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Art And Music Are Popping Up Again At Kansas City's Streetcar Stops This Summer

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Julie Denesha
Jade Green and Xavier perform together as the musical duo The Black Creatures. This summer, Art in the Loop's streetcar stop concert series brings musicians to delight commuters along the streetcar line -- or, in the case of rain, in nearby downtown buildings.

Kansas City's downtown becomes an open-air gallery and stage as Art in the Loop brings art installations and performances to streetcar stops after a pandemic hiatus.

In some ways, the fortunes and aspirations of downtown Kansas City can be traced through the themes of the annual Art in the Loop celebration, which brings visual arts, music and dance into the downtown districts for weeks each summer.

In 2016, the year Kansas City Streetcar line became operational, the theme was "Connect." In 2018, a boom year, it was "KC Plays."

In 2020, as downtown mostly sat moribund in the pandemic, the project went on hiatus. This year it is bouncing back. The theme: "Resilient."

“It's been a super, super difficult year for everyone in an uncountable number of ways,” says Jade Green of the musical duo duo The Black Creatures, one of the performance groups selected to entertain the downtown audience this summer.

“And so resilience speaks to us in so far as we had to get through this pandemic together and we're still working through it. We're not quite out of the woods yet.”

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Julie Denesha
A passenger gets a wave from a streetcar driver at the Metro Center stop. Artist Hector Garcia designed Jazz: The Resilient Spirit of Kansas City, as part of the Art in the Loop series. The streetcar shelter artwork "Silver Lining" was designed by artist Brittany Noriega.

For Xavier, the other half of The Black Creatures duo, resilience is about moving forward.

“As artists in Kansas City during a pandemic, I think that resilience would be like pushing through,” he says. “So we acknowledge, you know, the reality of the circumstances, but we don't say this is who we are now. We don't let these hardships define our identities, individually or as a whole.”

The nonprofit Art in the Loop was founded to commission public art to promote the ongoing revitalization of downtown Kansas City. Each year, artists and performers submit works based on a new theme. Art director Kyle Mullins says "resilient" clicked for him.

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Julie Denesha
Art in the Loop art director Kyle Mullins speaks with program director Ann Holliday at an opening event for artists and performers at in the Lightwell event space downtown.

“Coming out of this past year, I think that there was nothing more apropos to the moment than resilience and thinking about how we didn't just return to something, but that we lived through something and moved forward,” Mullins says.

All summer long streetcar shelters are hosting ten colorful art installations. Mullins says the artwork engages with people in a direct way.

“Obviously, this is not an art exhibition that takes place in a gallery,” Mullins says. “This is public-facing artwork. Right? It's on the street. It's something that you walk by and experience.”

Mullins says the performance series will feature local musicians at various streetcar stops every Thursday through September 2, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. In addition, Art in the Loop teamed up with Making Moves to present two dance performances during the summer months.

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Julie Denesha
Passengers peel off face masks as they disembark from a streetcar at the Power and Light stop. Photographer Angie Jennings designed the artwork titled "Love Who You Love."

“These will be happy hour performances taking place right on Kansas City sidewalks, right where people are waiting to get on to the streetcar,” Mullins says. “So not only will people be coming out for the artists themselves but we're looking forward to catching people leaving the office or coming out to dinner or coming out to Power and Light for another event.”

Drummer Tyree Johnson performs with the jazz trio Everyday Strangers. The group played at Art in the Loop’s opening event.

“When you are a musician or an artist, part of the art is to be expressive,” Johnson says. “We're able to present people with an outlet — come with us, let's go to a new place together.”

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Julie Denesha
Nsikoh Bélé on bass , (from left) Tyree Johnson on drums and Vincent Orsolini on keyboard perform as the jazz trio Everyday Strangers. The group played at Art in the Loop’s opening event earlier this month.

Vincent Orsolini on keyboard says music is about transporting audiences.

“Everything we do, we try to bring people in so that we can share our knowledge and share a passion for music with everybody,” Orsolini says.

“And we really hope not just through the streetcar, but through the city, people will be able to hop on the wagon with us and get on that train and go really far, really, really far.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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