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JCCC’s Nerman Museum receives gift from Cohen Charitable Trust

Mary Davidson Cohen

A first-floor space in the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art will become the Kansas Focus Gallery, thanks to gifts from the Barton P. and Mary Davidson Cohen Charitable Trust, as well as the donation of the Barton P. Cohen and Mary Davidson Cohen art collection from Leawood resident Mary Davidson Cohen.

The new 539-square-foot Kansas Focus Gallery is expected to open later this year and will be devoted to the works of artists associated with the state of Kansas.

The gift to the college of $700,000 will provide for endowment funds to support the operations of the museum, cover renovation expenses to convert the former museum store space into a gallery, and acquire works for the museum by artists associated with the state of Kansas. The museum’s architect, Kyu Sung Woo, will oversee the redesign of the space. In addition, Mary Cohen is personally donating the couple’s collection of more than 175 works of art to the college.

“Mary Cohen has been a major supporter of the college in so many ways, as was her late husband, Bart,” said Joe Sopcich, JCCC president. “We have benefited from her generosity, her energy and time, and her wisdom and experience throughout the years. A gallery devoted to the works of Kansas artists will complement the college’s fine arts and art history departments as well as our Kansas Studies Institute to give students and community members alike the opportunity to appreciate the works of Kansas artists.”

The agreement between Cohen and the college stipulates that the Kansas Focus Gallery will concentrate on:

• raising awareness and recognition of the considerable talent of artists not limited to but including those born, raised, educated in or residents of the state of Kansas — both past and present — and, in so doing, encourage support for artists in the state and region;

• encouraging an expanded audience to visit and support the museum and enhance pride in the artistic legacy of the state;

• encouraging other potential donors who wish to see the museum gain even greater recognition regionally, nationally and internationally

• providing the museum with the opportunity to assemble another extraordinary collection, just as the contemporary Native American collection has become one of the finest in the country at a major contemporary art museum;

• allowing school children and adults of all ages to learn about the artists who worked and who are presently working in Kansas as they are an integral part of the past, present and future;

• encouraging young artists, such as those enrolled at JCCC, to hone their talents so they, too, may become part of the artistic legacy of the state.

“Bart and I loved traveling the state of Kansas, and we were always impressed with the talent of Kansas artists,” said Mary Cohen. “Our personal collection reflects our shared passion for works by Kansas artists, including Birger Sandzen, Albert Bloch, John Stuart Curry, Prairie Print Makers, Keith Jacobshagen and many others. I’m excited to work with museum staff to ensure that artists such as Bruce Conner, Wendell Castle, Alan Shields, Tom Otterness, Henry Varnum Poor, Waylande Gregory, and others, are represented in the museum’s collection. In fact, we just acquired ‘Pool 2,’ a painting by Kansas City-based artist Robert Bingaman, a native of Wichita, Kansas. It’s our first purchase!”

The Cohens have long been supporters of the Nerman Museum at JCCC. An area on the second floor of the museum that serves as a project space for local artists was named the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Gallery in 2005. In 2009 the college accepted a gift of $1 million to establish the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Art Acquisition endowment, the first donor-designated endowment for the museum. In addition, since 2010 Cohen has hosted nearly 100 episodes of JCCC’s “It’s Our Community” talk show on the college’s cable channel.

Mary Cohen, a lifelong educator, served as the secretary’s regional representative for the United States Department of Education, responsible for the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. For 18 years she was the assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Kansas, managing its facility in Johnson County, and she later served as vice president and dean of the graduate school at the University of Saint Mary. She has also served as one of two non-lawyer members of the judicial qualification committee of the Kansas Supreme Court. In 2012, she served as interim president and CEO of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.

Barton P. Cohen, who passed away in 2006, was president of Metcalf Bancshares Inc., a member of the law firm Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin, a board member of the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a member of the advisory board for Bleeding Kansas National Heritage Area, and a member of the Johnson County Heritage Trust Fund Grant Review Board.

“This new commitment to artists associated with Kansas allows us to build upon the museum’s long-standing support of area artists,” said Bruce Hartman, executive director of the Nerman Museum. “The museum now houses the largest and most significant collection of works by artists associated with metropolitan Kansas City. This commitment will now be enhanced by Mary’s recent extraordinary gift.”

In 2006, JCCC was named one of America’s top 10 universities/colleges for art on campus. The Nerman Museum collection currently contains more than 1,300 works by internationally, nationally and regionally known artists. The museum has received national and international acclaim for its architecture and collection, including both the JCCC Collection and the Oppenheimer Collection, since opening in fall 2007. With more than a half-million visitors to date, the museum is regarded as one of the region’s most significant cultural destinations.