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With Events Canceled And Venues Closed, Kansas City Artists And Institutions Get Creative

The Raven Book Store
Danny Caine, the owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, says the store is now operating like a pizza takeout place. He had to cancel all planned events, but is delivering and shipping books all over.

To try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, most arts organizations in metro Kansas City have canceled performances or closed, at least temporarily. That's hitting revenue streams pretty hard, including independent artists who rely on crowds or personal contact to make their money.

“It’s an incredibly tough time,” said Maite Salazar, a poet and writer.

Just over a week ago, foreseeing that so many people  they knew were going to lose their jobs, Salazar started the KC Gig Worker Support group on Facebook. In less than 24 hours, 600 people had joined. Now the group has more than 1,600 members.

Besides being a place to share and ask for resources, Salazar said it’s an emotional support group.

“There are so many people that are just so worried about still having a place to live,” said Salazar.

To adapt their work for quarantine times, people in the group are now offering services such as online writing classes and music lessons.

Songwriter Kelley Huntis one of many musicians who began live-streaming concerts.

“It’s one thing to earn your living from the arts. It’s another thing to have it dropped in one day’s time,” Hunt said. “Part of how we deal with the shock of it is to reach out and realize we have something to give.”

While institutions like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art have closed their doors, they haven’t stopped sharing art.

The Nelson just released a video tour of its Queen Nefertari: Eternal Egypt exhibit. The museum has also been encouraging its social media followers to request art to post as part of a national project called Museum From Home.

CEO and director Julián Zugazagoitia said he hopes efforts like these keep people engaged with art during this time because the decision to close was extremely difficult.

“The museum wants to be the place where people come together,” he said.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art's sculpture park is still open, even though the museum is temporarily closed.

The general mood right now reminds Zugazagoitia of what it was like when he was living in New York after 9/11. Visits to art museums increased because they were a place where people found solace. He said he hopes that the Nelson's sculpture park, which is still open, can provide a place for people to reflect and find peace.

Elsewhere in Kansas City, Screenland Armour Movie Theatre is throwing live watch parties, Wonderscope is streaming its daily programs and artist Anastacia Drake is offering online paint parties.

The Raven Book Store in Lawrence has closed for anything other than quick pick-ups, but is still pretty busy, said owner Danny Caine.

“Every day of the last week, I’ve been driving around all afternoon delivering books,” Caine said.

The Raven is also offering curbside pick-up, $1 shipping to anywhere in the country and free books to those in need through a newly created Book Benefactors program.

Caine said the strength of an indie bookstore is being flexible and knowing how to serve its community. That ability is just being put to the test right now.

“People need access to books at a time like this,” Caine said. “All of this is in the hopes of both serving our literary community, getting books to people in a time when books can be really helpful and keeping our booksellers employed and busy for as long as we can.”

Besides the immediate circumstances, pressure also comes from uncertainty about when things will go back to some semblance of normal — and what that will look like.

“Kansas City in particular has a great group of philanthropists,” said Zugazagoitia. “We’re all just coming together and discussing what the outcomes will be, but I’m very hopeful that we will come together to support the arts in a big way so that overall the ecosystem of the arts is whole as we navigate these very uncertain times.”

Maite Salazar, Kelley Hunt, Julian Zugazagoitia and Danny Caine spoke with KCUR on a recent episode of Up To Date Special Coverage: Coronavirus In KC. You can listen to their entire conversation here.

Mackenzie Martin is an associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at mackenzie@kcur.org or on Twitter @_macmartin.

Whether it’s something happening right now or something that happened 100 years ago, some stories don’t fit in the short few minutes of a newscast. As a podcast producer and reporter at KCUR Studios, I help investigate questions and local curiosities in a way that brings listeners along for adventures with plot twists and thought-provoking ideas. Sometimes there isn’t an easy answer in the end – but my hope is that we all leave with a greater understanding of the city we live in. Reach me at mackenzie@kcur.org.