this happen, though you also raised a large sum from the community. Who were some of the major contributors?
KD: While the Koch family was instrumental the building of the new Mark Arts, more than 200 individuals and organizations supported this project. Among the most significant were the Clark Family Partnership, Cox Communications, Drs. Pat and Sylvia Do, Intrust Bank, Caesar and Michelle Naftzger, Bill and Mary Lynn Oliver, I. A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation, Dwane & Velma Wallace Foundation and the K. T. Wiedemann Foundation.
VIP: Do you have a favorite part or feature of the new building yet?
KD: There are so many spots that are just stunning, but my favorite is the space at the end of our new youth gallery dedicated to exhibiting student art. To one side is our main art gallery, and to the other is our new great hall for events. And just out the window is a stunning sculpture garden and artistic oasis for our entire community.
VIP: What fundraisers do you have planned for 2018?
KD: Versus: A Live Art Battle will take place Sept. 21 and Holiday Tables will be Nov. 9-11.
Versus is an event like no other. It is an artistic smackdown, and artists have 20 minutes to create live on stage, with the guests voting on their favorites to advance to the final round. It is just a fantastic way to showcase what we do here – encouraging people to appreciate and create art. Versus also has a student competition, and each high school student who participates receives a cash scholarship.
Holiday Tables highlights the creativity of our area’s best hosts and hostesses, who create elaborate and exquisite tablescapes as inspiration for the holiday season. Individuals, businesses and nonprofits contribute. This event has amazing longevity for Wichita. It just celebrated its 50th year in 2017.
VIP: How can readers support Mark Arts?
KD: Take a class, become a member, buy art or book your next special event! More information is available at markartsks.com.