Whether it’s music wafting through warm summer air, murals chalked on the sidewalk or colorful additions to an abandoned building, Northeast Arts Kansas City has brought culture and art to the area for 25 years. Now, the nonprofit is looking for help to carry on with their work.
The group’s goal is to provide, enhance, fund, market and support cultural events, which brings visual and performance arts to the Northeast community. Since its creation in August of 1996, the organization has been able to carry out this mission through the many free events and programs they have sponsored.
One of their most popular annual events is the Summer Dusk Concert Series, which has been a success since the early days of Northeast Arts. Since the beginning, Northeast Arts has set out to host at least five concerts each summer. Board member Scott Hobart helps find the bands to play at these concerts, often musicians who are local to the area, and some who even live in the Northeast.
The organization is proud to bring its second longest standing program to Historic Northeast, Cultures Without Borders. This event started back in 1997 and ran for 10 years as a traveling art exhibit composed of regional artists’ works. It later evolved into a single month of art at one location organized as a juried pop-up event at the Economic Growth Gallery (EGG), operated by the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
The nonprofit is no stranger to partnering with other organizations. In late 2006, they combined programs with a start-up volunteer organization called Mosaic Brain that works with underserved youth in the area. By incorporating their Youth Art programs with Northeast Arts, they were able to expand and increase their programs to youth and young adults.
Over the years, Northeast Arts has lended a hand to neighborhood beautification programs. In 2011 and 2012 the organization had partnerships with the Kansas City Neighborhood and Housing Services preservation program to paint the window boards on dangerous buildings in the Northeast community. The three properties, all apartment buildings, were at 3512 and 3516 Independence Ave., and 7th and Indiana. Local artists and neighborhood volunteers painted individual panels for City staff who installed them onto the buildings.
The nonprofit also helps run a community garden at 3916 St. John Ave., which was first planted in 2006. What started as an empty Land Trust lot has been developed into 38 raised beds, three rain gardens, a fish pond, an orchard, two rain collection towers, and a community entertainment and cookout space.
A defining act of community, Northeast Arts typically hosts their annual Chalk Walk Festival at Concourse Park. In years past, the event has included live music, puppets, kites and neighborhood associations, with over 100 volunteer chalk artists. Neighbors are invited out to observe or help create art around the fountain.
Last year, COVID-19 put a damper on this annual festival. Due to social distancing guidelines, the event was transformed into “Chalk Your Walk,” in which the community was able to participate in the event from their own home.
In 2020, neighbors signed up for the event online, then Northeast Arts delivered chalk to their households to chalk driveways and sidewalks.
Chalk Your Walk is intended to continue this year. Sign ups will be on the Northeast Arts website, neartskc.org from April 28 to May 5. The group will be dropping chalk off on May 6 in the hopes that people use the weekend to chalk their walks and send pictures of their work via @northeartskc on Facebook Messenger, or by emailing the pictures to them at NorthEastArtsKC@aol.com. The pictures will then be posted on the group’s Facebook page for voting. The artwork with the most “likes” will win a $100 giftcard.
“About 70 people participated in last year’s event, but this year we are buying chalk in bulk so we are opening it up to a lot more people,” Northeast Arts President Marianne Rowse said. “We would like to have about 120 people this year.”
COVID-19 has not only impacted the way in which the group runs their events, but also the funding they typically receive as a nonprofit. Usually, the organization is mostly funded by Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund (NTDF) grants, which is funded by the city’s tourism industry. Due to the pandemic, tourism is down in Kansas City, meaning most of the funding Northeast Arts relies on is no longer available to them.
In order to fund the event, the organization is asking for the community’s help. Currently, the goal is to raise around $1,000 to supply chalk for the event. The nonprofit started a GoFundMe platform to aid them in this process.
“We have a little money in the bank, but we’re kind of living off the fat of a couple years ago,” Northeast Arts Treasurer Rebecca Koop said. “We’re applying for some other funds and have done little fundraisers, like selling coloring books.”
Currently, GoFundMe is their biggest hope in getting funding to help pay for their spring and summer programming.
Northeast Arts is not only looking for more monetary help, but also volunteers. Koop said they are a small organization, so they are hoping to receive more volunteers, and even board members, to help with organizing and executing their events and programs.
Rowse said an organization like this is really important because it helps to expose people of the Northeast to the benefits of the arts.
“There are so many of us whose art really changed our lives,” Rowse said. “And in a time when, when school budgets are often cut, as far as funding for the arts goes, trying to find ways to have the art be part of people’s everyday life, I think is really important.”
In the future, besides their Chalk Your Walk event, Koop said the organization is looking to still have some COVID-friendly concerts held in their community garden. Currently, the plan is to host around three concerts this summer, though plans have not been made.