Fairview Heights is known for its malls, restaurants, hotels, and trampoline parks.
David Kniepkamp also wants him to be known for art.
The local businessman has bought homes and commercial properties along St. Clair Avenue, just west of Bunkum Road, with plans to build Art Village, a five-acre development with studios , galleries, classrooms, a sculpture park, housing for artists-in-residence and spaces for music, theater and dance.
Kniepkamp and his fiancée, artist Catharine Magel, have also formed a nonprofit organization so others can support the project with money, materials, services or ideas.
“I think it’s something that can improve the community, engage the community and bring economic value to this side of Fairview Heights,” said Kniepkamp, 61, who lives in the neighborhood.
The City of Fairview Heights agrees.
Aldermen voted in June to lease adjacent city-owned land at 10035 Lincoln Trail to the Art Village organization for $1 a year beginning Aug. 1. It will be used for a sculpture park with rotating outdoor exhibits.
The city had bought the 2/3 acre property about four years ago and demolished an old, abandoned dental practice there.
“One of our long-term goals as a city is to revitalize the west side of the city,” said Economic Development Director Paul Ellis. “That was one of the reasons for the location of The Rec.”
Ellis was referring to the city’s fitness and recreation center, which opened in 2019 on Bunkum Road.
Sculpture park near the school
The Art Village Sculpture Park will be on the southeast corner of the intersection of Bunkum Road and the section of US 50 known as Lincoln Trail, which becomes St. Clair Avenue westward.
The property is across Old Lincoln Trail from Grant Middle School, across Bunkum Road from the rest of Art Village, and less than 2 miles from Moody Park, where the Midwest Salute to the Arts Festival is held each summer. .
The City of Fairview Heights has applied for a $2.3 million grant for its Lincoln Trail Corridor Streetscape project in the surrounding area. The Rebuild Downtowns and Main Streets Capital Grant program is administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity using federal COVID relief money.
If approved, the grant would be supplemented with funds from the City of Lincoln Trail Tax Increase Funding District and used to install sidewalks, decorative lighting and landscaping along Lincoln Trail and St. Clair Avenue between Pasadena Drive and St. Clair Road, according to The App.
This would benefit Art Village, as streetscape improvements would run along its north side.
“Whether (the grant) goes through or not, we’re going to use the TIF money and make it go as far as we can,” Ellis said. “Winning the grant would improve the project. Not winning the grant wouldn’t stop him.
The request says the city has worked for years to revitalize Lincoln Trail, described as Fairview Heights’ original “main street” before decades of divestment and decline.
Kniepkamp and Magel hope to open the sculpture park in August, shortly before the Midwest Salute to the Arts Festival Aug. 26-28. The first exhibit will feature works by Noah Kirby, a sculptor and blacksmith who teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.
Larger than average block
Kniepkamp is the founding owner of Smart Controls, a 29-year-old company located at 10000 St. Clair Ave. which designs, manufactures and sells commercial building automation control products.
Kniepkamp purchased all of the property on a nearly five-acre block, bordered by St. Clair Avenue, Bunkum Road, Old Lincoln Trail, and St. Clair Road, except for an abandoned Casey’s gas station and a private house. He also bought a building through Old Lincoln.
“It’s always been one of my goals to take this block and reuse it to improve this area and the community,” he said. “He needs new life, new energy.”
Kniepkamp’s appreciation for art has grown since he met Magel, who specializes in public art, including ceramic sculptures, metal casting, and large-scale murals. In 2020, they formed ArtSculpt International, a company through which she sells custom handmade mosaic tiles and other work produced in her St. Louis studio.
That same year, the couple entered Art Village in the Metro East Start-Up Challenge business plan competition at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. They won his first prize of $10,000.
Kniepkamp and Magel see art not only as cultural equipment, but also as an economic engine and an opportunity for social networking.
“The arts seem to be a bit lacking in this area,” Magel said. “It needs a boost, and art has a way of revitalizing, inspiring, and building momentum for community members to come together.”
The village is under construction
Kniepkamp and Magel do not have a specific timeline for the completion of Art Village. It is considered a work in progress. Landscaping is expected to begin next spring.
A purchased house is already being used as artist-in-residence accommodation for painter and sculptor Silas Coggeshall, 25. He recently completed his MA at SIUE and is a Gallery Assistant at Sheldon Concert Hall and the Art Galleries of St. Louis.
Coggeshall, who can often be seen painting on the terrace behind his little white house, considers himself lucky to be on the ground floor of the planning and execution of Art Village.
“I’ve always been interested in how these types of programs are formed,” he said.
Three other houses on the block are being converted, one into accommodation for a second artist-in-residence, mixed-media sculptor Sarah Knight; one for an ArtSculpt gallery; and one for rental accommodation. A commercial building is also leased by a State Farm insurance agency.
About 75 people showed up for an open house at the Lincoln Trail Corridor Streetscape Project in December at The Rec, where Kniepkamp presented a model of what an “arts district” might look like one day.
“There seems to be a lot of interest in the community,” Ellis said.
“There were no negative comments,” Kniepkamp added. “Everyone was very kind and supportive.”
This story was originally published July 22, 2022 06:00.