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Longtime Hero Of Kansas City Art World Steps Down, Has Parting Advice

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
ArtsKC-Regional Arts Council will hold a retirement party for Paul Tyler on May 18.

Paul Tyler will retire later this month after 14 years of working as the grants director of ArtsKC-Regional Arts Council. Tyler has served the Kansas City arts community by working to form links between individual artists and the organizations supporting them.

For a man who is more comfortable working hard behind the scenes, Tyler says he's been a bit overwhelmed by the flurry of attention he's received after announcing his retirement.

"I've been a little embarrassed by the number of people who are being so nice to me and showering me with all this praise and generosity in my last days here," he says. "I just want to say thanks back to them because we all did this together."

When Tyler arrived in Kansas City in 2001, a little after the September 11 attacks, he says he found a community with strong connections to the arts through a web of cultural institutions.

“There’s deep, deep roots to the creativity and the energy that we currently see reflected in the arts here in Kansas City,” says Tyler. “All of those institutions form this kind of bedrock of solid sustained investment in the arts scene.”

Building connections on that foundation was what Tyler says he's tried to do during his tenure at ArtsKC.

One collaboration that Tyler says he takes pride in is Artist INC, a seven-week workshop series launched in 2009 that teaches artists to become better at managing the business side of their practices and promoting their work. It's a partnership of organizations that includes ArtsKC, the Charlotte Street Foundation and the UMKC Innovation Center.

Tyler says a thriving arts community benefits everyone.

“There are well-documented, positive effects on a community when the arts are center in their midst and when the residents of a place have access to a broad range of arts experiences.”

But artists occasionally need help. Tyler says artists are constantly pushing themselves to make more interesting and exciting things happen.

“When an individual organization falters for lack of funding or when an artist has to give up what they're doing because they just can’t make a living at it," he says, "that hurts.”

For years, Tyler says, he’s tried to find a way to explain how the arts can be simultaneously powerful and extremely fragile.

"A strong, thriving arts community is kind of like a net,” he says. “It can reach out and harvest great riches back to the community, and yet when any individual part of the net is frayed or torn or broken, it leaves a hole and it’s hard to mend. It means something’s getting away."

So, his parting advice: "Keep tending the net. Keep trying to make it stronger. Keep building those connections. Find those relationships and cultivate them.”

Working together, Tyler says, has helped put Kansas City on the nation's cultural map.

“We all have made this happen,” he says. “We’ve all made Kansas City this really special, wonderful place. It’s not perfect, but it is sure a delightful place to be and the arts will make it better. The most exciting thing that could happen here over the next decade or so is to honor the arts and support the arts just for what they are.”

Mayor Sly James will issue a proclamation in recognition of Tyler’s work on May 12 at 3 p.m. at the Kansas City, Missouri, City Hall, 26th floor, 414 E. 12th Street.

Paul Tyler’s retirement party is scheduled for May 18 from 4-6 p.m. at the ArtsKC-Regional Arts Council, 106 Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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