Mattie Rhodes’ president and CEO John Fierro stands outside of the fence as construction workers start the process of building a new cultural art center for the Westside community. Fierro said, “It’s exciting to build for the future.” The art rendering to the left shows what the center will look like once it is built.



BY JOE ARCE AND COREY CRABLE
The completion of the new Mattie Rhodes Center Cultural Arts Center in the Westside neighborhood is only a few months away from completion, cementing Mattie Rhodes’ commitment to community education and the creative spirit of community artists. Mattie Rhodes president and CEO John Fierro told Hispanic News the center will be open sometime in October of this year, just in time for celebrations of Dia de los Muertos. “We wanted something that would be very special for this neighborhood,” Fierro says. “They deserve it.” The sleek, modern-looking arts center will encompass 4,400 square feet and will be only one level. Fierro says he is most excited about the visibility the center’s interior will provide for both artists and visitors. You won’t find any mysterious, closed doors here, according to Fierro – everything will be out in the open in an expansive, welcoming space that is accessible to all. “It reminds me of going to a fiesta, where you see everyone smiling -- the art, the music,” Fierro notes. “Here you will see everything as you come in, which will be a great reception space for the neighborhood.” Fierro says that to add to that open feel, he envisions the arts center as being a place where friends and family members can gather for events both large and small. “This arts center belongs to the Westside neighborhood, and I look forward to hearing from the community how we can best use this space. We want this to be a community gathering space, whether it’s for a baptism, family parties, or community forums,” Fierro explains. “And what they will be able to find at all these events is art produced by local artists, activities for kids, so kids can drop in after school in the evenings, and we want to be able to provide creative programming, too. We have entrepreneurs who are focused on arts and crafts, and we want them to be able to come here.” Fierro says that fundraising is ongoing, but he is thankful for the large donors who have pitched in thus far. “Right now we are still finalizing fundraising, but the level of funds we have secured at $3.1 million is allowing us to build this facility, and it will be ready this year,” he says. Like all of life that has slowed down due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts center’s construction hit some rough patches in the beginning. “COVID slowed us down tremendously, but this property we purchased had some environmental issues. Historically, the city would demolish a structure and bury it back into the ground,” Fierro explains, adding that the land is near the previous site of the old Grant family drugstore. “There are no more environmental issues in the land. … and (in the process of excavation) we dug up over 1,000 medicine bottles, huge pieces of the building, infrastructure, car parts, you name it, it was in the ground.” Fierro says he would like to see the excavated items placed together in some sort of art installation for the center. Though the beginning was difficult, Fierro says he always knew the arts center had to be located in the Westside. “Could we have built something a lot bigger and cheaper north of the river? Absolutely,” he says. “But the home of the Mattie Rhodes Center is here in the Westside.” The arts center, Fierro adds, is the perfect accompaniment to the Mattie Rhodes Center’s current location. “The Mattie Rhodes Center headquarters used to be on seventeen and Jefferson Street since the 1920s. Our board decided the building we were in didn’t have the services we wanted to provide. When the idea came to build a larger facility, we decided to sell that particular property,” Fierro says. “Now it’s primarily residential on the 1700 block of Jefferson, so (the center) would create parking issues with the residents when we would need to host events.” In addition to building another physical structure, Fierro says the Mattie Rhodes Center has also spent years building relationships with institutions like The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art and The Kansas City Museum. Those who use and enjoy Mattie Rhodes’ other structures such as their ceramic studio and existing arts center do not need to worry – they aren’t going anywhere the new arts center will just be added to the center’s impressive list of places and services that keep the Westside community engaged and learning. And young people are getting even more involved as well, Fierro says, with the addition of the Mattie Rhodes Ambassadors program, in which young artists will not only be able to showcase their art in the new facility, but also help organize and host events there, too. The new arts center will also be the site for youth-oriented art camps and workshops. “It really starts with our overall reason for being as an agency. We bring attention to community needs. The arts center years ago was opened because there was a need for public education. Throughout our 50 years of celebrating cultural arts, it has turned into a metropolitan-wide initiative,” Fierro says. Fierro says he and the staff, board members and volunteers of the Mattie Rhodes Center are counting down the weeks to the new arts center’s opening. “We’re excited to open our doors,” he says. “This is the community’s cultural center. It will be a fun, safe place for our neighbors.”