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Kansas City's Open Spaces Arts Festival Was Last Summer, But These 7 Pieces Are Still Up

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Artist Phil Shafer, a.k.a. Sike Style, says he enjoys that commuters drive by his mural every day.

Kansas City's big Open Spaces arts festival last summer was supposed to be a temporary, biennial event. But seven pieces of art are still on view.

For ten weeks last August through October, Open Spaces featured visual arts as well as performing arts across the city, including 40 public art installations in Swope Park and inside and outside cultural venues such as the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Earlier this month, Open Spaces got national recognition when Americans for the Arts recognized it as one of 50 public art projects for its Year in Review.

But it's uncertain whether there will ever be another one. And if there is, organizers say it's likely to be scaled back from the inaugural festival, which included $500,000 of city funding — plus a loan of $375,000 to KC Creates, which produced the event — in a total budget of around $3.5 million.

RELATED: Kansas City Pulled Off A Huge Citywide Arts Festival — Organizers Say That Alone Is A Success

For anyone who missed Open Spaces last year, or who's missing it this summer, here's what's still on display, what some of the artists think about it, and what we know about how long the work might be around.

"Skin Deep" by Lee Quiñones
Location: The Kansas City Zoo
Removal date:

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

New York-based artist Lee Quiñones argues that people have "a reluctancy to go under their own skin" to explore biases. His suggestion: "If we could slow down for a moment and put down our trusted devices, perhaps we can not just look at life through a one-sided lens."

Quiñones says if he'd known his Open Spaces installation might be up for more than a few months, it's likely he would have invited more collaboration. 

"I would have proposed an ongoing mural project working alongside young talents from the city of KC," he writes in an email to KCUR. "I would have loved to create a dialogue workshop with them beforehand and then translate that discourse within the mural." 

"An Architectural Folly from a Future Place" by Jill Downen
Location: Swope Park
Removal date: 2024

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

Jill Downen, an associate professor and chair of sculpture at the Kansas City Art Institute, says her sculpture is on loan to the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department for five years. 

"A work such as this, on an architectural scale, needs time to be experienced over the changing seasons, and the landscape's transformation through autumn colors and winter's heavy snow," writes Downen, adding that the work was built for "longevity with durable materials." 

Downen says some viewers told her the siting of the work in Swope Park gave them a new perspective. 

"Many people have told me that they never knew of the Swope Memorial before Open Spaces. The exhibition provided the public an opportunity to discover spaces within their own city for the first time," she says. 

"Success happens when a city is transformed by interventions that surprise us with new experiences," she says, "and make us reflect on what it means to dwell in a place."

"Tree Broken Tree" by Dylan Mortimer
Location: Swope Park
Removal date: Undetermined

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

Artist and pastor Dylan Mortimer moved with his wife and kids from Kansas City to Brooklyn, New York, last summer. Since that time, he's had a successful double lung transplant — his second.

Mortimer was born with cystic fibrosis, and his lung-related art such as "Tree, Broken Tree" — a dead tree, painted pink and covered with glitter — reflects his life experiences. 

RELATED: For One Kansas City Artist, "Open Spaces" Means Extra Room To Breathe

"The tree represents a bronchial tree and has so many connections to my life," writes Mortimer. "But, in addition to all that, the unexpected regeneration and growth of the tree took it to another level." 

Seeing it regrowing after the winter, he says, "it's indescribable ... kind of like receiving two sets of lungs."

Although the tree was intended to be a temporary installation, Mortimer thinks it could work as a permanent one: "I was secretly hoping the whole time that they would keep it up! I'm really glad they did." 

"Wake Up & Live" by Sike Style Industries
Location: 3948 Main Street
Removal date: Undetermined; subject to discretion of property owner

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

The Drugstore, a collaborative artist studio inside the former Katz's Drug Store at Westport Road and Main Street, closed in May. The iconic building with orange trim and a clock tower is expected to be put on sale. 

Artist Phil Shafer, a.k.a. Sike Style, says he hopes the future owners will let his work stay in place.

"I still get people sending me photos and tagging me on social media," says Shafer. "It's great to see people are engaging with the mural. I like the idea that my message greets commuters on their way to and from work." 

"Even though the idea was for artists to create temporary installations," he says, "I approached my mural for Open Spaces as if it would be permanent, or at least last beyond the weeks of the event."

"Super Catcher, Vast Array" by Brad Kahlhamer
Location: 21C Museum Hotel
Removal date: The installation is permanent

Credit File photo/Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

Multimedia artist Brad Kahlhamer’s “Super Catcher, Vast Array” is a site-specific sculptural work inside the 21c Museum Hotel, which opened last July in the historic home of the former Savoy Hotel. Kahlhamer's   installation was specifically tied to Open Spaces.

Native American dream catchers, made of wire and bells, hang next to a 1903 mural showing scenes along the Santa Fe Trail. At the time, Kahlhamer told KCUR he appreciated this contrast between past and present.

"I'm used to showing in museums and galleries, you know, white boxes totally devoid of any architectural preconditions that this space has," he said. "And to see this work layered in kind of a generational history is I think quite unique."

"This is Not a Refuge" by Anila Quaayum Agha
Location: The Kansas City Art Institute
Removal date: Undertermined; subject to sale of work

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

Not pictured: Nari Ward's "Claim," at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, is up indefinitely, subject to the discretion of the property owner.

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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