Kansas Citians' First Friday entertainment options get wider this week with the debut of festivities along 18th and Vine.
Starting on May 6, arts organizations in the historic Jazz District will host live music and storytelling performances, food trucks, art and fashion displays, shopping and even "instructions on the latest dance trends" including "heels, hip hop, break dancing, vogue and pop, and dip and spin" courtesy of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey.
"One of the most important things is for us to begin to create a high-quality level of art experience for people who are coming into the District," says Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, who took over as executive director of the American Jazz Museum in January after a 25-year career at the Kansas City Public Library.
"There are already a variety of things here: performances at night, performances on weekends, families. Remember, this is a neighborhood — people live here. So we're thinking about how we connect all of Kansas City together: the Crossroads, Downtown, Crown Center. This is part of our beginning to connect to the larger community," says Kositany-Buckner.
Along with the Jazz Museum and the KC Friends of Alvin Ailey, organizations such as the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and the Black Archives of Mid-America are also participating in the festivities. Also on tap: ethnic and soul food.
With the Kansas City Council considering a proposed $28 million in new spending to continue revitalization efforts, the District is under a renewed spotlight. Some Kansas Citians have long wanted more from the historic neighborhood, and leaders of arts organizations recognize their moment of opportunity.
"One of the things we want to change is this conversation and perception that the area is not safe, that money is being poured in and nothing is happening," Kositany-Buckner says. "Since I've been here, I see people nationally and internationally embracing our heritage but we’re not embracing it. Kansas City looks at 18th and Vine as a place of bricks and mortar instead of a place that's really hallowed."
Kositany-Buckner says the new First Fridays aren't just a way to raise the District's profile — they fulfill one goal of an overall plan developed by a mayoral task force with input from hundreds of people and released in 2013.
"If you look at the Arts Convergence Plan, it pointed out what this city needed to do to make itself this arts city, and we are trying to do that. (The plan calls for) more festivals, more community-related art, cross promotional activities between the Crossroads and us," she says. "So we want to continue to highlight the role that this District plays in Kansas City's heritage."
That's not just a heritage of music and baseball, but also one of culture and integration.
"We want to show people that jazz was a leader in the Civil Rights movement before the Civil Rights movement. In terms of how blacks and whites integrated and the music scene, and you think about Tom Pendergast and Prohibition and what was happening here, there's a larger story to be told," she says.
"With the renaissance of the whole arts scene in Kansas City, African Americans have been underrepresented," Kositany-Buckner adds. "So there's an opportunity for 18th and Vine to be part of the city's African-American cultural heritage, and to highlight those artists and what they contributed to the city."
First Friday activities are scheduled from 4-9 p.m. on May 6 along 18th Street from Vine Street to Highland.
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.