The nonprofit arts organization Mark Arts will open its new state-of-the art building on Saturday.
The building, located at the corner of 13th Street and Rock Road in east Wichita, has a modern, prairie-style look with high ceilings, lots of windows, and metal finishes.
Benefactor Liz Koch couldn’t be more pleased with the design.
“I love the style and the openness of it. I love the amount of glass so you are not just looking in, you get to look out as well,” she says. “It’s magnificent to see the amount of sunshine and natural light coming into the building.”
Liz Koch, wife of Charles Koch, is the daughter-in-law of Mary Robinson Koch. It’s Mary’s name that inspired the “MARK” in Mark Arts. She was a lifelong supporter of the visual arts education center and a dedicated student.
“Mary’s love was making jewelry," Liz Koch says. "She did goldsmithing, silversmithing, enameling, you name it, but she was also a really good artist. She could draw and paint very well."
Mary Koch died in 1990, but her passion for art lives on in this $20 million community arts center.
The Koch family and its foundations donated the land where the new facility was built and provided $6 million in funding. A capital campaign with Liz Koch as honorary chair raised the rest of the money.
“I want the community to love this place and use it the same way that I would,” Koch says.
Mark Arts Executive Director Katy Dorrah says a special artifact from Mary Koch is on display in the metals studio.
“We discovered this beautiful magnifying glass, and if you come up close, you can see where Mary actually wrote her name on this. It has stayed in her studio spot for many years since she stopped being a student," Dorrah says. "I think that it’s a wonderful testament to how much the arts meant to her in every aspect of her life."
Dorrah says the new building is the same size as Mark Arts’ previous home along East Central, where it was known as the Wichita Center for the Arts. However, the new building has additional features and upgraded equipment and technology.
There are nine studios for art classes and workshops. Adults and children can still take classes in drawing, painting, ceramics, print-making and more. And now, Dorrah says, they can also learn digital arts.
“Now we can teach mixed media here, as well as graphic design, website development, but we really are keeping our technology focused on an arts basis as well,” Dorrah says.
Another new studio is for culinary arts. A fully-equipped teaching kitchen has a chef’s table for a small class. When there’s a bigger crowd, cameras and video screens are used so everyone can see cooking demonstrations up close.
“We are partnering with area chefs to do little three hour workshops where you don’t have to bring anything but you might come and learn a new cooking element,” Dorrah says.
There is a dedicated youth gallery. I the children’s art studio, tables are kid-sized, and there are windows so parents can peek in during classes.
“This is new space for us but expanding the programs that we have that are really rooted in STEAM, which is science, technology, engineering and math with arts in the middle, because we know when you add art into the equation the muscle memory grows exponentially,” Dorrah says.
All of the studio classrooms have windows. Dorrah says that was intentional.
“As we worked on the building, we kept moving the alignment so that we would have perfect north light coming into all of the studios,” Dorrah says.
A commons area where art students can gather connects the studios. Dorrah says they wanted a courtyard-feel to the interior instead of hallways.
Art is on display throughout the building, and a 5,000-square foot gallery will host national exhibitions.
Mark Arts also has a large hall with an outdoor terrace. Both can be rented for events.
“It’s going to bring the passive revenue we need to support arts," Dorrah says. "We realized there are a lot of other cultural institutions that receive significant funds through rentals, but none had built an events center from the ground up.”
The building sits on 17 acres that will eventually be developed into a park with walking trails and space for art fairs and special events. A sculpture garden is already in place.
Liz Koch says Mark Arts’ new campus takes its arts education mission to a new level.
“There are galleries already here [in Wichita], but there is nothing quite like this facility. I think that it’s going to be a great draw for the community. I’m counting on that,” Koch says.
This 98-year-old arts center is counting on its new campus to inspire a new generation of art lovers and patrons.
Koch is already planning to bring her three young grandchildren to Mark Arts.
“I know my own grandchildren will be utilizing it, but I hope everybody’s grandchildren will be utilizing the school,” she says.
The arts center was established in 1920 as the Wichita Art Association. It later became the Wichita Center for the Arts and took the name of Mark Arts in 2016. The privately funded nonprofit is considered to be the oldest visual arts organization in Wichita.
The gallery is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.
Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.
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