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Inspiring Conversations with Ashley Arnett-Shipley of Kansas City Textile Arts Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Arnett-Shipley. Them and their team share their story with us below:

The Kansas City Textile Arts Center (KCTAC) is a grassroots, artist-run space bringing affordable textile art education to all. KCTAC is run by a collective of artists and designers offering small classes and workshops in textile and fiber arts. KCTAC aims to enrich the community through affordable, hands-on arts education in a supportive space. Textile art programs, usually only offered at universities, can be costly and require a prolonged commitment of time. At KCTAC, students can develop creative skills on their own time, paving the way for life-long learning.

KCTAC is owned by Kansas City native artist Ashley Arnett-Shipley. Originally an apparel design major, sewing is deeply rooted in her practice and fostered her passion for fibers. After studying fashion at Johnson County Community College, she transferred to The University of Kansas and earned a BFA in Textile Design. Professionally, she has worked in textiles for over ten years: from cashier at a fabric store to freelancing for various design studios, companies and individuals around the KC metro. She implements an array of techniques into her professional and personal work but focuses on sewing, dyeing, marbling and quilting. Marbling on fabric is her specialty and she uses her designs to create artwork, quilts, home goods and other custom creations.

Inspired by similar organizations on the US coasts, Ashley started KCTAC to bring affordable, collective art education to Kansas City. During her time learning and collaborating with other artists, she saw the need for inclusive, artist-centered education and opportunities outside of academia. Supporting oneself as a full-time artist is difficult, and many creatives rely on external part-time work. KCTAC seeks to be an outlet for artists to make a living by doing and teaching what they’re most passionate about: making art.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Keeping a fledgling business afloat during the first few years is difficult enough as it is, let alone adding a pandemic to the mix. COVID has made it incredibly difficult to keep up with expenses due to restrictions; being unable to safely host open studio, movie nights, and other community events. The physical space was closed to the public for most of 2020 and remained that way up until May 2021.

This caused us to shift to online class offerings (which is something we will continue to offer for easy accessibility and for anyone with safety concerns.) Navigating the digital realm and technological difficulties of streaming quality content comes with its own challenges but has allowed us to connect and collaborate with so many makers and artists in the process from all over the country. Lucky for me, my partner is a tech enthusiast who builds computers in his spare time, and I’ve had other educators share their Zoom experiences and tips with me. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Kansas City Textile Arts Center?
KCTAC breaks the mold of traditional art institutions by straying from systems of gatekeeping and exclusion by using non-hierarchical teaching practices; aiding in the quest for unrestricted knowledge. Anyone with the know-how and passion is invited to pitch their class ideas, regardless of formal education or teaching experience. There is always an open call for creatives to teach. We support artists/ educators by connecting them with students and generously compensating them through class fees. Educators, in return, sustain us by adding their knowledge to the collective and allowing a small portion of proceeds to go towards the operation of the center.

There is so much gatekeeping in the art world: exclusive language, internships, prerequisites/ degrees, applicant fees or value placed only within certain categories and hierarchies. It can be incredibly discouraging as an artist; especially when one dedicates so much to their craft: time, money, sentimentality. It can be very personal.

These barriers only limit creativity and our ability to make art intuitively. Humans have been crafting since the beginning of time, it is in our nature. There is no “wrong” way to make art. All are invited to come create, learn new skills, connect with other makers and nourish collective learning in a supportive environment. Art is healing, and everyone should have access to arts education.

My long-term goal, with continued growth of this organization, is to acquire and renovate one of the many vacant buildings or schools near downtown Kansas City, Kansas. After revitalizing the property, it will house classrooms and a number of affordable studio spaces to rent. Many emerging artists are no longer able to afford a studio in the KC area. KCTAC is committed to supporting the growing Kansas City arts and fibers community through this long-term vision.

Where we are in life is often partly because of others. Who/what else deserves credit for how your story turned out?
From the humble beginnings in the basement of a photography studio to our own location a year later and remaining; I couldn’t have imagined it happening so quickly. Words can’t describe how grateful I am KCTAC remains when so many businesses have been forced to close their doors. I feel so fortunate to be a part of such a supportive and generous community.

Firstly, I want to thank my husband, Matt Shipley, my best friend, a solid pillar and true partner in life. Emily Hedges, for being the best sister and ally anyone could ask for. Lisa Coleman for always being there. Jan and Tom Shipley who contributed seed funds to get us rooted. Karla Buie for being a co-contributor and my right hand in all operations. Melissa McGrath for all of her encouragement and being an all around angel. Allison Sheldon for being a co-contributor in the founding of the KCTAC and all her creative input. Jacob Smith and Travis Smorstad for all their time and incredibly hard work in renovating the center. Alyx Jacobs for designing our logo and website.

I would also like to express gratitude to everyone who has taught a class, taken a class, and our patrons: Rick Buie, Richard Arnett, Janet Buie, Lauren King, Erin Turner, Linnca Stevens, Brian Buie, Kylie Campbell, Sharon Oberland, and Danica Lyons.

You all have contributed to the growth of KCTAC. Thank you for believing in this vision, I could not have pulled it off without any of you.

If you would like to support the Kansas City Textile Art Center’s vision, you can find us on Patreon. Help support small business, independent artists, and accessible arts education. Mutual aid is so important. If we care and support for one another, we can begin to mend the holes in our social fabric.

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