Kansas City artists Davin Watne (left) and Jorge Garcia AlmodÃ³var converse in AlmodÃ³var’s studio at the new Agnes Arts Studios at 1328 Agnes Avenue. (photo by Jim Barcus)
plug, formerly known as Plug Projects, is taking root in a burgeoning new art scene after surviving the ravages of COVID-19.
The artist-led curatorial collaboration moved last spring from West Bottoms to a former police training center at 1328 Agnes Ave., a few miles east of downtown. Plug’s new white cube gallery hosted its first exhibition this summer, “Standard Bearer,” an exhibition of paintings by Guatemalan-born artist Cesar Lopez. The paintings reflect the visual language of the flag as a signifier of collective identity, for nations or other groups.
The redeveloped building also includes artist studios, which creates a greater potential for cross-pollination between the gallery and resident artists.
CJ Charbonneau, writer and artistic curator who sits on the plug board and regularly contributes to “KC Studio,” said she and her colleagues “couldn’t be more thrilled” with their new space. âIt’s a smaller footprint than what we had before, but we didn’t have access to all the parking lots and common areas that we have now. We have an outdoor space. We have the potential to develop later if we want to. We are trying to make it known that we are here.
plug’s move embodies the nomadic nature of artists and places of art. Time and time again, artists pitch their tents in sandy neighborhoods with low rents. Many find success there, but their success often leads to gentrification and rent increases, forcing them to move again. I am thinking of the Crossroads Arts District. In addition, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on artists and venues looking for a suitable, affordable and accessible space.
COVID-19 forced Plug to close its West Bottoms gallery in the spring of 2020. âNo one knew when businesses might reopen, and fundraising seemed almost impossible,â Charbonneau said. “We had a lot of conversations about whether this project was still viable.”
But plug, founded in 2011, had a mission to maintain.
âArtist and DIY collectives are rapidly disappearing from the Kansas City area,â plug says on its website. âFor this reason, opportunities for artists to exhibit their work outside restrictive commercial galleries are becoming increasingly rare. By providing access to exhibition space, collaborative opportunities and innovative programming for creatives, free of charge and regardless of commercial considerations, plug seeks to help revitalize the arts ecosystem both locally and regionally. .
Fortunately, her former owner in West Bottoms let the remainder of her lease pass, giving her time to chart a new course. It converted to a non-profit organization and launched a successful fundraising campaign, which raised funds for new spaces and new programming.
Charbonneau heard about the available space on Avenue Agnes from Davin Watne, an artist who has set up his studio in the redeveloped building.
âplug has a very good reputation for showing contemporary art in Kansas City,â said Watne, who teaches art classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and runs the UMKC Art Gallery. “Who better to move into this space?” It’s not as big in terms of square footage as they used to have, but the ceiling is much higher. It’s a unique type of space that they can have a lot of control over.
Watne is a building investor, which was acquired in 2019 by Centerfield Asset Properties. The ownership group includes Paul Migliazzo, who first embarked on artist studio development with Kunstraum KC, which offered affordable studios in a renovated building on 15th and Oak streets for about 10 years. Migliazzo has also developed artist studios in a renovated building on 32nd Street and Gillham Road.
âWe thought it would be a great idea to not only provide a space that could help our tenants exhibit their work, but also bring in artists from other communities.â
Paul Migliazzo, studio developer and building co-owner
âThis is our first foray into creating a true gallery space,â said Migliazzo. âWe didn’t plan a gallery until they (plug) expressed some interest. We thought it would be a great idea to not only provide a space that could help our tenants exhibit their work, but also bring in artists from other communities. We are delighted to have them.
The building is also home to Agnes Arts, where artists can rent studios and collaborate.
âIt was all done with a lot of comments and contributions from Kansas City artists, including myself,â Watne said. âArtists want a community. They want to be able to descend into their space and see people they know, and organize events that are coordinated, like open studio events. The space also includes a kitchen, a documentation wall, a room where they can meet clients and a general meeting space.
The pandemic has pushed back the building’s redevelopment schedule, Migliazzo said. âBecause there were so many questions about how we would be able to manage a shared space like this, we held back a lot and waited to see how we thought post-COVID activities would resume. “
Connection with Agnes Arts is optional for artists who rent space in the building. âWe put Agnes Arts together in collaboration or collectively,â said Migliazzo. âIt is not intended to be a management entity. It’s just a place where artists can come together and share not only space, but resources and anything that helps to strengthen this community of artists.
Charbonneau said plug will benefit from âthe community aspect of having artists around us. I think it’s going to be a very good thing.
Jorge Garcia AlmodÃ³var, artist and owner of JGA Fine Art Services, moved his operations from the River Market district to the old police building in November 2020.
AlmodÃ³var said he enjoyed the energy and vibe of the River Market neighborhood, but the pandemic changed everything.
âThings slowed down considerably and I wasn’t sure where things were going in 2021. I needed to prepare myself. Part of the plan was to downsize, in terms of space and business. “
This led AlmodÃ³var to the old police building. âI was the very first tenant. The building was still under construction. It was taking a chance, but I knew Paul, and he has a very good track record. I knew there were good plans in place.
JGA provides services such as shipping and installation of works of art. During âoff-peak hoursâ AlmodÃ³var uses his new space as an art studio. He said the rent was “fair,” the same per square foot he paid at River Market. He saves money by renting half of the space he occupied at his previous location – 500 square feet versus 1,000 square feet.
âI operate my business independently, but I enjoy and benefit from the interactions with other artists who have rented studios in the building,â AlmodÃ³var said. âIt turned out to be a good experience. I look forward to the growth of the space.
Most of the 50,000 square foot building has yet to be redeveloped, Migliazzo said. He wants to see affordable studio space for artists “to fit into other artist-centric ideas.” There is nothing set in stone as to how much of this space will be used. There is no big plan. We are just trying to meet market demand without expanding too far.
Watne hopes the rents collected from companies moving into the building will help limit rents for art studios.
âIt’s a huge space,â Watne said. âHe could manage something the size of a large architectural firm or a large engineering firm. We are open to everything, but we are not out yet and shake the bushes. We focus on Agnes Arts and plug.