Happy Anniversary, Charlotte Street Foundation

Celebrating 20 years of funding Kansas City artists, an interview with Amy Kligman, executive director

Arts advocate David Hughes founded Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation in 1997 partly in response to cutbacks in funding at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

History often repeats itself, and in 2017, the NEA is once again in the conservative firing line, possibly to be cut from the budget entirely. This year’s 20th anniversary for the Charlotte Street Foundation is as vitally important as the previous 19. Perhaps more so.

Current executive/artistic director Amy Kligman, a visual artist herself, says that in spite of unbridled growth and evolution, the hometown arts organization is committed to the same guiding principles that led to its founding by a group of artist and advocates living in and around the midtown neighborhood of 54th and Charlotte streets. In the early 1990s, this stretch of Charlotte was casually known as “the Charlotte Street Mission” because of the popular painter John Puscheck (1948-2005)—a resident of the neighborhood who served as cheerleader, confessor, de facto club leader and unofficial best friend to the arts community.

Charlotte Street Foundation’s founder David Hughes wrote of Puscheck after his death at age 57, “John literally and figuratively fed the bellies and souls of countless artists, musicians, foodies, and other hangers-on like me. The sense of community in John was real, and it was infectious.”

Kansas City Spaces: The Charlotte Street Foundation began life almost as a grass roots organization, finding its niche as it went along.
Amy Kligman: Yes, it started life as a grass roots support group using its own resources to get things done that we really needed to do. It gained confidence by building on the power of the arts in this community, not just the visual arts, but in performing arts, writing. The impetus was to create more programming and broadening our impact that way.

In the beginning we were so focused on contemporary art and the needs of individual artists. Today I think we see the bigger picture, the whole eco system of our arts community and attempt to be responsive to the community’s needs. The decisions made at the Charlotte Street Foundation are meant to benefit Kansas City artists, to advance their talents and bring in outside resources—jurors, curators, critics—as both part of the conversation and the evolution of our artistic community.”

KCS: You first came to Kansas City to work as a professional artist at Hallmark.
AK: It was an excellent opportunity. I came to Kansas City ten years ago and discovered Charlotte Street almost immediately. I received a Rocket grant and was so impressed that Charlotte Street continued to evolve and had such an impressive integrity.

KCS: The awards are reserved for only Kansas City artists?
AK:  Yes. Artists who live outside of Kansas City have literally picked up and moved here in order to be eligible for an award or a residency. Last year ten percent of our applicants were from outside the Kansas City area.

KCS: Twenty years is a memorable anniversary. What are some of the planned events?
AK: We’re celebrating the anniversary this year a number of ways, including a big rebrand and launching a new website. Phase one has already launched and phase two, which will launch later in the year, will include an artist’s registry that will link people directly to the artists that have come through Charlotte Street programming.

We’re also facilitating a city-wide partner program called “Every Street is Charlotte Street”—a celebration of 20 years of Charlotte Street Foundation Visual and Performing Award Recipients. We’re working with partners all across the city on cross-platform exhibitions and programming that will feature 20 years of Charlotte Street Foundation Fellows.  Partners for the program include Central Library Branch of the Kansas City Library, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, the Nerman Museum of Art, the Folly Theatre, the H&R Block Artspace and KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice. In total, 20 partners across the metro will be joining with Charlotte Street to celebrate 20 years of this unrestricted cash award for artists and the over 100 artists who have been chosen for the award.

And, we will have several opportunities to develop community via six different birthday parties that will be hosted by artists in their homes and studios. Even the guests will be curated from an open call.

Finally, we’ll be launching an annual signature fundraiser, a big costume party that we plan to introduce in October.

For more information, go to charlottestreet.org.

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