In 1982, Emanuel, a New York City native, was 22 and a “relatively directionless” student at Hampshire College in Massachusetts when she took what was supposed to be a 14-day escape to San Francisco. While there, she signed up for a volunteer gig, believing she’d be helping repaint a building in one solid color. Instead, she discovered a public mural project in San Francisco’s Mission District, under the direction of Patricia Rodriguez.
Rodriguez became a mentor, and Emanuel knew how she would spend her life: pursuing art as a means of revitalizing space and building community. “I experience an intense adrenaline-rush and feeling of meaning when I combined creativity with community projects,” she says. “I feel like a conduit to something bigger and more important than me.”
Emanuel stayed in San Francisco, finished her degree in Industrial Design at San Francisco State, and met her husband, Luke. It was Luke’s career that eventually took them back to the Midwest, through Minnesota and Wisconsin, to Kansas City, where they have mostly lived since 1992.
By then, Emanuel had already built a career as an artist and arts administrator when she finally took her first formal art class, enrolling at the Kansas City Arts Institute, where she would be named a Gold Scholar and Thomas Hart Benton Scholar each year until she graduated as valedictorian in 1995.
Emanuel’s work has appeared in 22 group exhibitions and more than a dozen solo shows around Kansas City and across the country. She has also completed more than 20 large-scale corporate and public murals, and curated multiple public-art projects, including a street fair with more than 100 vendors and artists. As a teacher, she has instructed students from California to Wisconsin to UMKC, and also directs the Artsmart program, which enables environmentally conscious artists to work with students in public schools.
In addition to being honored as the 2011 ArtsKC Awards Featured Artist, she was a 2009 ArtsKC Inspiration Grant recipient, and received a 2009 Hadassah-Brandeis Research Award. She says she is extremely proud of her work in designing and creating both the 2011 and 2012 Ace Awards; her unique statues are given each year by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to culturally diverse leaders in business.
Meanwhile, she finds the most time to be a dedicated mother to her two children (who, of course, she considers to be her finest creations).
Developing InterUrban ArtHouse is not so much a culmination but a perfect illustration of Emanuel’s ongoing professional mission. Ever since her first work with other muralists in San Francisco, she has seen art as a way to engage a community. “There are hundreds of mid-career artists like me, who moved from the urban-core to the suburbs for good schools and are now isolated as artists,” she says. “So when I was looking for a studio close to home in Johnson County and saw an empty building, I understood this wasn’t just about me.”
That building, an underutilized 18,000-square-foot industrial structure in downtown Overland Park, will be converted into a nonprofit arts community center comprising affordable, stable studio and office space for the arts, as well as space for exhibitions, events, and education. Part of the property will even be converted to green space for sculpture installations and demonstration gardens.
She points to the KC Arts Council’s impending studies, Local Arts Index and Arts & Economic Prosperity IV, as evidence
that “the arts ignores the bi-state divisions and unifies our metro identity as a phenomenon of contemporary art place.” So more than simply meeting a pent-up demand for arts space in the area, InterUrban ArtHouse—expected to open in 2013—will be a nexus to connect those in the suburban arts sector to colleagues along the arts corridor, while highlighting the diversity of the creative community in Johnson County. In other words, to engender that sense of community that called Emanuel to the arts in the first place on the streets of San Francisco.
“This is ‘Creative Placemaking,’ suburban-style,” says Emanuel. “Take a dilapidated property at the crux of a historic downtown verging on a new life and a historic residential area, mix it up with hundreds of artists yearning for space and connection, and poof, you’ve got synergy, community, creativity, beautification and activity.”
A painter, mother of two, writer and arts organizer, Nicole Emanuel was the 2011 ArtsKC Awards featured artist/awards designer and created both the 2011 and 2012 ACE Awards for the Greater KC Chamber of Commerce. In San Francisco, Nicole began her career in public art and Urban Cultural Planning for Artists’ Live/Work spaces. Her first BA, in Design & Industry from San Francisco State University in 1985, was followed by a BFA in painting from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1995. She currently attends UMKC Master’s where her manuscript “Memoraphilia: a granddaughter’s memoir, the life of Jewish artist and storyteller Liouba Golschmann” won a 2009 Women’s Council’s grant and 2009 Hadassah–Brandeis Institute Award. Nicole’s experiences with her family — especially drawing with her great-uncle Vladimir Golschmann, a life-long friend of Picasso’s — greatly influenced her becoming an artist. Nicole has created 20 large-scale murals and 2 large-scale public sculptures; her paintings and drawings are in numerous corporate and private collections in New York, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas and Missouri. Through SMSD, she runs a local Artsmart Program to hire environmentally-minded, multi-cultural artists to do hands-on programming in public schools. Nicole also co-coordinates the annual “Who Does She Think She Is?” exhibition with UMKC’s Women’s Center and Charlotte Street Foundation. Occasionally, Nicolehas time for a complete thought; otherwise she paints. She does not do windows.