For more than two decades, Mary Tearney has served as a devoted patron and passionate advocate for the Arts in Leawood, Johnson County, Kansas, and the Greater Kansas City area. Mary began her work as an Arts advocate in the 1990s, after retiring from a 25-year career teaching math and history at the Barstow School.
During the 1990s, Mary joined with a group of dedicated Arts leaders who came together to envision how a regional Arts council could serve the city. Working with with Ann Kenney, Carol Heil, Larry Meeker, Shirley Helzberg Joan Israelite and others, the group brainstormed for three years to create the Arts Council of Kansas City in February 1999. This organization has grown to become ArtsKC today.
In Johnson County, Kansas, Mary played an instrumental role in forming the Arts Council of Johnson County, while also delivering key leadership to other Arts programs. Mary serves on the Johnson County Public Arts Commission and as a member of the Johnson County History Museum Foundation Board. In her home city of Leawood, Mary has been the chairman of the Leawood Arts Council since 1999. Her involvement includes participation with the Leawood Stage Company (Theater Committee) from 1997 to present, and the Leawood Public Art Committee (APPI) from 1999 to present.
“It’s gratifying to see how over the past 20 years the importance of cultural arts has developed in Johnson County and across the Kansas City area,” Mary said. “The Crossroads District is an example of how the arts have contributed to economic development of the city, with the increase in art galleries and other artistic businesses, not just downtown, but also with new galleries and businesses in Johnson County now, too.”
Mary has volunteered for ACJC’s Shooting Stars event every year since 1997 to recognize the work of high school artists. She believes it is very important to honor the students nominated for Shooting Stars awards.
“The Shooting Stars program emphasizes the hard work of these young students to develop strong leadership adjunct to their artistic skill,” Mary said. “Students recognized by Shooting Stars have had to give up other things to pursue their art. It takes tremendous discipline and energy to get their academic work done along with pursuing their artistic talents. We also have to admire the families for supporting their children’s artistic talents.”
As an Arts patron, Mary and her husband, Jim, gifted the Tearney Education Center inside the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College. This gift combined Mary’s two passions: education and the arts. The center includes two classrooms: one for children’s arts activities, and another room for adult education and museum-related meetings.
Mary talked about how excited she is to see the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center (located at 87th & Metcalf in Overland Park, KS) open later this spring. She serves on the Board for the Johnson County Museum, which has been moved to this new location. The new site offers greater visibility for the Museum and new opportunities to expand its programs for school groups and the community. The Arts & Heritage Center also creates wonderful new space to engage all ages in many types of arts programs year-round. To acknowledge her many years of volunteering at the city and county level, in 2015 Mary received the Kansas Parks and Recreation Award.
“I’m happy to see the tremendous growth and interest in the Arts has developed since we started this work 20 years ago,” Mary said. “Today, most of the Johnson County cities (i.e., Overland Park, Prairie Village, Merriam and Lenexa) all have their own city arts councils that sponsor a variety of programs for all ages. Seniors can see concerts in the afternoons and evenings, and children and youth can participate in many different types of arts activities, including music, theatre and dance, thanks to these community programs.”