How I Build Textile Arts Community In Kansas & Missouri

elmusa-ks-mo-rep2I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being an SDA volunteer and area rep for Kansas and Missouri for several years.

The retired art educator in me still desires to facilitate collaboration and association among fellow members! I’m always keen to share the many SDA benefits which have been – and still are – instrumental in my personal artistic development. 

Besides, it’s fun!

An enjoyable and rewarding SDA members’ area meeting was recently organized on a Sunday in February (2016). It featured exposure to a prominent Kansas City fiber BFA program plus a dialogue with 3 recent graduates of the program.

elmusa-3 present KCAI -12

In general, I organize 3 or 4 local Kansas City SDA area meetings per year.  I’d been considering how our area group could better mentor and support emerging artists, designers and students. I was also interested in planning an event which allowed members exposure to more recent developments, innovations and directions in fiber and textiles.

If you’ve ever considered creating an event in your area, here are some tips to support the planning process:

elmusa-warehouse-kcai-31. PARTNER WITH A LOCAL COLLEGE PROGRAM OR RELATED RESOURCE: At a previous SDA grant-funded event in November 2015, I approached active Kansas member Professor Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, who is chair of the fiber department at Kansas City Art Institute, about the possibility of holding a local group meeting in the Fiber Warehouse at KCAI. Our group had met there previously, but this time I suggested we incorporate 3 student/recent grad presentations into the February 2016 meeting.  Happily, she was enthusiastic about this idea.

2. EASY DOES IT WITH EMAIL: The plan was organized via email.

3. APPLY FOR AN SDA SMALL EVENTS GRANT: I applied for and received an SDA Small Events Grant to fund stipends and student memberships for our 3 presenters. The grant process itself was uncomplicated; the funding received was appreciated by our young artists and current members, who were keen to participate in this event.

4. SPREAD THE WORD ONLINE: I used the KS-MO SDA Facebook page as well as the area newsletter template administered by SDA staff.

elmusa-ks-mo-fb--65. DO SOME LOCAL OUTREACH: SDA Small Event Grant stipulates that the public must be invited, so I also reached out to other fiber and surface design groups in our area. The email lists I keep of non- and inactive member event attendees were used to invite others. Many have membership in multiple textile arts organizations; exposure to SDA events in action naturally leads to increased SDA membership and community-building.

The proposed visit to KCAI’s well-known fiber department and the dialogue with emerging artists drew a great response!


Over 30 people attended the event, which began with a short SDA business meeting, on a Sunday afternoon in February. Professor Verbeek-Cowart then introduced visitors to the KCAI fiber department and shared its history of collaborating with SDA. (The relationship extends back to 1993 when former department chair, Jason Pollen, was elected SDA President and served for 16 years. KCAI became the recurring host institution for SDA international conferences throughout his tenure).

Having served on SDA Board of Directors as well as coordinating 2 international SDA conferences, Verbeek-Cowart was an excellent spokesperson for our group. She has direct experience of SDA benefits since networking at a conference early in her career led to a referral that landed her the job offer at KCAI!


Participants learned about the goals of KCAI fiber department and met its faculty. Intriguing continuing education opportunities were also discussed, such as an upcoming indigo dyeing class scheduled to be taught in summer 2016 by Assistant Professor (and SDA member) Kim Eichler-Messmer.


While touring the facilities, studios and work spaces, Assistant Professor Marie Bannerot McInerney pointed out some of the newer technologies incorporated into the program.

elmusa-swatch view-1

Attendees also got to peruse the SDA Swatch Collection, a hands-on encyclopedia of techniques and another terrific benefit of SDA membership. It can easily be borrowed to enliven a any textile-focused class or gathering.

Then 3 dynamic recent KCAI grads presented their current work and diverse artistic concerns to the group – a highlight of our meeting! Each of these emerging makers presented skillfully planned and engaging introductions to their work:

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1) Lexie Abra Johnson, recipient of SDA Outstanding Student Award 2015, whose interdisciplinary installations and art events explore ideas of domestic relationships, fertility, agricultural sustainability and tradition.

2) Kadie Nugent, recently awarded a Charlotte Street Studio Residency, whose latest collaborative work is created using quilted shapes and composed on gallery walls with large scale drawings.

3) Nicole Leth who spoke to the group about her clothing line, Sex + Ice Cream, which she has expanded into a multi-faceted business with wholesalers throughout the U.S. She’s preparing to launch her brick & mortar flagship store in K.C.’s art district this spring.


After a Q&A session, members enjoyed visiting and catching up with each other while sampling the tasty treats they brought.

Informal reviews suggest that the event was well-received. One member wrote, “This SDA gathering was a jumpstart to several new ideas due to unique time spent with artists at a professional level and setting. I so look forward to our next gathering and it will be listed first on my calendar.


As a rep, I have learned that fellowship is an important facet – and benefit – of SDA membership. Many transformative ideas – and results – begin with meeting one another.

(Kudos to the many other SDA area representatives who also build local fiber-focused community. To find out how, who – and where – you can join an SDA community, scroll to bottom of SDA Member Groups & Support page on SDA website, here. – NewsBlog Ed.)

Not an SDA member yet? If you love the textile arts, you already belong! All you have to do is JOIN US!

Mary Elmusa SDA websiteMary Elmusa is an artist and educator from Leawood, Kansas (located near Kansas City, Missouri.) Her quilted wall pieces have been shown in national and regional juried exhibitions. A past recipient of the state of Kansas Art Commission Fellowship Award in Craft media, she was also awarded a scholarship to study shibori dyeing at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee along with a Surface Design Association Scholar award.

She was featured artist in a 10-page article for Art Quilting Studio magazine (2012). Her work is also published in 500 Art Quilts (Lark Books) and both her work and writing are included in Jane Dunnewold’s Creative Strength Training (2016 – North Light Books). Visit her website at

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