Every major milestone in Kathy Minhsin Liao’s life has been marked by travel, she shared, making airports synonymous with transition.
“My [art]work at the new terminal is called ‘Hello and Goodbye,’ and it touches on my personal experience of the fluidity of travel. When you’re at the airport, you’re in that limbo space of thinking ahead to your destination — but you also have memories surfacing of previous times you’ve been in that space. Part of the concept of this piece is this nebulous, this organic shape of what the experience feels like,” explained Liao, one of the 28 artists commissioned to create art for Kansas City International Airport’s new terminal.
Click here to learn more about Kathy Liao and her work.
KCI’s new terminal and parking garage feature the largest One Percent for Art project in Kansas City’s history, said James Martin, Kansas City’s public art administrator.
The City of Kansas City, Missouri’s “One Percent for Art” program stipulates that one percent of public construction costs be set aside for public art enhancements. Passed in 1986, this program provides a catalyst for artistic growth and aesthetic excellence in the community while enhancing the vitality of Kansas City, enriching the lives of its citizens and visitors.
The Municipal Art Commission received more than 1,900 applications from artists hoping to be a part of the $5.65 million project at the airport’s new terminal. Of the 28 artists selected, 75 percent are based in Kansas City or have significant ties to Kansas City; as well as 75 percent of selected artists are women or artists of color.
“We were in this for diversity, equity and inclusion from the very beginning,” Martin said. “It’s our belief that the main way we accomplished that was through the composition of the selection panels. There are those in the public art community who would recommend one selection panel for the entire project, which is the legacy way to do this sort of thing. But we recognized that through different selection panels for each location of the airport, we had a very good possibility of getting the diversity, equity and inclusion results we wanted.”
More than 56 panelists, representing a diverse group of arts professionals and community members, participated in the art selection process across nine various panels. Tyler Enders, a co-founder of Made in KC, was part of the selection committee for the People Connector area (the connecting hallway from Node A to Node B) of the airport. The People Connector selection committee chose the artwork “Cloud Glazing” by SOFTlab in New York City.
“Every selection panel was incredibly diverse,” Enders said. “You had people representing musical arts, visual arts, people who are not connected immediately to the arts, such as myself. It was a ton of work for James Martin and the executive committee, but it resulted in this incredible collection of art that’s worth way more than what we spent on it.”
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Along with thoughtfully creating various selection committees, the executive team partnered with KC BizCare to create a checklist for artists wanting to submit an application. They also provided education for artists who did not have prior experience with public art projects, said Holly Hayden, a private contractor and the consulting artist hired for KCI.
“This was right about the time the pandemic started, so we held countless Zoom calls, online meetings, to walk our arts community through registering, creating an LLC and making sure they knew the insurance boundaries,” Hayden recalled. “KC BizCare was extremely helpful in ensuring that our entire arts community could get involved.”
The executive art committee also worked alongside the airport’s architects to help the artists visualize their work in the physical space, Hayden added.
“The architects provided us with their color palette, with their materials, so that the artists could picture the hemlock wood ceilings, the slate gray walls and the natural light that was going to be in there,” Hayden said. “I think we can be proud of how cohesive the artwork fits within the architecture. It’s more than a collection of art by itself; it’s a collection of art within a space.”
Although KCI’s new terminal is filled with work from various artists — selected by various committees — it is tied together with similar themes, told from diverse perspectives, Martin said.
“We didn’t specifically state themes that we were looking for, but the ones we saw repeated were references to the surrounding landscape, the hills and the grasses, the native plants, flowers and insects,” Martin noted. “Kansas City’s rich history with music, specifically jazz, is highlighted. References to flight, clouds and the sky are present. If somebody does a tour of all 28 works of art from beginning to end, I think they would have a very good impression of what this region is really like.”
As a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and owner of a local design studio, Hayden acknowledged the talent within Kansas City’s art community.
“This is our community; these are our friends,” Hayden shared. “We are wanting to show the world how Kansas City has such an amazing history of different types of art. This airport is the first time so many people are setting foot in Kansas City, and we had no other options but to make it a great experience for travelers. Art is a significant part of that.”
KCI’s open house was the first time Liao saw her piece “Hello and Goodbye” displayed with everyone’s artwork, she said.
“I know some of those artists as friends and colleagues, so seeing their work in the context it is meant to be display was incredible; I think many of them also went above and beyond to go out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves,” Liao said, noting that she collaborated with the Belger Arts Center to incorporate ceramics — an medium she considers herself an amateur in.
When travelers stop and view Liao’s artwork, she hopes they can connect and relate to the message of the piece, she said.
“The figures you see in the painting are actually my grandma; I am thinking of all of the loved ones who we’ve been apart from for a long time during this pandemic,” Liao shared. “It’s relevant to this specific time, but it’s also a very timeless and universal feeling of longing to connect. The airport is the place where we can bridge that gap.”
Click here for the full list of artists and artworks featured at KCI.
Keep reading below for a virtual tour of more pieces inside KCI’s new terminal.