County commission candidates on the issues: Supporting a vibrant arts community in Johnson County

The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College. Photo via museum Facebook page.
The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College. Photo via museum Facebook page.

Today we continue with the candidates’ responses to our questionnaire for those seeking positions on the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.

The fourth questionnaire item is as follows:

What are your goals for cultivating a strong cultural identity for Johnson County in the next four years? What role should the arts play in Johnson County’s cultural identity, and how should the county be supporting the arts community?

Eilert_225Ed Eilert (County Commission Chair incumbent)
Johnson County and several cities in our county support Art Councils that do excellent work in developing, sponsoring and advising elected bodies in the area of various art activities and their importance to a community’s quality of life. The Arts Council of Johnson County has continued to receive public support in the amount of $100,000 per year. In their own words, “The Arts Council of Johnson County strongly advocates and supports the role the Arts play in the future development of the county and the surrounding region as well as daily life.” One program example that supports and encourages the artistic talent of our young people is the Shooting Stars Recognition Program. This program provides workshops for student artists and recognizes high school seniors for outstanding artistic talent, including scholarship opportunities. The work and long term planning that has been carried out by the Arts Council of Johnson County has been important in identifying the arts and cultural opportunities that exist in the county and the significant value they bring to our community. I believe it is important to continue to support and advance the Arts in Johnson County.

PatriciaPatricia Lightner (County Commission Chair challenger)
When I think of the cultural identity of Johnson County – I think of a clean, vibrant model suburb with a strong economy supported by small and big businesses, yet family and children friendly with blue ribbon schools and still, wide open green spaces. Johnson County has all the attributes of a model suburb; that is our cultural identity.

Much credit should be given to our civic leaders who through the decades had the vision to set this county on the right track for growth and prosperity. But also, a great deal of recognition should be shown to citizens and business that have been the real driving force in making Johnson County what it is today. I point to Corporate Woods developed by business men in the early ‘70s. This business development was one of the first of its kind in the nation with a number of the buildings winning architectural awards. Corporate Woods for me is one of the landmarks of Johnson County’s cultural identity.

My goal as the next County Chair would be for Johnson County to continue on that same track and a few things that I would work toward accomplishing are:

  • Providing an economic environment that allows individuals and businesses to grow their business and invest in the County. (keep taxes low, loosen regulations).
  • Keep our school districts’ excellence.
  • Provide the required planning for economic and residential growth.

The arts are important. I am a History of Art major, graduate of KU and no one appreciates and loves the arts more than I do. And I also believe the arts should be part of an extra curriculum of our children’s education.

While some “arts” like Theatre in the Park, if supported now by some tax dollars, should continue because of the tremendous success and involvement of our residents; as a general rule, tax dollars should not support arts.

County government needs to provide for core essential services to our residents. Money spent on the arts could not be justified as a core essential service necessary to the community.

The arts have an important place in Johnson County but should be supported through patrons and private sector generosity, not through tax payer dollars.

Ed_PetersonEd Peterson (County Commission Chair challenger)
Johnson County has been identified by outstanding public schools, safe neighborhoods, and high quality services. I will add to this identity a strong visible presence of the arts in the community. A recent report of the Metropolitan Arts Council revealed that more people support and participate in the arts in this region than other comparable regions, and Johnson County residents lead the way. There is substantial growth among the arts in this region, making it one of our fastest growing economic sectors. The Johnson County community should capitalize on this momentum by developing more performance venues and accessible art displays.

A specific goal is completion of the move of the Johnson County Museum to the King Louie facility, including a winter home for Theater in the Park. Another project to lift the profile of arts in our community is completion of the InterUrban ArtHouse in downtown Overland Park, a private project that would bring multiple options for artistic and cultural activity to our community. County leadership should lend support to their fundraising efforts. The County should continue its policy of devoting 1 percent of large construction projects to public art within the project.

Arts and culture are a critical component of economic development. A vibrant arts community stimulates an environment that attracts the creative class of people that all regions are competing for. Our region is fortunate to have a growing arts community; Johnson County should build on this success.


Rachel Sciolaro (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
Johnson County should promote and cultivate a strong cultural identity. The Board of Johnson County Commissioners should continue to support the 1 percent of the Public Arts program. However, the role of the county should also encourage the community to support local businesses like Ko’s Black Belt Academy. I earned my black belt in Taekwondo from Master Ko. I also have played the piano and flute for many years. In addition, it is important for families to support local businesses through taking music, dance and even martial art lessons etc. If we encourage the community to support local businesses, then our community will gain the diversity of art.



ShafferRon Shaffer (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
While Kansas City is the home for most of the major cultural attractions to the Metro Area, Johnson County is rich in cultural amenities. My goal is to support the arts in Johnson County by providing more opportunities to artists for the promotion of their work and more exposure of the arts to our citizens.

The role of the arts is to provide an opportunity for citizens to experience live theater and dance, concerts, visual art exhibitions and promote art education through camps and programs for youth and seniors. Venues and programs at the junior college, great community theaters like The Barn Players and Theatre in the Park, city events such as the Prairie Village Jazz Fest and annual State of the Arts Exhibition, enrich the cultural quality of life that residents are seeking when they choose to live in Johnson County.

From 1998-2004, I served on the Board of the Arts Council of Johnson County which promotes and coordinates art events. The County budgets a small amount to assist in their efforts. Currently the Arts Council awards college scholarships to High School Seniors for artistic excellence at their annual Shooting Stars event. Further support for activities could be provided to local City Arts Councils through collaboration with the Arts Council of Johnson County by enlisting volunteers and corporate/private sponsors to cultivate community engagement. The new JOCO Magazine could feature community and county wide art events as a way to help promote the arts by providing more exposure for programming, funding and venues.

I have fostered the arts throughout my career as an architect and in my role as mayor, because I believe that art feeds the soul. In order to make Johnson County a desirable place to live, work and play, we must continue to support the arts.

DicarloAlex DiCarlo (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
The traditional arts are a core element in developing cultural identity. It’s difficult to obfuscate a single political region when discussing something as abstract as the “arts,” but the county can help facilitate an interest in the arts by providing the venue. I believe it’s in the best interest of the community to support the arts and the artists whenever possible.




McConwell_25Laura McConwell (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
From Theater in the Park to the Johnson County Museum, we have a fairly robust arts culture. We also have a number of municipalities who have their own Arts Councils. Our arts entities are supported and sustained by passionate citizens who appreciate the value art and culture bring to a community. Government, however, is a supporter of the arts rather than the driver. The county presently provides a myriad of assistance to our arts community. The Arts Community uses that assistance to leverage other available funds whether from private donations, grants, or other sources.

A great example of a County supported program is Theater in the Park. It is also a program I watched be developed firsthand. My grandparents, Reuben and Ethel Sell, and group of like-minded citizens, primarily Sertomans, thought we needed community theater to provide an opportunity for youth and adults to showcase their talent and an opportunity for the public to experience live theater.

As a young girl, I remember collecting newspapers and selling yellow trashbags and bumper stickers to help raise funds as it outgrew Antioch Park and moved to its current location. First to be built was the permanent structure at SM Park, then the concessions and finally the plumbed restrooms. The theater continues as a great success today because of the citizen volunteers, citizen performers, private donations, patrons and the partnership support supplied by Johnson County. Thanks to their efforts, thousands of people enjoy live theater, and other performances, each year.

The county should, and has, incorporated art and/or interesting designs in many of their properties. The county has demonstrated that it is possible to incorporate such designs into projects and keep them at or under budget. In several of the buildings, the county also incorporated energy efficiencies as well. Form and function can work quite well together.

Naser_225Mark Nauser (District 1 Commissioner candidate)
The arts are extremely important to Johnson County. The success of our county should not just be measured in financial terms, but also in quality of life. I believe that world-class arts and amenities are important to a good quality of life. The county should do what it can to support the arts and also find ways to help private organizations best maximize their support for the arts.

I would like to see the county expand the scope of two successful programs that already exist. As far as performing arts go, our Theatre in the Park program is the largest outdoor community theatre in the country. However, their five productions only span two summer months from June through August. Certainly this program could provide the foundation for developing a longer season if it had an indoor facility. Next, the Shawnee Mission School District’s Broadmoor Bistro has become a nationally acclaimed culinary arts and education program.

I could see the county supporting both these arts programs in a single venue that would be located in the King Louie Building. Residents of our county could enjoy dinner and the theatre as we provide both of these groups of artists an opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills. I believe that this is a solution worth considering as it would not only address the space limitations currently facing these two entities, but also be a step towards developing a cost-effective solution to preserving a historic piece of area architecture.

Tomorrow the candidates will respond to item four:

Much has been made in recent years about the “economic border war” between Kansas and Missouri — but Johnson County and Jackson County are integral parts of a unified metropolitan area. Are there steps Johnson County should be taking to better collaborate with Jackson County for the benefit of the entire Kansas City area?