February 21, 2020
Héctor Casanova Illustrates Dedication to Public Art
In the historic Blue Hills neighborhood of Kansas City, the shuttered Pershing elementary school was an eyesore for residents and a target for vandals and taggers. Associate Professor of Illustration Héctor Casanova and his students recently installed brightly-colored murals on the outside of the brick building to showcase the history of the neighborhood. Now it’s a place of pride for the community.
The project, one of three Kansas City School District beautification efforts, is part of a required course for junior Illustration majors called US: Collaboration. Developed by Casanova when he started teaching at KCAI seven years ago, it exposes students to the inherently collaborative nature of Illustration, gives them experience working as a team with fellow students and clients, and demonstrates the powerful effect of public art.
“Artists make work that has an effect on the public – negative or positive. I want students to understand and embrace the power and responsibility that comes with the ability to reach thousands or millions of people. I tell my students to refine their skills so they can make compelling work that captures people’s attention,” said Casanova.
Casanova’s ongoing commitment to public art in Kansas City has led to a recent appointment to the Municipal Arts Commission (MAC). In this role, he’ll review all public art projects and work with the new airport design team to determine the type of art that will be installed throughout the airport.
“I believe that art, in general, works best when it’s available to everyone and they don’t have to go out of their way to encounter it. I’m honored to be in an art-centric city that proactively manages public art and makes it accessible to all residents,” said Casanova.
In addition to his MAC and KCAI teaching responsibilities, Casanova is a visiting artist at Northeast Middle School, located near KCAI’s first mural project at Scarritt Elementary School. Over the years, taggers have destroyed some of the murals and the middle school students are designing new ones. He hopes that by engaging middle-schoolers in this project, it will decrease tagging because they will take pride in the work they’ve created.
These days Casanova doesn’t have a lot of time for his art practice, which includes projects like the KCMO Grove Park mural. But, he says he doesn’t mind. “When I started teaching, I realized that with an army of students I can do much more that I can with my own two hands.”
That’s exactly what he’s doing: working with an army of students, artists and community members to make Kansas City a more colorful place to live.
A 20-foot sculpture that used to sit on Park Avenue in New York City was installed Tuesday morning on campus. Double Stack by Ewerdt Hilgemann (b. 1938 in Germany, lives in the Netherlands and US), is 20 ft. high and made from stainless steel. Double Stack is the second work that has been generously loaned to the college by the artist and Zahner Metal Conservation. Dancers was on campus in 2017-18 and now is part of Leawood’s Public Art Collection. This installation is part of KCAI’s plan to place large-scale works on the campus, on a constantly-changing basis. They connect the large public artworks already in place at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the works in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Garden at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Previous sculptures on campus include This is NOT a Refuge by Anila Quayyum Agha and The Consistency of Change by Caleb Bowman, (’99 Sculpture). See how Hilgemann implodes these giant sculptures here.
Watching elephants frolic in the new waterfall pool is delighting visitors at the recently renovated Elephant Expedition at the Kansas City Zoo. The pachyderm’s passion for H2O is also the theme of another one of the exhibition’s new features, a vibrant mural by Anh Le, a 2020 graduate of KCAI’s Illustration program. The large-scale panorama on the Learning Cottage at the exhibit entrance shows animal families coming together at a waterhole in the wilds of Africa. “I wanted the whole scene to have a warm, inviting vibe for visitors. It gives them a little peek into the world they are entering,” said Le. The project was created when Le was a senior in KCAI’s MICRO Agency, which connects Kansas City businesses with the creative talent of KCAI students. Several students presented designs to the Zoo team and Le’s interpretation made the final cut. This is the second time KCAI students have designed murals for the Zoo. Vaughn Parrish (’19 Illustration) created the underwater themed wall in Stingray Bay. Le’s motivation for the mural is simple — to bring happiness. “With everything that’s going on in the world right now, we need a spark of positivity and joy. I hope people read more…
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