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Arts & Life

Kansas City Artists Engage Community, Pivot From Violence With Creative Expression

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Chavonna Adams is a musical and visual artist in Kansas City. She is co-curator of Start the Arts, a new initiative that aims to highlight artistic expression and community engagement to prevent violence.

Artist Chavonna Adams saw her idea come to life Saturday with the Start the Arts initiative kick-off at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library. And she was pleased.

"I'm not a first responder," Adams said. "I'm not someone who can just run in and save the day, but I felt that art would be a way to introduce another conversation, another way of doing things, to change the narrative around violence."

Dozens of children and adults cycled in and out during the day's events, all of which centered around self-discipline and healing through the arts. The theme: Expressions without weapons.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
At Saturday's kickoff event for Start the Arts, a few dozen children gathered in a room at the Kansas City Public Library's Plaza branch for activities centered around anti-bullying and conflict resolution.

Start the Arts, which Adams co-curates with King Kihei, was made possible by a pilot program of the Charlotte Street Foundation called Neighborhood Artists Residency, which operates out of a collaborative studio space at 40th and Troost. Both Adams and Kihei are residents of the program.

Last fall, they hosted an event at the Troost studio space to gather input from the community about how to prevent violence.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
Furaha Joi Nia led a handful of kids in a dramatization of conflict resolution.

"We heard that they wanted to be heard," Adams said. "Often they go into places where they're told, 'This is how we're going to solve violence.' It's just a board meeting, you sit there, they give you statistics, and that's how you resolve it."

Adams said she wants to place more emphasis on how to get there.

"As opposed to being told what resolves violence, they were a part of the conversation," she said.

Selina ONeal is the coordinator for the Charlotte Street Neighborhood Artists Residency. 

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
Selina ONeal, right, is the Charlotte Street Neighborhood Residency Coordinator. She and Garrett Waters, middle in hat, greeted a few community members. Waters, who is a literary and spoken word artist, was the emcee of the Saturday's events.

"There's been a lot of arts activity and creative exploration in the Troost Corridor for decades that really needs to be amplified," said O'Neal, who grew up in the Troost Corridor, and currently lives and has a studio in the area.

She said the overarching goal of the Neighborhood Residents program is exemplified in Start the Arts — artists seeing themselves as responsible to the community in which they are not only situated, but also integrated and invested.  

"This isn't just about a visual arts program, it's also not about the aesthetic of the artists' work. It's about the artists as leaders, or community activists or advocates," she said.

ONeal said Start the Arts and the Charlotte Street neighborhood residency are helping make arts in Kansas City more accessible for more of our communities across the metro.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
A Kansas City muralist who goes by Artistic Tones was painting on-site throughout the day Saturday.

Adams said the space and the residency have allowed her to share art as an outlet, and an alternative, to violence or crime. 

"Homicides, violence... It is a dark subject. We're putting a light on it. It's hard to address, but our goal is hopefully that arts can, not soften the blow, but be a healing mechanism to it all."

Saturday's session was the first of four quarterly events this year.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email at, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope

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