Thesis Project



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Featuring: The Cheese Class


May 8, 2020
Mikayla Zancanelli

The Problem

The 18th and Vine Historic District is the African-American cultural district in Kansas City. It earned the name, “Jazz District” during the period from 1920 to 1940 when it became the center of jazz music. People could attend performances by jazz greats such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong and others.The neighborhood was important to the evolution of jazz, a truly American art form. The heart of the District is about two miles southeast of downtown Kansas City. By the late 50’s this community known as the “Jazz District,” began to decline. Many of the jazz clubs, which provided work for local musicians closed and over time the district was used less and less. 

Although the district is internationally recognized as one of the cradles of Jazz music. The historic district has long suffered from lack of private investment & building neglect. Recent private investment is now underway, but many buildings remain vacant & are deteriorating. Although there has been some success in revitalizing this district, there are still many people throughout Kansas City who do not recognize this area for its rich history or entertainment.

“How can a collboratively produced public art project improve the image of 18th & Vine St. District while educating the community about its rich history & entertainment? “

Success Statement

This program is designed to help the American Jazz Museum re-establish their credibility & relevance to the community. Art Jam’s will not only be an opportunity for local artist, but also one for the community to learn new creative making processes while collaborating on a larger project. The program will result in public installations that enhances the 18th & Vine St. District’s identity as historic but full of life.

Target Audience

The wider audience I considered was the community of Kansas City. I also considered the residents of the 18th & Vine St. District, and key stakeholders such as The American Jazz Museum. & the museum’s key audiences.


My research process began with with an observation that, while Kansas City features some really great neighborhoods, our city still feels very disconnected, especially near downtown. Many of our urban neighborhoods have been neglected, and are run down. This prompted me to look more into each specific urban neighborhood in Kansas City. What spoke to me the most, was the 18th & Vine St. District. I then began with secondary research, analyzing multiple city hall reports, news articles, social media posts. etc. After identifying the American Jazz Museum as a key stakeholder, I moved onto interviews with the museum’s executive director as well as analyzing a consulting report done for the museum in 2019. This helped to determine the specific needs of the museum, & opinion’s of the museum’s key audiences. When considering the needs of KC residents, I analyzed a city-wide survey that gathered resident’s cultural needs & desires, as well as different social media content, community Facebook groups, and local newspaper articles. 

Design Process

After determining the needs of the museum, I decided that enhancing the museum’s public programming could become a potential solution to not only help the museum reestablish their relevance, but could also enhance the 18th & Vine St. District. I then looked for similarities between the needs & desires of the district’s residents, the wider community, and local artists. This helped to establish a set of criteria that I felt the museum’s programming should meet. I then began brainstorming with  under 3 main categories – core rational/ theme, target audiences,  and finally programming ideas. After conceptualizing as many ideas as I could, I then tested each idea against the specified criteria.  

The core intention / theme I felt the program should convey was based on the words undividedand energize. I chose the title Art Jams because ‘jams’ (especially in jazz) involve many people coming together to create art with energy & enthusiasm. I followed the museum’s current brand colors, but combined halftone images & bold typography that Is lively and dynamic but still cohesive. 

The target audiences were local artists, urban core community orgs., & the 18th & Vine St. district residents 

When brainstorming my artist project proposal, I kept in mind the key criteria’s  identified for the Art Jams program – educational engagement, creative-making processes, & enhancing 18th & Vine’s district identity. 

Design Solution

My solution is – AJM Art Jams. A Community Arts Initiative started by the American Jazz Museum. This will  with schools or other community organizations to introduce young people to Kansas City jazz history through the art- making process. The project will be led by an experienced artist who is selected by the AJM board of directors. The program will result in (temporary to permanent) public installations that enhance the 18th & Vine district’s identity. 

Challenges + Moving Forward

Due to challenges created by COVID-19 I was unable to test my solution, and am still currently waiting for feedback from the director of the American Jazz Museum. Moving forward, to fully test the success of this project, I would like to mock the artist proposal, and gather feedback on participants from what worked, and what didn’t work. This could then begin to provide a framework for the museum in testing the successes &  failures from their programming.

Mikayla Zancanelli

Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Graduation Year: 2020
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