Published May 13th, 2022 at 6:00 AM
Kansas City’s supply of artist studios leavened a bit more with the recent addition of the Wonder Studios, an offering of the Kansas City Artists Coalition (KCAC).
The Wonder Studios took root around the beginning of this year in the lower level of the Wonder Shops and Flats, located at 30th Street and Troost Avenue. Originally a bakery that opened in 1915, the building was redeveloped by Kansas City-based Exact Partners.
Troost Avenue long has represented a demarcation line between white and Black Kansas City, with Black Kansas Citians relegated to the east side of that line. It’s a problem that continues to fester at many levels. But after languishing for decades, the Troost Avenue Corridor is blossoming with redevelopment projects that bridge the racial divide.
The arts play a significant role in this renaissance, on Troost as well as other areas of the urban core. Exact Partners also redeveloped the Acme Building at 3200 Gillham Road, about half a mile southwest of the Wonder Shops and Flats. Built in 1925, the Acme Building today includes apartments, KCAC’s headquarters and another batch of artist studios.
At a Jan. 26 ribbon-cutting ceremony for Wonder Studios, KCAC Executive Director Marissa Starke thanked Exact Partners, “who invited us here to continue the collaboration and support of artists and arts in our community. When they offered this space to us, we quickly jumped on it, to continue providing safe, affordable and accessible studios.”
Caleb Buland, a partner with Exact Partners, said that “as architects and developers, it’s important to include creative and vibrant uses, designs and partners in every project. We know this to be especially true in urban renewal work. The bright backgrounds and workspaces of a gallery lend to preserving the open warehouse or mercantile spaces from past eras.”
Buland said that “in the case of The Wonder and Acme, we sought out KCAC to bring a spark to the walkable neighborhoods we are working toward building. In addition to being a creative partner, events like art and wine walks, gallery openings, studio group lessons and a general sense of making are tremendously valuable to our goal — happy buildings full of happy people.”
The Wonder Studios represent the latest example of ongoing growth in this sphere. Other recent entries include the Agnes Arts studios, located in a former police training facility building at 1328 Agnes Ave., a couple of miles east of downtown.
The 10 studios of Wonder Studios feature concrete floors and 20-foot ceilings, and range in size from 100 to 200 square feet. Tenants have unlimited, 24-hour access with their own keys. Spaces start at $250 a month with a six-month minimum commitment. The rental fee includes gas, water, electricity, Internet access, trash pickup, a shared bathroom and a large industrial sink. All KCAC studio tenants receive a KCAC annual membership as part of their studio deposit.
KCAC informational literature states that being within walking distance of restaurants, coffee shops and retail spaces provides opportunities for Wonder Studios tenants to host open studio nights.
Artists who have established themselves at Wonder Studios include Megan Ganey.
“This is my first studio,” Ganey said. “I had a home studio that I was working out of and was quickly outgrowing, so this is great timing.”
Ganey said she needed more space to work on art she was creating for the Parade of Hearts, a display of heart statues around the Kansas City area to support tourism, local businesses, early childcare and other initiatives.
Ganey’s relationship with KCAC goes back to a show she put on in 2019.
“I wanted to continue that relationship,” she said. “Through that connection, I found out about these spaces. I’ve been in Kansas City for eight years and have slowly built my artist practice. I recently decided to pursue that full time, so having a studio really helps with that.”
Artist Jean McGuire, who also was working on Parade of Hearts projects, moved from an Acme Building studio to the Wonder Studios because she needed more space.
“I like the airiness,” she said. “There are very high ceilings and lots of open space. It feels good; it has good energy.”
Artist Erika Baker moved into her Wonder Studios space in late January. “When the pandemic started, I lost all my jobs,” she said. “I decided to create a small business.”
Baker’s business, Desert Pear, creates and sells botanical jewelry and home décor items. She plans to branch out into wall art.
“I was fortunate that my business grew quite a bit,” Baker said. “It became apparent that functioning out of my house was no longer going to be viable, so I decided I needed an outside studio space.”
Donna Mandelbaum, a KCAC board member and communications director for KC Streetcar, said KCAC “listened to the artist community when they said they wanted affordable, safe studio space, not only at 3200 Gillham Road but here on Troost. It’s wonderful for the artist community to be able to create and grow their profession in Kansas City.”
Brandon Krekel, engagement manager with the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said: “It’s all about making a vibrant region, and it kind of begins with the arts. We partner with a lot of nonprofits in the arts. Marissa and the Kansas City Artists Coalition are doing amazing things.”
Krekel, who grew up in Blue Springs and lives downtown, also likes to see older buildings redeveloped for new purposes.
“The new developments are nice, but they don’t have the character these old buildings have,” Krekel said. “This is almost an art form itself. They redeveloped it and made it into something useful. It means people want to invest in the community.”
Across the street from Wonder Studios stands Ruby Jean’s Juicery, another contributor to Troost Avenue redevelopment. The menu here features custom juices, smoothies and shakes. Founder Chris Goode named the shop after his grandmother, who died after battling diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure. On Ruby Jean’s website, it states that the grandmother’s ailments were largely attributed to a diet centered on traditional fried “soul food” dishes, with heavy helpings of butter and salt.
Goode thinks the Wonder Studios will juice up more economic development along Troost.
“Any additional traffic engagement with the community will be a beautiful asset to our entire area,” said Goode, who catered the Wonder Studios’ ribbon-cutting event. “There’s a big artistic community in Kansas City, and to extend that to the east side is a beautiful thing, with our proximity being so close.”
Flatland contributor Julius A. Karash is a Kansas City-based writer.