If you want to really understand what makes someone tick, ask them about their favorite movie stars. It’s surprisingly revealing.
Dana M. Knapp, the President and CEO of the regional arts council, ArtsKC, is an unabashed fan of the iconic Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990), a former Broadway hoofer who had a film career lasting six decades and garnering numerous awards.
“She was an inspiration for a lot of women who found careers in the arts,” says Knapp. “The characters she played were always strong, resilient, a powerful figure in command of her own life.”
A native of Wichita, Kansas, Knapp was the daughter of a self-made entrepreneur who had, she says the “benefit of having the benefit and privilege of parents who understood the value of the arts. My father played the piano and painted. My mother involved my sister and me in all kinds of creative activity: Dance, music, ceramics, painting, theater. My parents inherently knew that the arts were important.”
The need to help others understand the importance of the arts in a community has been a driving force for Knapp, whose resume includes positions with Mid-America Arts Alliance and nearly two decades with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Dana earned her bachelor’s degree in Design and the History of Art from the University of Kansas and earned her master’s degree in Nonprofit Administration from the University of Missouri -Kansas City.
Kansas City Spaces: Has your role at ArtsKC changed this year?
Dana Knapp: I joined ArtsKC last May as the director of program and grants. I took on the position of interim CEO in January of 2017 and was hired as full-time president and CEO in May
KCS: ArtsKC fulfills the niche that many cities of comparable size to Kansas City have as a metropolitan arts council. Does ArtsKC have the same kind of mission?
DK: ArtsKC evolved from a spearheading effort led by Joan Israelite over 20 years ago as a way to fortify the arts and culture with more public-based funding. ArtsKC actually enjoys funding from public and private sources and individual giving, enabling us to make grants, to serve as traditional arts advocates, and serve arts organizations by insuring they have a very visible local presence.
KCS: You moved to Kansas City in the late 1980s to attend graduate school, so you’ve seen quite a bit of change in Kansas City as a thriving arts community.
DK: It’s exciting to watch Kansas City grow as a strong, dynamic arts community. When you travel outside of Kansas City, you hear people talk about this city as a place where the arts are being supported and gaining renewed recognition and visibility. You’ll hear, ‘Oh Kansas City, there’s a lot going on there.’ And it’s true. But what people are seeing and appreciating right now are the results of decades of hard work. There’s a great deal of diversity in the arts here and the advancement of a lot of different artistic disciplines.
KCS: ArtsKC may be best-known, at least locally, for the number of grants that the organization gives in different categories—the Ovation grants for established arts organizations, for example, and the Inspiration grants to individual artists. How many grants are offered annually?
DK: More than 100. Our budget for grants hovers at around a half million annually, with ebbs and flows. Our goal is to increase that fund, which deepens the impact of other arts programming in Kansas City. Of all of the advocacy work that ArtsKC does here, the funding is the most visible and the most transformative for the community and the individual artists.
KCS: It’s really about creating new opportunities, isn’t it?
DK: Absolutely. And at the forefront of that opportunity is the ability to tell our story—the story of Kansas City as a vital arts community—in a more assertive way. The arts have an interdependency and the larger organizations push us to the forefront which we can and do capitalize on. The Kansas City Ballet, the Rep and the jazz community are among the leaders in telling our story in a positive way that illuminates all the cultural life here. We’re all interconnected.
KCS: How important is it to keep the pulse of a city’s creative life when the arts are an ever-changing resource?
DK: It’s about listening, staying involved and plugged in and asking a lot of questions. You need to find out what the organizations need to stay vital and work with them to make sure those things can happen.