Arts & Culture | KCUR

Arts & Culture

KCUR’s Arts & Culture Desk covers arts news from music to visual art to dance and theater, with a focus on Kansas and Missouri.

Our reporters explore the behind-the-scene stories about newsmakers and emerging artists. We also take a look at the intersections of arts and technology, science and creativity, and present profiles of creative people. 

MR King Images

Kansas City songwriter Amanda Fish has just proclaimed herself "Free." That's the title song on her newly released sophomore album, after 2015's "Down in the Dirt."

The record reflects Fish's literal and philosophical growth. The older sister of another Kansas City singer, Samantha Fish (who has a few more records to her credit), Amanda started playing music at 18 but set that aside to earn a living. By age 25, she was working as a security guard and unhappy, so she quit to go into music full time.

Mike Strong

Partnering, in dance as in life, requires trust, collaboration and strength. Jokes are important, too.

So Min Kang

Mia Leonin says she felt raw while writing “Fable of the Pack-Saddle Child,” and she suspects readers will feel the same.

“Even though that’s uncomfortable, when we are raw it’s because we’re open. And when we are open, we can heal in new ways,” she says.

Brian Paulette

Those who loved Marilyn Strauss say her career and life were powered by what can only be described as a firey “chutzpah and moxie.”

Strauss, founder of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, died Saturday evening from pancreatic cancer. Her health began declining shortly after her 90th birthday celebration in 2017.

Anne Kniggendorf / KCUR 89.3

What if the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 failed to detonate?

A writer and an artist ask that question at the Truman Library and Museum as part of Kansas City’s Open Spaces arts festival, which has a roomy-enough sphere of exhibitions for various thought experiments, both the viewers’ and the artists’. 

Vicki and Randy Regier

Randy Regier creates fiction with his art. Not in the sense that a painting of a scene that never took place is fiction, but in the way a teenage boy might get a kick out of placing an odd object in his house to make his mom pause.

When pressed about the mysterious item, that teenager might say, “But, Mom, the garden gnome has always been next to the coffee mugs. Don’t you remember?”

U.S. Navy, National Archives

Brian Turner was packed and ready to ship out for Iraq when his grandfather finally broke a decades’ long silence about his own combat experience. When the words came, they were to say that Turner should grab the biggest weapon and as much ammunition as he could carry.

Chris Lee

No one who lives in the United States today is removed from the coal industry.

Composer Julia Wolfe makes that point in the final movement of her 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio “Anthracite Fields,” listing various everyday activities that require energy — baking a cake, drilling a hole, washing clothes — energy powered, at least in part, by the coal industry.

Oleta Adams / Folly Theater

A Grammy-nominated singer and pianist who has traveled the world performing blues and gospel music has a pretty simple answer for the question of why she still lives in Kansas City.

"Why not?"

Oleta Adams tried living other places that people might more quickly associate with an internationally recognized performer, but it just didn't seem practical.

For the past two decades, artist Mike Lyon has worked in a three-story building near 20th and Broadway in Kansas City, Missouri, creating monumental portraits using computer numerical control — or CNC — machines to automate the drawing process.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

After seven years of service in the Marine Corps ended with an injury, Joe Williams felt lost until he decided to become an artist

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

“You can choose to share your secrets or not share your secrets,” David Hanson tells his audiences.

For several years, Hanson has led those audiences through “immersive theater” experiences in Kansas City, and he will do so again at Open Spaces with a free performance of his play “Bird in the Hand.”

Immersive theater differs from traditional theater in that audience members are active, not passive, observers. Hanson gives the example many people are familiar with: murder mystery dinner theater, where it’s up to audience members to solve a mystery.

William Burkle Photography

A legitimate rock star is leading a life of quiet anonymity in Johnson County.

As front man for the abrasive rock band Sevendust, Lajon Witherspoon has spent decades cultivating a rebellious image. When he’s not on stage, though, he embraces tranquil suburban domesticity.

“I've been wanting to be a part of this Kansas City lifestyle for a long time,” he insists. “I don't think people know that I even lived here.”

KC Zine Con

Often printed on photocopiers and distributed at in-person conventions, most zines reach fewer people than a post on Facebook or Instagram. But the stakes can be much higher.

“When you make zines, you’re putting a bit of yourself out there in a way that is personal and vulnerable, in a way that social media isn’t,” says Dayna Moth Meyer.

Meyer is one of six organizers of this year’s KC Zine Con, a one-day event featuring approximately 120 artists and zine makers from across the United States.

Teens in Transition

Ricky Greer, a senior at Central High School, watched the 1961 movie version of “West Side Story” for the first time this summer. While the movie was a lot like reality with the “gangbanging and people dying,” he says, he didn’t buy the entire story.

Kevin Collison / CityScene KC

The seven-year quest to bring the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance to downtown Kansas City ended abruptly Tuesday when university officials issued a statement rejecting any downtown location.

Instead, UMKC will consider sites either on or within a 2.5-mile radius of the Volker campus in the next round of considering proposals, according to a letter from UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal.

Though Lindsey Doolittle is an art teacher, she never imagined she’d have her own exhibition. Nor did she imagine writing a book that’s now on permanent display at the Van Gogh Museum Library in Amsterdam.

The public speaking tour has been a surprise, too.

But this is her new normal since her husband, Brett, killed himself in 2015.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Kansas City audiences might have caught a performance of the aerial troupe Rachel McMeachin co-founded — Voler Thieves of Flight — at events such as the KC Fringe Festival, Dance in the Park or The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art's Party Arty.

When she heads home from those performances, or after one of her working trips to Costa Rica or Bali, she arrives on the steps of an onion-domed former church in the Russian Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Some restaurants just have a corner on the market for a particular dish.

In this case, that would be Kitty’s Café and its pork tenderloin sandwich. The longtime Kansas City establishment is on 31st Street, just east of Martini Corner and just west of the longtime non-profit Operation Breakthrough on Troost Ave.

It's more diner than restaurant, with six stools tightly together at the counter tops. Outside, there's some patio seating, but Kitty’s is not a destination-stop kind of place. Most of the orders are take-out and you can only pay with cash.

Brian Rice

This weekend’s Kansas City Irish Fest, which kicks off Friday at Crown Center when The Maguire Brothers take the stage at 5 p.m., marks the end of an era in local music history.

One of the region’s most popular musical groups of any genre, The Elders, will take the stage for the last time after performing for 16 consecutive years at the annual Labor Day weekend festival. 

The musicians' ages have finally caught up with the name of their band. They've been on a farewell tour throughout 2018, and now it’s time for them to say good-bye to a festival that has done so much to fuel their success.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Down a winding road in Swope Park, on the other end of a short walk through the grass, there's an old, abandoned pool where, in the days before penicillin, sick children came for hydrotherapy. In recent weeks it's been re-filled — not with water but with silk flowers, teddy bears and candles for Ebony Patterson’s art installation.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

There's a new sign glowing on the side of the Boone Theater at the corner of East 18th Street and Highland Avenue, next door to the Gem Theater in the 18th and Vine Historic District. "I Adore Your Every Move" is a neon work by Los Angeles artist Nikita Gale.

The work was commissioned as part of the city's new, two-month Open Spaces arts festival, which kicked off this past weekend. The sign commemorates a letter written by Charlie Parker to his common-law wife, Chan Richardson.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Kansas City artist Allan Winkler's work is full of whimsy. It's often found in unexpected places: a mural in a school cafeteria, colorful mosaics in the bathroom of a theater.

Year-round, you can see his folksy metal cutouts on permanent display at the Marlborough Community Center, and The Gathering Place is hosting a show of his work during Open Spaces.

Winkler works out of a home that was built in the 1860s. Visitors to the Westside neighborhood will recognize it from the bottles decorating the fences and kinetic sculptures hanging from trees.

William P. Gottlieb

Mary Lou Williams only spent a dozen years in Kansas City during its first jazz heyday, but this is where she solidified her professional reputation, gaining the respect of leaders in the field.

“Mary Lou Williams is increasingly ranked as one of the most significant and influential composers to have ever made Kansas City their home base,” says Dan Cameron, artistic director of Open Spaces.

Among the ten-week festival's opening-weekend events is a free performance of Williams’ “Zodiac Suite” by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra in Swope Park.

Jenny Wheat

When singer/songwriter Kelly Hunt arrived in Kansas City from Memphis three years ago, the relocation came with a surprise: There was already a well-known musician in town who had the same name — or practically the same. Kelley Hunt (who spells her name with just one more e than Kelly Hunt) is the R & B pianist who’s been rocking this region for a few decades.

Now, the newcomer says with a laugh, “I’m ‘Banjo Kelly Hunt’ in these parts.”

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City's first biennial Open Spaces launches this week. 

And, like the metropolitan area itself, Open Spaces is sprawling. It stretches 62 days, from August 25 to October 28, with more than 150 performing and visual artists.

Sharon Rodriguez

“I thought it was a Boy Scout weekend.”

That was photographer Sharon Rodriguez’s initial reaction when she encountered a homeless camp near her Olathe residence in 2014.

Once she realized that homeless individuals were living under the tarps, Rodriguez had a lot of questions.

“Who are they, and why are they homeless?” she remembers thinking. “That started the journey of me finding out more.”

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Sculptor Jacob Burmood stood on a high ladder beneath a large elm tree. The sound of his buffing tool mingled with the late-afternoon chorus of cicadas at his rural, open-air studio in Ottawa, Kansas.

“This tree is really my studio,” Burmood said. “It’s really peaceful and I love the cicadas. That’s my music.”

StoryCorps

StoryCorps' MobileBooth is in Kansas City until September to collect the stories and memories of residents. This is one in a series of stories KCUR has chosen to highlight.

Facing the end of life often brings hard choices. Diane Botwin decided to have her father, Dr. A. E. Botwin, move in with her family 20 years ago when his health began to fade.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Sculptor Tom Corbin might be best known in Kansas City for the Firefighter’s Memorial sculpture and fountain on West 31st St., but more than 1,000 of his pieces are sprinkled throughout private galleries around the globe.

Corbin founded his flagship studio in a sturdy brick fire house at Southwest Blvd. and Mission Road. Built in 1910, it is a fortress with walls 16 inches thick.

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