Alumnus Shares High Hopes for Arts Community
Arts advocate has high hopes for Kansas City
Harlan Brownlee (M.A. '04), president and CEO of ArtsKC - the Regional Arts Council
, works to support, advocate, and promote the arts on behalf of the arts community in the Kansas City region. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization, he is responsible for the financial health of the organization and working with a board of directors to set and implement ArtsKC's strategic objectives.
Brownlee received his bachelor's of fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he studied dance and choreography. His performance background includes 13 years as one of the artistic co-directors with City in Motion Dance Theater in Kansas City. Before taking the job at ArtsKC, Brownlee served from 2005 to 2009 as executive director for Kansas City Young Audiences.
(Photo by Tom Styrkowicz
Brownlee is excited for the future of the arts in Kansas City and UMKC.
"Kansas City is home to me and my family," Brownlee said. "UMKC has been and continues to be an important part of our Kansas City life. I have great hopes for this community and in particular for UMKC’s proposed Downtown Campus for the Arts
. A downtown campus for the arts is an idea whose time has come, and I look forward to being a part of it."
When did you figure out you had a passion for the arts?
When I was in 6th grade, I was in the play "12 Angry Men," and played Juror No. 3. I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Bradshaw, who shared her love of the theater and inspired me to take up acting. I also grew up in a family that valued and treasured the arts. My father was an intaglio printmaker, and I was surrounded by artistic experiences and a love for the arts. I was encouraged to be creative and express my thoughts and feelings through artistic means.
You earned a master’s degree in educational research and psychology at UMKC. How has that degree translated in your career and life?
My graduate degree opened the doors for me to be considered for employment positions at a leadership level and eventually led to my current position at ArtsKC. Not only did I learn to become a better communicator from my graduate work, but I also learned to apply a number of strategies and techniques for effective program evaluation and analysis. Having the great job I have now has made a substantial difference to me and my family.
How has the arts community in Kansas City changed in the past 10 years?
I believe this is a special time for the arts in Kansas City, one that we will look back on in another 20 years and see as truly unique. The past 10 years have led to a cultural renaissance for our region. The arts are thriving at an unprecedented level and being recognized by civic and business interests for the economic impact and the community-building benefits they bring to the region. I can think of no better time for the arts in the 30 years I have lived here and been involved in the arts in Kansas City.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging is seeing the level of talent and potential for the arts in our community and knowing that an established mechanism for the public support of art would make the most of it. Creating a sustainable and stable source of public funding is vital to our community and one of the most important priorities for the long-term viability for the arts community.
Seeing all the good that the work of ArtsKC has generated for the region and the arts community. My work at ArtsKC gives me a unique perspective on the arts that is encompassing and rewarding.
What are your goals for ArtsKC?
Priorities for ArtsKC in the coming year include the creation of the first Regional Cultural Plan that provides a blueprint for the arts in the Kansas City region, making the arts more meaningful, impactful, and significant for our community. As part of that work, we wish to address the shortfalls we see in arts education across K-12 curriculum and for adults as well. I'm deeply passionate about the power of the arts to change our lives for the better. To that end, I believe young people need to be introduced to the arts. And in line with our desire to create a sustainable and stable source of public funding for the arts, we want to significantly grow the ArtsKC Fund where we can re-grant $2 million a year to fund the requests we believe have true merit within the arts community.
Anything else we should know about you?
I am grateful for the generosity of this community and grateful to be leading ArtsKC at a pivotal time in its evolution. Much of my time is devoted to problem solving and I love a challenge. I am lucky to have a great team of people to work with and to be a part of an impressive community that is clearly on the upswing.