KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At the end of February, Kansas City ushered in its new airport terminal six years after voters approved the move.
The new terminal came with the largest public art project in the history of Kansas City.
Leaders said it was imperative that the artists selected were diverse and represented the community.
The artists’ work shows the impact their heritage has made on the “front door” to Kansas City.
Whether you’re landing in Kansas City or walking through the doors of this sprawling $1.5 billion terminal, there are plenty of sights to see.
The centerpiece that every person flying in or flying out must pass was designed by Leo Villareal. The Albuquerque-born and El Paso-raised artist had the goal to create an image representative of the city of fountains without using water.
Bernadette Esperanza Torres is another artist whose work is featured in and around the airport terminal gates where tens of thousands of people sit at every month.
“Dreaming of the beautiful places you’ll go,” Torres told FOX4. “When they come here, that even if they only stay a short time or if they have a delay, that they can have a beautiful place to dream.”
It took her one year to create a 20-by-4-foot piece derived from what she loves: ceramics collaged and recreated on plexiglass, featuring flowers, her birds and even a self-portrait.
But she was still able to turn this two-dimensional idea into 3-D by breaking the rules a little bit.
“I pushed the boundaries by the butterfly wings,” Torres explained because as she puts it, “they put me in a box, and I could not fit in that box.”
“I’m also multi-layered just like the multi-colors of my pieces,” she continued. “I’m Mexican, Lebanese and Italian and a woman, and I’m proud to be that.”
But these intentional pieces designed to reflect Kansas City didn’t happen overnight.
Holly Hayden is the former consulting artist for Build KCI. She led these art projects and said the work took more than four years.
“Every step of the way, we had inclusion, many voices, diversity of opinions, diversity of artist that was something that was integral to the process,” Hayden said.
That intentionality was more than talk. They put it into action with over 75% of the art in the new terminal made by people of color or women.
“The diversity of this collection both in terms of gender and ethnicity is just amazing,” arts program manager Mark Spencer said.
One of the artists featured in the airport is Santiago Cucullu. His piece can be seen at gate B47, but he focused more on the other artists that got the same opportunity to display their art in the terminal.
“Fantastic… fantastic… like wow!” he expressed.
“Some of the other artist are some my favorite artist in the world. Underrepresented artist need to be represented, period, so that’s always great,” he said.
Although Cucullu’s roots track back to Argentina, his inspiration came from different spots around Kansas City. That includes Swope Park and Kaw Point, taking images of woods and foliage, processing those photos and taking the things we are familiar with and reliving them in a new way.
“Whenever an artist’s work gets seen, the work gets completed,” Cucullu said.
The impact the Hispanic community has had on the art at Kansas City’s new terminal stretches even further, including the work of George Rodriguez.
“Each one of these larger-than-life jazz figures represent something about culture in Kansas City and our people here,” Hayden said of Rodriguez’s art.
The placement of his artwork is not by mistake. They sit right in front of the Southwest gate, the busiest at Kansas City International Airport. Forty-seven percent of travelers that come through those doors fly out of this gate.
“We’re a place to be on the map, not just fly over country,” Hayden continued. “We’re the springboard to the rest of the world, so we have artists from so many backgrounds to represent that here.”
Next time you’re flying in or flying out of Kansas City, take a little time to look around.