Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

KIA's first building of its own: 421 W. South Street

KIA's first building of its own: 421 W. South Street

“To stimulate the appreciation and the creation of art.”

With that goal, the Kalamazoo Chapter of the American Federation of Arts incorporated as the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in 1924. Its first home was a rented room in the then-new YWCA on South Rose Street. By 1928, the YWCA needed its space back, so the KIA joined forces with the Board of Education, which then governed the Kalamazoo Public Library and Museum. For almost twenty years, the KIA shared space with the library and museum, first in the old Peck Mansion at 335 South Rose, and later next door in the Kauffer House. Working primarily with volunteers, it early established a series of distinguished exhibits, a wide range of classes for both children and adults, and guest lectures by such well-known artists as Diego Rivera, Thomas Hart Benton and Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1931, it hired Sylvester Jerry, its first full-time director.

A Home of its Own

In 1947, the KIA purchased and renovated a building of its own, an old home at 421 West South (see photo on this page), but it was quickly filled to capacity and planning began for a permanent building at 314 S. Park Street, which was constructed with the generosity of Genevieve and Donald S. Gilmore and the Upjohn Estate through the Kalamazoo Foundation. The modern design by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill included studio classrooms, a library, auditorium, exhibit areas, art storage, a sculpture garden and office space. The building opened in September 1961 with a staff of 15.

In 1997, the KIA began a $14.5 million dollar expansion and renovation project designed by the Boston architectural firm of Ann Beha Associates. Re-opening in September 1998, the addition includes more permanent collection galleries, a Community Cultural Center Auditorium, a centrally located library, an interactive gallery, and both new and completely renovated classrooms. The new two-story lobby and atrium showcases a glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly and a mobile by Alexander Calder.

Collection and Outreach

KIA offers art classes, exhibits, tours, films, lectures, concerts, and outreach programs. It has a fine permanent collection emphasizing 20th century American art and the German Expressionists. About ten percent of the items in the collection were donated by local philanthropists Donald and Genevieve Gilmore. The remainder have been purchased or received as gifts from KIA members and friends. Each year the KIA acquires additional works by nationally known and established regional artists.

On the first Saturday in June each year, the KIA sponsors its well-known Kalamazoo Art Fair in Bronson Park. Begun in 1951 as the Clothesline Art Fair for local artists, it evolved into an international juried show. Artists from all over the United States and Canada exhibit and sell their works here. The Art Fair attracts thousands of people each year for the one-day event.

Directors of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts


Lois Cole

1931-35Sylvester Jerry
1935-36Ann Miller Coleman
1936-37Lowell Johnston
1937-39Graeme Keith
1939-42Ulfert Wilke
1942-43Priscilla Crum Colt
1943-44Karl Priebe
1944-47Marion Dickenson Spencer
1947-49Phillip Merrill
1949-55University of Michigan affiliation:
 Gerald Mast
 Gibson Byrd
 Paul Haller Jones
 Kirk Newman
1955-57Richard Gregg
1957-58Ned Cornish
1959-65Alfred Maurice
1966-77Harry Greaver
1978-89Thomas A. Kayser
1990-14James A. Bridenstine     
2014-     Belinda A. Tate



 An Art Center Grows in the Midwest, 1924-1961 

  • KIA, 1966
  • H 708.174 A784


"Celebrating big ideas" 

  • Mah, Linda M
  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 September 1998

"18th Clothesline show to become Kalamazoo Art Fair" 

  • Rauch, Victor
  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 April 1969

Local History Room Files

Subject File: Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo 

Subject File: Art (scrapbooks ) 


Kalamazoo Institute of Arts