What’s Their Story?: Kelli Phariss


Owen Baxter, Writer

    Kelli Phariss has been an art teacher here at Northtown for 16 years. But before that, she accomplished quite the list of feats.

    “As I reached high school, we didn’t have a very good art program. So I did a lot of theater. And in my first year of college I went down to [The University of Central Missouri] for theater and English and found that I was just always drawing and doing art instead of the college stuff. I ended up dropping out and going to community college. So while I was at community college, a [military] recruiter got my name. I signed up suddenly, and within three weeks I was gone. And is that something that you never plan on. But when they talked to me, it was really interesting,” Phariss said.

    Phariss spent four years as a morse code interpreter. After she left the military, she stayed in Hawaii, where she had been stationed.

    “I lived there for about five years. Then, my goal was to go to art school, and I ended up coming back to Kansas City,” Phariss said.

     Phariss graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) and went to an art graduate school in Michigan.

     “I came back to KCAI and was a Director of Admissions for several years, recruiting all over the country,” Phariss said, “During that time, I decided to become an art teacher. So I went back [to school] and got another degree for art education,”

     In the time Phariss served as Director of Admissions, she didn’t have much opportunity to practice art.

    “I was on the road a lot,” She says, “My background was more sculpture and fiber installation art. All I had was a loom for weaving and I doing some mixed media. As far as having a studio space and showing my work, I wasn’t really doing that.”

    After completing school, Ms. Phariss landed a job at Northtown.

“I came to the North Kansas City School District to teach photography. And then Northtown needed a ceramics teacher and I taught that for about 12 years. But I’ve moved more over into photography and AP Studio Art,”

Phariss, having experienced so many opportunities and pathways, knows what it’s like to go against the plan.

   “I think people get caught up in trying to feel like once you make a decision right out of high school, you’ve got to stick with it,” she said, “And I think there’s things that are good about that. But if you want to try different things, I think there’s a lot of different opportunities for people.”