A new year brings a new gift to Wichita


When Katy Dorrah walked into a meeting last spring, high on her agenda was figuring how she was going to raise money to fix the long list of maintenance issues with the current Wichita Center for the Arts. The new executive director was thoroughly educated on the recent issues facing the old facility that houses the center, yet the marketing guru knew that fundraising for money to fix an old boiler is a hard sell.

Add in the fact that the center was outdated and classroom space was limited, the decision on how to move forward was a complicated one.

The current facility has served the organization well, but spatial needs for new studios and classrooms have changed over the last five decades. There were many needed repairs including the HVAC system, and achieving compliance with current Americans with Disabilities Act.

"After looking at the estimates of all the things that needed fixed, it started to make more sense to just rebuild the center," said Dorrah. However, the issues of rebuilding on their current land in east Wichita were escalating. They would have to cease operations for during the year long rebuild. It was not an ideal situation.

Soon after this initial process on rebuilding, Dorrah had a meeting with the center's board of directors that changed everything. On paper, tearing down and rebuilding was the right direction, but it was also a complicated one. Dorrah said as the board was discussing the issues that came with rebuilding on the current land, a staff accountant from Koch Industries said you just need new land to build a new facility. He mentioned the Koch land located on 13th Street and Rock.

"You could see the light go on in Mrs. Koch's eyes (who was at the meeting)," recalled Dorrah. "They've (Charles Koch Foundation) owned that land since 1988 and it's a very special piece of land to them. They have always wanted to do something special with it, and this was special as it will pay honor to Mary Koch, Charles Koch's mother, who loved the Wichita Center for the Arts."

In addition to the land donation valued at $4.5 million, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation donated a lead gift of $2 million, along with additional $4 million challenge grant. The center will be fundraising for the remaining $8 million that will be needed to complete the project.

Dorrah said this new building will protect the legacy that signifies the love Mary Koch had of the art community and the city of Wichita. "It's an absolutely overwhelming and wonderful gift," said Dorrah. "I think it is important to the Koch family to see what could happen in the arts community they wanted to make a bold statement."

The land donation will allow the center to continue services to the community while building a state-of-the-art 39,000 square-foot facility that will allow them to build upon the future of the Center for the Arts through expanded classrooms, premier gallery space for national exhibits, expanded studios, outdoor sculpture garden and a 400-seat great hall. There will also be outdoor green space for art fairs and special events and a culinary teaching kitchen. The total cost of the project will be around $19 million. The center also plans to sell the current land that houses the original center.

That real estate sale, along with active community fundraising, will hopefully allow the center to break ground late summer.

This new facility will also be the perfect opportunity to enhance the center's current programming and tailor it to what the community both wants and needs in a new Center for the Arts. Dorrah knows that if they build a beautiful facility, the programming has to be just right for it to be successful.

"We want to really look at how to make arts education visionary and cutting edge here in Wichita," she said. While traditional art classes will always remain a priority, Dorrah envisions a center where they can also tap into Wichita's interest in engineering and science culture.

"Innovation can happen here. There can be an intersection of logic and creativeness. We can look at programming that drives science, technology, engineering, arts and math."

Dorrah envisions this new facility enriching the collaboration of art programs throughout the city. "I think all the arts groups and the art museum in our community work really well together," said Dorrah. "We are going to be able to take the best of what our center currently offers and build on it for the future, said Dorrah. "The sky's the limit on where the center can go from here. It's a dream come true."

Rodeo Drive Baubles Boutique

Thursday, Feb. 11
Wichita Center for the Arts, 9112 E. Central.

5-6 p.m. VIP shipping with champagne, $100 advance purchase only.

6-8 p.m. Regular admission includes wine and hors d'oeuvres. $25 in advance for members, $30 in advance for the public and $35 at the door.

Buy tickets at wcfta.com or call (316) 634-2787.

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