VIDEO: KAI Explores Putting Art in Architecture

By on June 1, 2018

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

Artwork is often an afterthought in planning a project, Michael B. Kennedy, president of KAI-DB feels.  A project that was completed in just over seven months from beginning to end would seem to be an unusual setting for a discussion of how to be more thoughtful and intentional in using art to create better environments, but it turned out to be perfect.

Wednesday (May 30) at the newly-completed Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being KAI, in partnership with ARCH, a design/artwork/framing consultant, hosted what is intended to be the first of a series of discussions about the use of art in architecture.

The Deaconess center was constructed on a tight timetable because it was faced with vacating its previous location and wanted to build a new structure at 1000 N. Vandeventer in the Grand Center Arts District.

Deaconess Foundation President and CEO Starsky Wilson embraced KAI’s plan, which Director of Design Bill McCuen said included creating a presence on street line versus setting the building back behind parking lot, and incorporating art into the DNA of the building. The tilt-up concrete and glass structure wraps around a U-shaped courtyard. A glass-enclosed corridor for function space highlights a massive mural by St. Louis artist Cbabi Bayoc.

Bayoc (whose nom de plume is an acronym for Creative Black Artist Battling Ignorance/Blessed African Youth of Creativity) has completed both murals and multi-media work across the St. Louis area. The late artist Prince collected Bayoc’s work and one painting was featured on the cover of the album The Rainbow Children.

Bayoc said that Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of Deaconess, “didn’t want a sketch, simply stating that he wanted the art to reflect the values of the foundation and the at-risk children and their families who received services there. In addition to the mural Bayoc completed smaller paintings and metal-and-paint wall pieces.

The evening program began with guided questions, moderated by Kennedy, in which the panelists and audience collaborated. In addition to Bayoc, panelists included KAI’s consulting artist Kennedy Yanko; KAI interior designer Asha Perez; McCuen; and Levi Buck and Connie Wetmore, respectively business development director and senior art consultant at ARCH.

Bushwick Brooklyn, NY-based Kennedy Yanko, grew up in St. Louis as the daughter of an architect. Her father used to take her on tours of homes he had designed.For awhile she alternated between acting and painting here and in New York (plus an interest in personal training and bodybuilding). After apprenticing to learn welding from Romanian neighbors who operated a fabricating shop she evolved her art into her current three-dimensional multi-media constructions.

Yanko spoke of owners such as the J.P. Morgan Art Collection, which she said bought paintings for next-to-nothing from up and coming artists, beginning in the late 1950s. Some of early those works are now worth nine figures, she said. She said that when budget becomes a consideration, supporting up-and-comers becomes a win:win.

Yanko said that artwork helps an organization define its culture and gives employees a sense of belonging. ARCH representative Buck noted that healthcare organizations have long recognized the healing and calming effects of artwork.

KAI Founder Michael Kennedy Sr. said that art in design need not consist of fixed pieces in the conventional sense of “art”.  He recalled when Emily Pulitzer pushed to add art enhancements to Metrolink. He noted that the art ended up including the birdlike support columns for the elevated track sections at Lambert Field. The columns, he said, were a collaboration between the artists and the construction team.

About Tom Finan