Johnson County parks department launches Culture Division for more arts, culture, history programming

Culture Division
JCPRD celebrated the launch of its new Culture Division with an open house Oct. 30. Photo by Nick Combs

Johnson County Park and Recreation District has created a new division dedicated entirely to culture. JCPRD kicked off the launch of the new division with a celebration Oct. 30.

“We don’t launch new divisions; it just doesn’t happen,” said Susan Mong, who oversees the Culture Division. “So it’s a big moment in history for our organization to step into that space and be strategic about doing that well and providing that for the community.”

Mong said JCPRD staff believes that arts, culture and history are an important part of a healthy community.

“I think it’s a major economic driver and just really important to the health and vitality of our community,” she added. “Research shows that it creates better educational outcomes for our youth and it creates a more engaged citizenry, more compassion, and we could always use more compassion when we enter into other people’s stories.”

With the creation of the district’s culture division comes expanded programming through Theatre in the Park and the Black Box Theatre, additional fine and performing arts programs for all ages, and the Johnson County Museum with its KidScape play area.

Susan Mong leads the new Culture Division as superintendent. Photo by Grant Mong

“We want to be a major provider and convener of arts, culture and history for the community,” Mong said. “We’re really going to be reaching out to the community as well to find out what it is that they would like, what are some things that we’re not doing today that we need to be offering.”

The park and recreation district recently added Johnson County Museum as part of its organization, and the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center was built. The culture division is a way to bring similar programming by the district into one joint effort.

“With those major components coming under JCPRD, our leadership felt like it was strategic to launch this new division to reflect what the community needs and what the community wants,” she said.

Her vision for the Culture Division involves building partnerships with other arts organizations within Johnson County and the Kansas City metro area “so that we can be amplifying the efforts of other great arts organizations and make sure that we’re working in concert with them and not working in a silo.”

“We want to be part of the larger arts ecosystem in the Kansas City area,” Mong said, “so I’m excited about reaching out to those partners and figuring out how we do this in a coordinated and collaborated way.”

Mong said she feels honored to have her new role as she leads the district’s efforts for expanded programming in arts, culture and history.

“I feel extremely humbled to be given the opportunity to launch that and serve the community in that way,” she said. “It’s a real honor.”