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Partnerships and Mergers Give Fast-Growing KCAD the Room it Needs

Ferris State University's Kendall College of Art and DesignFerris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design has merged with the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Michigan’s largest venue devoted to contemporary art, continuing Kendall’s expansion in downtown Grand Rapids. With the merger, the UICA is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kendall. The UICA’s new five-story structure, which is home to the city’s only downtown film theater, is just a block from Kendall’s main building.

When Kendall became a part of Ferris in 2000, it had a single building, about 500 students, and a budget of $4 million. Today, Kendall has three buildings for instruction, exhibition and administration, enrolls more than 1,400 students, and has a budget in excess of $19 million. Enrollment growth has made physical expansion necessary, and that expanded campus has been made possible by some innovative partnerships.

The Kendall/UICA merger extends the Kendall campus, maintaining the momentum of the dedication this past summer of the Woodbridge N. Ferris building (formerly the historic Grand Rapids Federal Building), which was completely renovated thanks to a public-private partnership. Key partners included the City of Grand Rapids, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the National Park Service, project developer and construction manager The Christman Company, architectural firm record Tower Pinkster, historic preservation consultants Hopkins Burns Design Studio, and interiors and furniture designers Via Design.

A public-private partnership also made possible the construction of new housing opportunities for Kendall students. From 2004 to 2008, Ferris/Kendall partner Rockford Construction renovated in phases what became The Lofts at 5 Lyon into student apartments, which created three contiguous blocks of educational and living space for young artists and designers. The merger with UICA gives Kendall students the opportunity to live, study and gain career experience all within a five-block radius of downtown Grand Rapids.

“We have been fortunate to have partners who recognize the importance of Kendall College of Art and Design to the vitality of the city of Grand Rapids, and to West Michigan generally,” Ferris President David Eisler said. “Kendall is a leader in product and design innovation, and that innovation is helping to fuel the resurgence of the area economy.”

Timing has been critical in creating Kendall’s unique urban campus. The Beaux Art Woodbridge N. Ferris Building was built in 1909-11 and vacant for four years after the Grand Rapids Art Museum moved out of the space when it built a new facility in 2007. In the case of the UICA, the arts organization opened a new $8-million home on Fulton Street, but the move came during the worst of the economic downturn. With debts and monthly expenses outpacing its income, the UICA was on a path to closing its doors until Kendall and a group of area philanthropists stepped in.

“The UICA sits at the heart of the city,” noted KCAD President David Rosen, whose first-year leadership of Kendall has been marked by this rapid expansion. “That is appropriate, because the heart of our community is its creativity. UICA provides a hub for all who thrive in the creative environment. Any city that wants to be great needs a UICA. It would have been terrible to lose that resource.”

Recent exhibitions have included architecture, sculpture, video, and interactive installations. Donors’ extraordinary commitment to pay off debt on the new building and the response of the community to UICA’s mission has made the merger possible.

“A steadfast group of key donors is bringing UICA to its next iteration with Kendall/Ferris,” said Kate Pew Wolters, one of those key donors and a long-time supporter of UICA. “Significant donor partnerships and community collaborations in West Michigan have once again come together to keep and enhance leading-edge arts and culture in the heart of the city. We would not be in this position today without the help of these donors and community-minded citizens.”

“Grand Rapids is a growing city with a growing appreciation of, and dependence upon, its creative culture. Despite the many past accomplishments of both Kendall and the UICA, today’s announcement is all about looking forward and embracing the possibilities this new partnership opens up,” Eisler said.

The UICA/Kendall merger creates some unique prospects for Kendall students. Executive director Miranda Krajniak expressed her excitement at the assistantship and internship possibilities the merger has opened up. “I have already written up a proposal for how Kendall students can get involved at UICA. Having that solid arts administration experience on your resume will be very attractive to lots of different kinds of employers.”