Meeting Amid Art – Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

November 1, 2007


By Michael Humphrey

If you’re looking for the most important addition to the Midwest art world, don’t look to Chicago or St. Louis. For now, that honor goes to Overland Park, Kan., just south of Kansas City.

That’s what building a 38,000-square-foot museum, designed by Kyu Sung Woo, does for you – provides clout in a culture that loves to follow the new hotspot. Last summer, it was the addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, that had the national eye. Since opening in late October, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art is getting the attention.

So why Overland Park?

Well, that’s where Johnson County Community College happens to be.

But if you think the college is new to the game of art collecting, let’s hear a little bit from Art Magazine: “JCCC’s dedication to contemporary art gives even Ivy League university collections a run for their money.”

“This is a major addition to Kansas City’s art scene,” says Bruce Hartman, director of the Nerman. “Not only does it add 4,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space, it adds another 5,000 of special exhibition space and that means Kansas City will get more exposure than ever to the best of contemporary art.”

For those whose eyes automatically roll at the notion of contemporary art, you might want to bust that stereotype. Chances are you won’t look at a Keith Jacobshagen or Elizabeth Murray painting, a Frank Stella or Do-Ho Suh sculpture and say, “My kid could do that.”

If your kid can match what the Nerman exhibits, you probably should contact Hartman immediately. The collection will include multimedia, jewelry exhibits, glass and ceramics, as well as painting and sculpture.

“Our mission is to educate,” Hartman says. “And part of that education is to show the tremendous diversity of expression in contemporary art.”

So why should planners care?

Nerman’s presence in Overland Park is another boon to a city already known for its plentiful and state-of-the-art meeting venues. One reason, of course, is that museums are popular venues, especially for events where guests should feel they are somewhere special.

“We are getting asked quite often if we can couple an event with a tour of the new museum,” says Christy McWard, program director of marketing and events at JCCC. “The answer is yes.”

But the excitement for planners doesn’t stop at the Nerman’s walls. The newest conference center in Johnson County happens to sit all of 200 feet away from the Nerman  – and the two are connected by a stunning atrium made of glass and punched metal that is already serving as function and pre-function space.

Regnier Center

JCCC constructed the Nerman Museum and Regnier Centers at the same time. The new center is three stories of ultra- high-tech classrooms, computer centers and meeting space.

For meeting planners, the most important part of Regnier is the Capitol Federal Conference Center. But the college can also offer computer training rooms and instructors, boardrooms and creative function space both large and small.

The Capitol Federal Conference Center is 6,000 square feet of high-tech, flexible meeting space. The room can divide in halves by length or width, or into quarters. The entire building is WiFi-ready and each quadrant is equipped with power and Ethernet floor outlets for exhibits and presentations.

Each quadrant comes equipped with media screens and “smart” lecterns, each engineered with touch-screen control panels for computers; LCD and digital projection; media players; and microphones. And being a college that can do distance learning means that teleconferencing is a snap.

In fact, “the building will always have at least one IT technician in it,” says Jeff Hoyer, operations manager for JCCC. “If a group wants to have a dedicated technician on hand, we can do that too.”

Breakout rooms and a bank of computers wait just outside the conference room. A service hallway, which can double as a buffet corridor, leads to a dedicated professional kitchen. Then there are two choices for pre-function and registration space. The glass-ceiling atrium, which sits right outside the Nerman’s café, is one choice, especially for a reception. The Shull Foyer comfortably works as a registration area.

“One of our missions is to serve the community,” says McWard. “We feel facilities such as these really do play a large new role in welcoming the public to our campus.”

Not an average community college

You probably already got the sense that JCCC does things on a higher level than most community colleges. With more than 30,000 students crossing its threshold each year, and with the extraordinary resources that Johnson County can boast, the college doesn’t have to be normal.

The school has a strong reputation for business training, both for traditional and continuing education students. But perhaps its two best-known components, before the Nerman, both have to do with culture. The Hospitality Management program, for one, offers one of the best chef apprenticeship programs in the Midwest. And the Carlsen Center has become well known as a venue for fine performing arts, including serving as a second home for the Kansas City Symphony.

“We provide our students and the community numerous opportunities for cultural enrichment,” says McWard. “The Nerman is just another important addition to that tradition.”

Meeting art

But providing fine arts in a vacuum is not the goal, Hartman says.

“If we just put up art and didn’t find ways to engage students and the community with it, then we failed,” he says. “That’s why you find classroom spaces and a public auditorium built right into the museum. We want people to walk through, to interact with the art and be surprised by something they might not have seen otherwise.”

Yes, that means there is meeting space right in the museum! And the atmosphere alone will impress your attendees – Woo’s Kansas limestone building is a mixture of intimate spaces for close viewing and broad expansive spaces for a sense of awe. The museum plays with natural light in clever ways, creating shafts down the edges of walls, so that light pours in but never directly encounters the art.

“People will enjoy the building as well as the art,” Hartman says.

The most impressive space is the 190-seat Hudson Auditorium that will also have state-of-the-art multimedia capabilities. The Tierney Art Education Center encompasses two classrooms on the museum’s second floor, one intended for children and one for adults. The museum also houses Café Tempo, with 100 seats that spread out to the atrium.

The only trick to using the space at JCCC is timing it right.

“Of course education comes first,” Hoyer says. “So if the spaces are needed for educational reasons, we have to deal with that first. But with the right planning, we can make it work and we want to do that.”  MM&E

(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor in Kansas City, Mo.)

For information on planning a meeting:

Johnson County Community

College Gallery of Art

12345 College Blvd.

Overland Park, KS 66210

(913) 469-8500 x3972


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