NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The arts in Kansas may have suffered a blow when state funding ended a year ago, but Bethel College’s Rachel Epp Buller is among the Kansans making sure art stays alive in the state.
Epp Buller, assistant professor of art, and students in her painting class were featured recently in a regular segment on KAKE TV Channel 10 in Wichita after a story about a special exhibit that Epp Buller organized appeared in The Newton Kansan.
KAKE’s Larry Hatteberg, whom Epp Buller says is “a strong supporter of the arts,” read the story and then did on-camera interviews with Epp Buller and several other artists involved in the exhibit, to create a piece for his well-known “Hatteberg’s People” feature.
The exhibit, “Art Lives!,” opened March 30 at CityArts in Wichita’s Old Town area. It features the work of about 24 artists from across the state and is the inaugural exhibit of the Kansas chapter of the Feminist Art Project. Epp Buller is chapter coordinator.
The Feminist Art Project is based at Rutgers University and has chapters worldwide, though most are in North America. Epp Buller knew of the organization through her participation in the College Art Association. A couple of years ago, she initiated the Kansas chapter.
“I had wanted to organize an exhibit,” she says. “The art funding cuts were a catalyst.” In February 2011, newly elected Kansas governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order that in effect made Kansas the only state in the nation that does not support the arts through state funding.
Epp Buller contacted 24 Kansas artists to contribute to the exhibit, and placed them in pairs. “I paired people not in the same city,” she says. “Most of them didn’t know each other before this. It’s a way of strengthening the networks.”
Part of what Epp Buller does as coordinator of the Feminist Art Project Kansas chapter is foster connections, since “Kansas is a big state, with artists scattered all over. In a time of funding crisis, you have to get creative.”
The two parameters for the “Art Lives!” exhibit were to respond in some way to the arts funding cuts and to collaborate with the assigned partner. “The feminist art movement is based in collaboration,” Epp Buller notes.
Each artist was to create an independent work and then share it with the partner, either directly or through e-mail. Each then created a second work, based on the collaboration, and sometimes even a third that they did together.
“You see the whole range at CityArts [right now],” Epp Buller says, “from two separate works to those where the two artists have both added things. Some of the art is political and some is not. Some of it is protest art, but not all of it.”
A main point of the exploration, she says, is “how do we work together creatively in a challenging environment?”
Epp Buller pointed out to Larry Hatteberg that “Kansas has more artists per capita than any other state in the nation.” The cuts in arts funding were particularly painful for small towns and rural areas – which make up the bulk of the state – who don’t have access to the private resources often available to support art, music and theater activities and initiatives in urban areas.
Yet, she told The Newton Kansan, “Art is still alive [in Kansas]. Kansas artists and arts advocates have rallied in unprecedented force to campaign for the importance of art and funding for art.”
“Art Lives!” opened on Wichita’s “Final Friday,” when galleries have extended hours and people make special trips downtown to visit them.
Epp Buller says there were almost 1,000 people at the opening of “Art Lives!,” which will be up through April 21. In addition to organizing the exhibit, she has work in it, in which she collaborated with Wichita artist Sarah Kephart. Hesston College art faculty members Hanna Eastin and Lois Misegadis also contributed to the exhibit.