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Arts & Life

Why Kansas City Artists Are Painting On Dresses And The Streetcar Is Now A Fashion Runway

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Olivia Roland practices her walk through the middle of a RideKC streetcar early in October to tape a promotional video for the Coalesce fashion show.

The Kansas City Artists Coalition will present its second annual "Coalesce" show, a merging of high fashion and fine art, on November 7.

The world of runway shows and opening nights at galleries seems like a distant dream eight months into the pandemic. But the Kansas City Artists Coalition and fashion consultant Wlaa Style have teamed up with the KC Streetcar and other organizations to whisk everybody back into that technicolor existence.

The Gown Gallery donated eight white formal gowns — all low cut, with fitted bodices and mermaid-style hemlines — to KCAC. The coalition handed them over to eight local artists to transform.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Models Jocelyn Dale, left, and Shelby Ratner head to the rear of a RideKC streetcar in early October where they would rehearse their catwalk for the upcoming Coalesce fashion show.

One of those artists, Jessica Rogers, also participated in Coalesce’s inaugural show in 2019. She’s a textile and fiber artist with an interest in fashion and initially thought she’d have no problem transferring her style of art onto a wearable dress.

“It was not easy. The gowns have this layer of kind of glimmery shimmer on them, so it seems like every textile paint or dye that I used, you could still see the glitter through it,” Rogers says.

Spray paint ultimately put an end to the sparkles.

Rogers is also one of the featured artists in the streetcar’s Art in the Loop program, and her work is on display at some stops. She wanted her dress to reflect that work, which has to do with quilts, so she added various types of stitching over the spray paint.

She calls the result “wild looking” and thinks it’ll be more so when a live person is walking around in it — which will happen in a virtual show on November 7.

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Textile artist Jessica Rogers stands in her home studio next to a piece of fabric that inspired her contribution to a dress in the Coalesce fashion show.

Even pre-COVID, one of the ideas behind Coalesce was to provide an escape from the daily grind. Organizers envisioned couture fashion on display alongside the culinary arts, visual arts, performing arts, and other fine arts—they’d all “coalesce” and offer participants an immersive sensory experience.

And though fashion and visual arts will remain paired this year for the all-virtual event, the rest will have to wait for 2021 or 2022.

Wlaa Style—the name of his business but also his preferred public name—says that this year’s partnership with the KC Streetcar, which the models are using as their runway, adds another immersive artful element.

He hopes that the streetcar element will open viewers’ eyes to the art that is all around us.

The streetcar turned runway will showcase “the beautiful architecture of Kansas City, which is art within itself,” Wlaa says. “Art can be seen in any capacity, whether it’s in buildings or on gowns or through fashion or within museums or within the park.”

Part of the runway show was recorded on a streetcar parked in a bay at the streetcar hub on Third Street. Models cued up and took turns approaching someone who used a leaf blower to add motion to their hair.

For the show, many of the women modeled formal dresses selected by Wlaa. Each of the eight "art" gowns that the artists are transforming has a corresponding collection of as many as 10 ready-to-wear gowns that can be purchased at the Gown Gallery.

But fashion is only one part of the show, even this year. Wlaa says he wants “people to understand that Coalesce is about bringing art and fashion together, but also about bringing the people in those respective industries together.”

Marissa Starke, executive director of KCAC, says the event is also a fundraiser for local artists. Last year's event, for the same cause, raised $11,000. She projects they’ll raise $18,000 by the end of the show on November 7, which begins at 7 p.m. Registration for the event is free and open to the public, but $25 is the suggested donation.

Starke says she thinks people have come to appreciate the arts in a different way during quarantine—art is what’s getting us through the hard times.

“We are all finding ourselves binging on Netflix, reading a good book, listening to music that puts us in a good mood, enjoying the artwork on our walls in a more intimate way,” Starke says. “Just appreciating what the arts are and how they provide us an escape that is necessary in this time.”

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