September 7, 2011
Kansas or bust: The Beach Museum recognizes 15 years of collecting, celebrating Kansas art
Art has been an important part of Kansas State University for decades, but before 1996, art enthusiasts had to travel the campus to view the university's entire collection.
As the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art prepares to mark its 15th anniversary in October, the campus and community can celebrate being able to experience the entirety of the university's regionally focused permanent collection under one roof.
Before 1996 the university's art collection consisted of approximately 1,600 objects housed in campus public spaces and offices, said Bill North, the museum's senior curator. Through the efforts of former K-State first lady Ruth Ann Wefald, funding was raised to build a 26,000-square-foot museum on the southeast side of campus.
Whether the art was scattered about in offices or consolidated in one building, the focus of the collection remained the same: to acquire visual art related to Kansas.
"That focus has guided the collection's development since its beginning in 1928," North said. "This, above all else, distinguishes us from other art museums in the region and beyond."
It is what makes the Beach Museum so unique, said Elizabeth Seaton, associate curator at the museum. Kansas has a rich history in the visual arts, and there are still many rocks to be uncovered, she said. "There is nothing like discovering the glories of your own backyard," she said. "There is also an exciting and diverse contemporary visual arts culture to be recognized and explored."
Since the museum's inaugural year in 1996, the permanent collection has grown from 1,600 objects to more than 7,000. The collection's growth also led to an expansion of the museum, which was completed in 2007.
Through these acquisitions, North said the museum's staff has sought to fill significant gaps in the collection and strengthen its existing holdings of Kansas art.
However, "Kansas art" does not mean art that was made in Kansas. North said this simplistic definition does not account for artists working elsewhere who were raised in Kansas and use that experience to form their art, or those who currently work in Kansas and draw on their experience from around the world to influence their art.
"Geography alone is far too limiting a criterion," North said. "The museum is interested in art that has participated in the creation, development and exchange of visual arts culture in the state, whether or not it was produced on Kansas soil by Kansas natives."
One example, Seaton said, is an artist reacting to historical or contemporary events in Kansas, such as its Civil War history or its position in the controversy over teaching creationism in public schools. "We keep the definition fluid enough so as to be open to works in varied media presenting different visions or points of view," she said.
Historically, North said, the Kansas landscape has been a predominant subject for artists influenced by the state, but he added that the focus on its landscape may be because of its predominance in the lives of Kansans.
"There are as many ways to approach and consider the Kansas landscape as there are artists to do so," he said. "The concerns of Kansas artists are generally similar to those of artists everywhere. It's how those concerns are filtered through the state's culture that give Kansas art its special character."
As new technologies and ideas are introduced into the culture, they usually find expression in the visual arts, North said. Technology is also being further introduced at the Beach Museum through its digitization project, which will give the public access to images and information about objects in the museum's collection.
This also will enable students, faculty, researchers and the public to more efficiently utilize the collection and its resources, which is simply the next step in cementing what the Beach Museum has been to K-State and the surrounding community for 15 years: the home of its art.
"That's why the museum was built -- to provide a safe environment in which the collection can be expanded, studied, interpreted, experienced and appreciated," North said. "But, it's much more than that; it's a place to make discoveries, a place to learn, a place to consider ideas and a place to create."
Beach Museum director Linda Duke said when she reflects on the Beach Museum's mission, she recalls a exhibition she worked on several years ago, "The World from Here: Treasures of the Great Libraries of Los Angeles."
"The land-grant mission and values of the university as well as the regional focus of the Beach Museum's collection are grounded in the 'here' of this place: its history, its present and its future," Duke said. As a museum of art, the Beach Museum will always offer connections with the larger world. That is the work of art; it is always about the experience of being human -- in our own time and place, and in other distance times and places."
Duke said the museum's 15th anniversary will be celebrated throughout the fall, including the Friends of the Beach Museum's annual fundraiser gala Friday, Sept. 16, and with an open house from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16. Contact Ladonna Piper at 785-532-7718 or email for tickets or information.
The Beach Museum of Art is on the southeast corner of the K-State campus at 14th Street and Anderson Avenue. Free visitor parking is available next to the building. Normal museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The museum is closed Mondays. For more information, call 785-532-7718.