Mattie Rhodes anticipates fall completion for Cultural Arts Center on the Westside

This week, KC Hispanic News translated a few of our stories to Spanish for our Hispanic readers. To read these stories in Spanish, please pick up a copy of our newspaper.

Corbin Smith
Editorial Assistant

Providing opportunities for individuals of all ages in the Historic Northeast community has been a cornerstone of the Mattie Rhodes Center’s mission. Now, with a new cultural arts center on Kansas City’s Westside, Mattie Rhodes aims to open a larger door for residents to step through.

By November, Mattie Rhodes plans to have its new center built at 1701 Jarboe St., down the street from its current art center. That center and ceramic studio will stay at 715 W. 17th St., while the new building will act as an educational programming space, art gallery and event space.

Mattie Rhodes President and CEO John Fierro explained the creation of the new center is an extension of a goal started in the 1970s. The organization began to help students when the high school dropout rate for Hispanic students exceeded 50%. Now, the organization emphasizes preserving Hispanic culture and education.

“We have used visual arts as an after school tool to keep kids engaged, safe, and to help them prepare for school,” Fierro said. “We’ve used it as a recreational tool to give kids an opportunity to express themselves, to have fun, to meet new friends, and over time, what started as a craft center in an old garage has grown into an independent art center in a house, and it has evolved to have a community art gallery.”

Fierro said that same gallery has outgrown and outlived many galleries that started more than 20 years ago and were highlighted in Kansas City’s First Friday celebrations. With the continued evolution of the art center and growth of the gallery, Mattie Rhodes needed a new home.

“We really want to use the space for the community to gather,” said Jenny Mendez, Mattie Rhodes Cultural Arts Director. “We want to offer it up to outside groups for maybe their own workshop, even maybe a place where a baptism reception would be, or a family event might occur like on a weekend we don’t have programming.”

Mendez said the organization wanted a new, secure home for gallery exhibits and events rather than having to lease spaces to operate in. One exhibit she highlighted was the 1,500-piece Hand-in-Hand Folk Art collection.

The organization is aiming for a versatile brick-and-mortar building that has the capacity to handle new demands, as well as original programming that was held before the new location’s existence.

“As far as our educational programming, we want to continue what we’re doing but in kind of a bigger form,” Mendez said. “We want to be able to bring artists in from out of town. We want to be able to do workshops that really pertain to whatever the theme of the art is that particular month.”

Positioned between Primitivo Garcia Elementary School and a residential neighborhood, the new arts center will be in the middle of its target community literally and figuratively. Mendez said the organization wants the neighborhood to feel like the center is theirs.

“You know, we have a big Day of the Dead [celebration] already, so this is going to allow us to do more,” Mendez said. “We’ll be able to really utilize the space in a different way and invite more people to be a part of it. We are able to really have a beautiful building that we can share with so many others in our community.”

So far, Mattie Rhodes has raised $3.1 million dollars to jumpstart construction and cover the costs, despite not knowing the total amount required for the new building. The City of Kansas City, Mo., the Bank of America Charitable Trust and a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) provided a combined amount of nearly $1.1 million. These contributions allowed Mattie Rhodes to secure funding from local private foundations.

Additionally, Mattie Rhodes has requested funding from the Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC) to fix the crumbled remains of a sidewalk surrounding the lot.

The new building means a lot to Fierro because it’s a way to signify that Mattie Rhodes will remain in the Westside neighborhood.

“I want this place to be a destination in the Westside neighborhood for fellowship, for showcasing artists and for building community,” Fierro said. “I would encourage anybody to reach out to the Mattie Rhodes Center. Learn about us and find ways that we can partner and collaborate with you because that’s what we’re about. We’re about servicing community needs and doing it in collaboration with individuals, and others.”

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