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What You Need To Know About Open Spaces, Kansas City's Huge New Arts Festival

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Pipes bristle from the grass in Swope Park for New Orleans-based artist Dawn DeDeaux's installation, one of many in Kansas City's two-month Open Spaces arts festival.

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.

Organizers hope the arts and cultural event will put the city on a larger map, for visitors from all over to see, experience and buy art.

Here's what you need to know:

The backstory

In 2013, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James convened a Task Force for the Arts. One of the recommendations: an arts festival. The City Council approved funding in 2016 for a three-day event. But philanthropist Scott Francis, who helped develop the Crossroads Arts District, envisioned an even bigger extravaganza.

"Open Spaces has beena dream of mine for probably at least 15 years," Francis told KCUR's Central Standard.

Francis was inspired in 2002 on a trip to Europe by Documenta, which he described as a "city-wide urban experience" of contemporary art every five years in Kassel, Germany. And he'd started talks with curator Dan Cameron to create something like it in Kansas City. So when Cameron, who has produced biennials around the world such as Prospect New Orleans, was also approached by the city's new office of Culture and Creative Services about an arts festival, Cameron suggested they join forces. 

Open Spaces is now a public-private partnership.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
A segmented mural adorns the Guest Relations building at the Kansas City Zoo. Artist Lee Quiñones created 'Skin Deep' images of animal skin and feathers painted on separate aluminum sheets.

Make a plan

Over the next two months, about 40 visual artists in The Exhibition will have work on display across the city. There are also numerous pop-up art exhibits, dance, music and theater performances, as well as art-making workshops. 

Swope Park is considered the hub, but art installations, performances and musical events are happening downtown, in the Crossroads, at 18th and Vine and in Midtown.

"Each neighborhood has somewhere between five and 12 projects going on, so the best way to do it is chunk by chunk," Cameron told attendees at a media preview on Thursday, "more or less bite-sized segments that you can see in a matter of two or three hours at a time."

So you'll need to be strategic and make a plan. 

First step: Pick up an official program guide at the Visit KC Visitor Center (1321 Baltimore, Kansas City, Missouri). This guide provides a day-by-day, week-by-week rundown of events. You can also download the schedule on the Open Spaces website, or download the Open Spaces mobile app

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Near the state line, Michael Schonhoff's sculpture 'Deep States' sits beneath a light post in Westwood Park.

Map it out

At Swope Park, more than a dozen art installations are dotted across 1,805 acres, including the Swope Memorial Golf Course, Lakeside Nature Center and the Kansas City Zoo. 

The Village, just south of the Southeast Community Center, provides a stage for weekend events, including rock, classical, Big Band and Afro-Cuban music; circus performers and contemporary dance; high school Shakespeare actors and poetry slams. At the Makers Pavilion, artists from the Kansas City area will sell their wares.

In October, Starlight Theatre will host The Weekend, three nights of star-studded performances from The Roots, Janelle Monae and others.

Visual artists have also created works for the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, and Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri.

And Open Spaces has partnered with arts organizations across the metro to include their performances and art exhibits in the schedule, where it's dubbed The Expanded Field

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
In 'Burn Out,' Lawrence artist Shawn Bitters fabricated printed 'stones' in 2-D. Thirty of them are along the Limestone Glade Trail in Swope Park.


The majority of Open Spaces performances and visual art installations are free. Check the schedule to see which activities have a fee. 


Credit BikeWalk KC
A map from BikeWalk KC, which overlays BCycle bike share locations in the River Market, downtown and Crossroads, with Open Spaces exhibition sites.

"Open Spaces is meant to be as self-guided of an experience as possible, which sort of excludes set routes or tours," says Corbin Mihelic of Parris Communications, one of the firms doing public relations for the event. 

Most visitors will likely drive to a site, park and walk around. But those who are interested in exploring via other modes of transportation have options: 

By streetcar: 

The KC Streetcar's free, two-mile route runs mostly along Main Street, from 3rd and Grand in the River Market to Union Station. There are 16 stops along the way, and many of the downtown and Crossroads art installations are just a few blocks east or west of Main. 

By bike: 

If you don't own a bike, the nonprofit BikeWalkKC operates Kansas City B-Cycle, a public bike share system. Costs range from $3 for 30 minutesto rent a B-Cycle at the B-station to $65 for the year.

Karen Campbell, BikeWalkKC's director of development and communications, says Open Spaces visitors can use the code 92518 to get a discounted membership, $1 off for the first half-hour of any trip.

According to Campbell, a new bike share station is not scheduled for installation at Swope Park during Open Spaces. But, she said, "our nearest stations to the park would be in Brookside/Waldo and there is a signed bike route from Meyer East to the Park."

By bus:  

KCATA offers routes to a number of Open Spaces venues, including Swope Park. Each bus ride is $1.50, or you can get a day pass for $3. Map your trip with KCATA's online planner, download the RideKC app, or call 816-221-0660. 

There's also the park-and-ride option (park your car in a lot and hop on a bus), or bike-and-bus (for help, watch this handy tutorial). 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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