Kansas City Art Institute


What began as a small group of artists who called themselves “the Sketch Club" in 1885 would eventually grow to what is now the Kansas City Art Institute, an accredited four-year college of art and design that sits on a sixteen-acre campus in Kansas City, Missouri. At its beginning “The Sketch Club” included twenty members who came together to create art. In 1887 the Sketch Club held its first exhibition and its members were instrumental information of the Kansas City Art Association and School of Design, initially incorporated with the mission to create a school of drawing, painting and design. By 1888 the newly named School of Fine Arts was holding classes and had galleries that displayed casts and reproductions  of significant works from around the world. By 1892 the School of Fine Arts had 114 students and to support its growing attendance was able to hire more faculty including George Van Millet, William Weber, Louis Koehler and Edith Whitehead. The Art Association was also growing during this time with a membership of 244, including wealthy patrons like William Rockhill Nelson. A fire in 1893 destroyed the school, interrupting growth.  The next fourteen years were a period of recovery. 

In 1907 the newly named Fine Arts Institution of Kansas City was incorporated and operated at several locations throughout the city until 1927, when Howard Vanderslice, with the assistance of neighbors, purchased the August R. Meyer residence for the permanent home of the Kansas City Art Institute. Included in this sale was land for expanding the institution's campus. Vanderslice Hall continues to serve as the administration building for the college.

By 1916 the Kansas City Art Institute began hosting the Midwestern Artists' Exhibition, which drew artists from the Midwest region to Kansas City. This annual exhibition allowed artists from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado, to showcase their painting, sculpture, and graphic arts skills. While the show promoted artists' talents, this also became an opportunity for the public to purchase the art on display. A panel of judges juried each exhibition and distributed awards: gold medals and monetary gifts: Kansas City Art Institute Awards, and Missouri-Kansas Art Exhibit Awards (for painting, sculpture, graphic arts, decorative arts, and honorable mentions in textile decoration).

Located between the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the four-year, private college offers thirteen majors in the BFA program. The KCAI campus is home to two galleries.  The H&R Block Artspace, established in 1999, is a dynamic teaching museum, featuring exhibitions of regional, national and international artists.  KCAI Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice, launched in 2016, showcases curriculum-based projects that engage students, faculty and the community.  Notable KCAI faculty include John Douglas Patrick, George Van Millet,  Thomas Hart Benton,  Dale Eldred, Wilbur Niewald, and Ken Ferguson. KCAI has also had well-known artists come through its doors including John Steuart Curry, Walt Disney, Robert Rauschenberg, and Nick Cave (1982, Fiber).

Select Sources

Kansas City Public library, "Kansas City Art Institute," accessed on May 17, 2021,

Kansas City Art Association and School of Design Museum of Fine Arts Catalogue and Handbook (Kansas City: Kansas City Art Association and School of Design, 1888).

Catalogue of an Exhibition of Works by Artists of Kansas City and Vicinity (Kansas City: The Fine Arts Institute, 1920).

"ITEMS," The American Magazine of Art 11, no. 12 (1920): 451.

"Art in Kansas," Art and Progress 1, no. 12 (1910): 368-69.

Milton S. Katz, A History of the Kansas City Art Institute: A Century of Excellence and Beyond (Kansas City, Mo: The Institute, 2010),


Lora Farrell, Kansas City Art Institute

Record Published

Published on September 20, 2021

Kansas City, Missouri
Known As
Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design
Kansas City Art Association and School of Design
Fine Arts Institute of Kansas City
Sketch Club
Western Art League
Kansas City Paint Club
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