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A Vision Taking Shape For KC's Arts And Culture Plan

In January, the Mayor’s Task Force for the Arts launched a series of meetings - at community centers, nature centers, libraries and other venues - to try to map out a vision for Kansas City’s arts and cultural policy. Ideas and feedback (including a survey; click on "share your voice!") are still being collected over the next few months for the city's first comprehensive review since 1997.

Listening and taking stock

On a Monday night in January inside ArtsTech, a red brick building at the corner of 15th and Holmes, Kansas City Mayor Sly James stood at the podium, thanking the audience – of just over 300 – for “their interest in the arts.” About two years ago, Mike Burke, a former city councilman and a competitor in the mayoral race, was tapped to lead the Mayor’s Task Force for the Arts.

"You're here tonight, so we can listen to you," said Burke. "That's what the Mayor's Task Force for the Arts is all about."

The crowd split into about six groups to brainstorm. In one group, facilitator and consultant Martin Cohen started the discussion by asking: "What is it you find that's distinctive about the cultural life of Kansas City?" Audience members chimed in: "Art Deco architecture, especially on Main...the tradition, we have a great arts tradition in Kansas City."

(You can read more about the night's discussion in this web-only post)

Charting a path forward

On the 17th floor of City Hall, Porter Arneill's window office looks out over Bartle Hall and its stainless steel hair curlers. These sculptures, called Sky Stations, are in the city’s public art collection.

Porter Arneill is the Director and Public Art Administrator for the Municipal Art Commission in Kansas City, Mo. The primary charge of this office: overseeing the city’s One Percent for Art program, which sets aside part of construction costs for art. Arneill, also a member of the Mayor's Task Force for the Arts, says these meetings will help shape the city’s future.

The Mayor’s Task Force is expected to complete a draft this summer, and report findings and recommendations to Mayor James and the City Council in the fall.

Interview Highlights: Porter Arneill

On the role of the community conversations

"We are in many ways redefining what arts and culture really is in Kansas City. We've had a tremendous decade of phenomenal things happening in the arts world here...and it's still new, as far as what is our future. And so we're inventing something that doesn't exist right now."

On gathering information, making conclusions

"I always speak in art terms, as an old sculptor. The armature is beginning to form, but ultimately we'll have to flesh that out. But the consultants are committed to present ideas and possibilities that are achievable."

On (former NEA Chair) Rocco Landesman's talk in Kansas City in 2010

"That was some of the impetus for this...part of the ecology needs a public entity...a public piece to that is an important piece, and that's what Rocco Landesman talked about. If they city isn't proactive on some level, and again, we don't know what that looks like yet, but to have the city become more proactive at some level, is important for the broader ecology."

On the Municipal Art Commission and its future

"At this point, honestly, I'm not formulating any specific ideas. Bottom line for me right now, we still are defining who we are both as a city and in arts and culture...let's figure out what this definition of arts and culture is and how broad do we want it to be."

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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