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Arts & Life

Kansas City Star Lays Off Art Critic Alice Thorson

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Over the last decade, major newspapers and magazines across the country have cut back on arts coverage. 

Editors at The Kansas City Star notified art critic Alice Thorson on Monday that Feb. 6 would be her last day. The termination did not come as a surprise for Thorson, the paper's art critic since 1991. She knew she was "on borrowed time," she says. In 2009, Thorson's full-time job was reduced to part-time; theater critic Robert Trussell’s position was downsized at the same time. 

"There wasn't a day that I didn't walk in there and think, 'OK, this could be the day.' And Monday was that day," she says. 

But it was a surprise for the arts community. 

"This is devastating," says David Hughes, Jr., the founder and director emeritus of the Charlotte Street Foundation. 

"In a city where 'niceness' can preclude real opinions, Alice's writings have been a critical and galvanizing factor in the growth of the arts community," he says. "Without Alice's voice, the arts community is left with a gaping void." 

Hughes added that critical writing and dialogue are essential to the development of work, ideas and understanding — for artists, arts organizations, and audiences. 

"Alice has watched the art scene in Kansas City flourish through the years as both a witness and as a critic," says Julián Zugazagoitia, director and CEO of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. "Her professional voice sought to bring greater understanding to the public not just of the arts in this area, but on the national and international level as well."

The Star's assistant managing editor for features, Kathy Lu, a recent transplant from Roanoke, Va., saysThorson introduced her to the arts scene. "I know people look to Alice — when she says something, they listen."

Lu says the newspaper is not abandoning arts criticism — it will continue to work with freelance writers — but readers "will probably not see as much." She was not able to elaborate on the reasons behind the termination as it was a "personnel matter." 

"The great thing about this job (at The Star) was I had the opportunity to learn so much," says Thorson. She says she'll continue to explore other opportunities to "write about art and artists and ideas."

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