The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts has a rich history in the city, dating back to 1924. Since that time, we have grown to incorporate a large number of exhibits and have regularly sought to expand the number of classes that we offer. For almost 100 years, we have maintained a firm commitment to spreading a love for art in Kalamazoo and surrounding communities.
In 1924, the Kalamazoo Chapter of the American Federation of the Arts incorporated as the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to present classes and establish legal responsibility for the ownership of art objects and the solicitation of funds. The mission of these active artists and art patrons was to encourage the creation and appreciation of art. Small budgets and membership numbers characterized the early years. Staffed primarily with volunteers, the KIA developed distinguished exhibitions and art classes while located in a house loaned by the Kalamazoo Board of Education.
In 1931, the KIA hired its first full-time director and began offering art classes to both children and adults. In 1947 the KIA gained a permanent home when it purchased a renovated Victorian mansion at 421 West South Street. In the 1930s and 40s, distinguished guest lecturers such as Diego Rivera, Thomas Hart Benton, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier challenged and informed local audiences about the contemporary art world. An eclectic schedule of exhibitions included work by Picasso and Klee, Japanese prints and ceramics, African Art, Dutch old masters, and even an international kite collection that became a traveling exhibition. Annual juried competitions and exhibitions by local artists and students helped promote and encourage both new and established artists.
In 1951, the KIA launched the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Fair to provide an opportunity for local artists to exhibit and sell their work. Held annually on the first weekend in June, Art Fair has grown into a juried fair that attracts artists from across the United States and Canada and a crowd of over 40,000.
In 1961, the KIA built a new facility, the Gilmore Art Center at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts at its current location. The Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill design was based on architect Mies van der Rohe’s plan for a museum in a small city, and illustrated the International style: glass walls, slab construction, exposed columns. With new exhibition areas and storage space, the KIA was able to actively build its collection for the first time. The building included exhibition galleries, an art library, auditorium, sculpture garden, studio classrooms, and office space. In 1988, the KIA developed a new logo and became known simply as the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.
In 1994, the KIA began a $14.5 million capital and endowment campaign which resulted in building expansion and renovation designed by the Boston architectural firm of Ann Beha Associates. The addition increased the facility size from 45,000 to 72,000 square feet. Highlights include a two-story lobby gallery, a new auditorium, classrooms, galleries, gallery shop, art library, and an interactive gallery for children of all ages. In 2006, the Art School was named the Kirk Newman Art School to recognize the artist and former Art School director who contributed so much to its development.
Today over 100,000 visitors each year enjoy traveling exhibitions, rotating exhibitions of works from a permanent collection of 4,600, and dozens of programs and events at the KIA. Nearly 3,000 students enroll annually in Kirk Newman Art School classes. The original mission of the KIA to encourage the creation and appreciation of the visual arts continues to guide the institution.