KC Cares: L.M. Alcott Art Center Foundation

Alcott Arts 1

Chris Green, executive director of Alcott Arts Center, shows the craft room where many of the art classes happen. // Photo by Beth Lipoff

The arts are very much alive inside an old elementary school in Kansas City, Kansas. With visual art classes, theatrical productions, and gallery exhibitions, the L. M. Alcott Art Center Foundation is making sure everyone has access to creative expression.

It all started when the Louisa May Alcott Grade School building went up for sale over 20 years ago. To keep the site from becoming a minimum security prison, a group of locals bought the building with help from the Central Avenue Betterment Association and established an arts center.

Now, every second Saturday from April to October, there’s a new art exhibit for people to see along with $5 art classes for kids ages 6-17 every Wednesday evening. It’s not just drawing and painting—classes range from origami to henna to spoken word poetry to interpretive dance.

Usually, there are two theater productions each year: a youth-focused event in the spring and Shakespeare in the Parking Lot in the fall.

This year, the kids put on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Normally, they’d have Shakespeare in September, but it’s being bumped to honor the building’s centennial celebration on Saturday, September 9.

Executive Director Chris Green says she’d love to operate all year round, but the building doesn’t have heat. That’s a goal for the future if they can raise enough money.

She estimates about 100 people participate in the classes and theater productions each year, with more coming by as audience members.

“You can see their progression. We’re teaching them to hold paintbrushes and paint a piece of ceramic. They learn, and you can see whether or not they enjoy art and have an interest in being creative,” Chris Green says. “We draw them over to the art side.”

Darryl Woods, a local artist, is a board member with Alcott. He loves to interact with the kids who show up for the center’s events.

“Kids come up to me and say, ‘Hey, mister. I draw. Can you look at this?’ And there’s such incredible talent,” Woods says.

When he offers them a chance to display their work at Alcott, he relishes how they seem to just blossom.

“I think they see a lot of stuff on TV where at these fancy art galleries—you have to have a lot of money to get in or know someone,” Woods says.

Woods often contributes his own artistic talents to making drawings or paintings of familiar characters such as Scooby-Doo or Spider-Man at Alcott’s events. Mentoring kids keeps him coming back regularly.

He loves to tell kids about how he started drawing on a card table in his basement and ended up catching Disney’s eye for charitable artwork so much that he was invited to the red-carpet premiere of  Solo: A Star Wars Story. 

Alcott operates on a pretty tight budget, but they do everything they can to provide access to the arts. Any money that comes in from class fees or tickets to their productions goes right back into their work, paying teachers and acquiring performance rights.

“The building itself needs work. That’s on our agenda,” says Chuck Green, who also volunteers with Alcott.

Like Woods, he enjoys seeing the kids who come to the center.

“We’ve got two young girls that come from kind of a dysfunctional family, and it’s their outlet. If Alcott couldn’t make the effort, they’d sit at home bored and not feel much self-worth,” Chuck Green says.

Chris Green agrees.

 “Once you take a class or two or participate in a show, you become family. The Alcott has a family, and it’s a heart-warming feeling when people truly care about these children who just need the space to get away from their life for a while or just come and be themselves. You can come here and be yourself with no judgment,” Chris Green says.

The L. M. Alcott Art Center Foundation always needs volunteers who can help out with events like their annual Halloween festival that attracts as many as 600 kids. 

For more information about how to volunteer, visit alcottartscenter.org/volunteer-index-impact

Categories: Culture