By Kevin Collison
The Kansas City Art Institute is launching its school year this week with the opening of its new student center and a permanent tribute to Tony Jones, the leader who’s sparked the school’s renaissance in recent years.
The new 18,000 square-foot Paul and Linda DeBruce Hall at 44th and Oak was designed by Hufft architects of Kansas City and introduces a contemporary yet comfortable two-story addition to the neighborhood of early 20th Century mansions.
“This is a residential neighborhood and we wanted something that would fit in,” Jones said on a recent tour. “We didn’t want it to be a chilly, institutional building.
“It’s really a state-of-the-art facility and highly flexible. It looks gorgeous and we’re very happy with it.”
Across the KCAI campus, the former dorms rendered obsolete last year by the opening of a new 244-bed housing complex have been renovated and reopened as classroom space for the school’s animation and illustration programs, as well as the KCAI Gallery.
The new classroom facility has been named Tony Jones Studios for Animation and Illustration.
“What Tony Jones has accomplished in a short time is awe-inspiring,” Frank Uryasz, KCAI board president, said in a statement.
“When Tony Jones arrived at Kansas City in 2015, he had a vision for the future of KCAI. We’re not done with the plans yet, but the Board of Trustees is delighted to recognize Tony now in this way by naming the new studios (after him).”
Jones, the Nerman Family President of KCAI, is a British native with a distinguished career in arts education.
His last leadership positions before coming to the KC Art Institute were president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a five-year stint as director of the Royal College of Art in London.
Since arriving in Kansas City, Jones has helped the 135 year-old school land a $25 million donation, and spearheaded a campus building program that includes the new student center, the new dormitory and dining facility, and the newly-renovated classroom building.
All these improvements are welcoming back 725 students to the campus this week. The new dormitory already is full and 50 students are being put up for now in the neighboring Marriott Country Club Plaza Hotel.
While the Covid-19 pandemic is requiring students to take academic classes online, those enrolled in studio courses will be hands-on.
“The key to an art school is the studio program,” Jones said. “You have to have face-to-face instruction as much as possible.”
As for DeBruce Hall, it will accommodate the college’s art history, creative writing and liberal arts programs, and student services. It also will be the home of a new minor in Entrepreneurial Studies in Art and Design.
Jones is particularly please how architect Matthew Hufft introduced ample natural lighting into the building as well as a garden patio behind the building for students to relax and study.
“You can see through the building and see the garden in back,” he said. “It was a light touch.”
The newly renovated 30,000 square feet of classroom space for animation and illustration students named after Jones was designed by Dennis Strait of Gould Evans.
Jones said the renovation project, which included exterior tweaks to the building, fits well with the neighboring Barbara Marshall Residence Hall designed by Helix Architecture + Design. The dorm and classroom buildings share a courtyard.
The ground level of the Tony Jones Studios building features the new KCAI Gallery. It includes a black-box theater and a movable wall system to accommodate a variety of exhibitions.
The inaugural exhibition will be “Revolution in Our Lifetime, An Exhibition in Three Parks. Works by Emory Douglas, KCAI Students and the African-American Artist Collective.” It will run Sept. 22 through Dec. 5.
The KCAI Gallery is intended to create a new destination in what Jones hopes someday becomes a Kansas City cultural district accessible by the streetcar stop planned for 45th and Main.
The school is next door to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and H&R Block Artspace.
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