Arts & Culture | KCUR

Arts & Culture

KCUR’s Arts & Culture Desk covers arts news from music to visual art to dance and theater, with a focus on Kansas and Missouri.

Our reporters explore the behind-the-scene stories about newsmakers and emerging artists. We also take a look at the intersections of arts and technology, science and creativity, and present profiles of creative people. 

Gordon Parks / Gordon Parks Foundation

Before Cassius Clay took the name Muhammad Ali, he was a 22-year-old who’d been rechristened “the champ,” the greatest boxer in the world.

Long-time Life magazine photojournalist and renaissance man Gordon Parks was assigned to cover the young man twice, once in 1966 and again in 1970. What Parks found after many meetings was a 24-year-old with bruised fists looking for approval — a side of the superstar the public hadn't seen.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Women are partly responsible for the private art gallery scene that's flourished in Kansas City over the past 20 years. And despite the stereotype of the artist working alone in a studio, they've been networking just like professionals in other industries.

“That’s what people do in the business world when they want to find a job or make contacts,” says CJ Charbonneau.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City's relatively new problem of affordable housing is also squeezing artists out of studios.

That's especially noticeable in the Crossroads Arts District, which was a mostly abandoned area south of downtown when artists began to establish galleries and studios there in the mid-1980s. Their arrival signaled the beginning of the neighborhood's revival, but now the Crossroads' days as the center of the city’s arts community may be coming to an end.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Caitlin Morton used to dread Valentine's Day.

That was before she met Sudiebelle Hare, a Kansas City artist who regularly paints colorful circles on canvas at events and music festivals and, until recently, sold her artwork on First Fridays from a regular spot on the sidewalk across from Grinder’s in the Crossroads.

BNIM

More artists will now have a say in what public art will look like at Kansas City International Airport's new $1.5 billion terminal.

With a construction budget that devotes $5.6 million for public art as part of the city's 1% for art program, where that art will be located and who gets to decide have been pressing issues. Construction is already underway, with the new terminal scheduled to open in 2023. 

Courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Even in its early stages, the legal fight between the heirs of famed Kansas City artist Thomas Hart Benton and UMB Bank is shaping up as a battle royal.

Christy Radecic for HOK

Kansas City is known for its style of barbecue and its jazz icons, but it's also a hub for sports architecture.

Populous, HOK and HNTB have played an outsized role in the design of ballparks and stadiums around the country, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, just north of Miami, where the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers play Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.

Silvia Ines Gonzalez

The new director of Kansas City's American Jazz Museum says she's ready to take the city's historic 18th and Vine District "back to the glory that we know it to be."

Rashida Phillips started in early January. A jazz vocalist who grew up in St. Louis, Phillips has spent the last 15 years working for arts and cultural organizations in Chicago.

Updated 10:48 p.m. with final results.

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards took place Sunday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Five Kansas City artists were nominated, or contributed to Grammy-nominated recordings. 

Earlier in the day on Sunday, some of the winners were announced during an untelevised premiere ceremony at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. 

And the Grammy goes to ... 

Vladimir Sainte

As a teenager in Queens, New York, Vladimir Sainte often didn't want to go home after school. So he didn't. His parents, Haitian immigrants, worked several jobs, and Sainte had become a defiant and anxious boy.

When his parents decided they could no longer manage him, they shipped him to Kansas City to live with his uncle. He was 16 then. But now, years later in his career as a social worker, he sees he could have been taught to manage his emotions better.

Children, he notes, don't have the "verbal literacy" of adults.

Colombus Park Ramen Shop/Facebook

Kansas City can sometimes be a city of extremes. It has more than 100 barbecue restaurants and counting, yet it's also seen an explosion of more plant-based and vegetarian cuisine, including restaurants that are completely free of meat.

But as people across the country eat more vegetables for the benefit of their own health as well as that of the environment, it's spurring creativity on the culinary scene.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

What if you accidentally cut off a piece of your finger, and two weeks later that piece grew into your clone? Tiny creatures with that ability are swimming in tanks at Kansas City's Stowers Institute for Medical Research, and they've inspired a new collaboration between scientists and artists.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

The posthumous resurgence of interest in Kansas City artist Arthur Kraft, who died in 1977, continues to gain momentum.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City, Missouri, is internationally recognized as one of the cradles of  jazz and nationally known for its barbecue and its sports teams. 

But late last year, it earned national headlines as the city that waited until 2019 to name a street after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., only to have voters reverse that decision ten months later.

Jenna and Martin / Facebook

Jenna Rae and Martin Farrell both grew up in cities. But when the two got serious about playing music together as the folk duo Jenna & Martin, they ended up living the life they were singing about.

Rae is from Merriam, Kansas, and Farrell is from Minnetonka, Minnesota. The two met four years ago on the sprawling campgrounds of the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, Kansas. They soon started performing together, and onstage, they’re young and carefree with a chemistry that’s easy to see and hear.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

The average length of a NFL game? A little over three hours.

The AFC Championship game on Sunday would lock in a Superbowl spot for either the Kansas City Chiefs or the Tennessee Titans. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium.

Some arts organizations in the metro are betting that visitors can do both: attend a play and catch the second half of the game; stop by a museum for an exhibition and see the kickoff; or listen to a Symphony concert and still witness a few final touchdowns. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Saint Louis Art Museum

Missouri painter George Caleb Bingham shaped the way the nation saw life on the frontier. His work spanned politics, civil war discord and rowdy riverboatmen, and his genre paintings of 19th century river life are in many major national art collections.

Within the next three years, all of Bingham's nearly 600 known paintings will be accessible online and freely available to the public.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Carl Butler can quote chapter and verse of the Bible, but he’s equally comfortable citing "the great theologian" — a country singer named Tom T. Hall — who once proclaimed that "the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too."

Butler is a honky tonk preacher at Knuckleheads, the sprawling roadhouse in Kansas City's East Bottoms. Since he began his ministry 12 years ago, Butler has delivered his blend of party music and heartfelt praise to countless Kansas City bargoers in the 70-seat back room that bears his name: Carl Butler's Gospel Lounge.

courtesy of the artist

In the art world, what makes regular abstraction different from "queer abstraction"?

Unlike LGBTQ artists who explore identity through representational images that make clear statements, the 20 artists in "queer abstraction" at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art are expressing themselves through color, shape and form.

But as with non-queer abstract art, what they're expressing is not always easy to discern.

Anne Kniggendorf / KCUR 89.3

Organist Jacob Hofeling started working at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve.

He'd moved to Lawrence to get a doctorate in organ performance at the University of Kansas and was looking for a job.

"As I was applying, St. Luke’s really needed somebody on Christmas Eve specifically," he says. "So, I worked my schedule around to make that happen." He's now the music director.

Courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

The heirs of famed Kansas City artist Thomas Hart Benton are suing UMB Bank, claiming it mismanaged his estate, failed to track and maximize the value of his artwork, lost track of more than 100 irreplaceable pieces of art and impermissibly used his art to promote the bank.

Unicorn Theatre

Sarah Bernhardt was known for her eccentricities. She slept in a coffin, she kept a pet lion and attracted lovers everywhere she went.

Bernhardt made five visits to Kansas City between 1887 and 1918, during nine American tours. Her 1906 performance at Convention Hall reportedly broke a world record, selling more than 6,000 seats for the world’s largest indoor audience of “legitimate theater.”

Karen Craigo

Karen Craigo is Missouri's new poet laureate. Gov. Mike Parson announced the decision last month that the "Marshfield Mail" editor and general manager will have the two-year position, replacing Aliki Barnstone.

Silvia Ines Gonzalez

Rashida Phillips, a St. Louis native who has worked with a range of cultural organizations, has been named the new executive director of the American Jazz Museum. She is also a jazz singer.

In a letter, the museum's board of directors said that "after a thorough and thoughtful" national search process, Phillips "rose to the top" of the field of more than 25 candidates. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Actress and singer Debra Bluford, known for her work in comedies and musicals, died on Thursday of pancreatic cancer. She had been diagnosed three weeks ago, according to a friend.

A regular on many Kansas City stages, Bluford performed in nearly 20 shows at the American Heartland Theatre before it closed in 2013. She had also acted with Kansas City Actors Theatre, Musical Theatre Heritage, New Theatre & Restaurant and Quality Hill Playhouse.

How to impress this holiday season without driving yourself nuts.

Our expert Kansas City hosts include a restaurateur who feeds people like they're her personal dinner guests and a bartender who makes strangers feel like friends.

Logan Action

Artist Hugh Merrill, who is white, had troubling memories from what he saw growing up in the Jim Crow South of the 1950s and '60s. And when he started looking into his family history, he was shocked by what he found out.

"It's a little bit like finding out that not only, if you were German, that your ancestors, that your uncles, were guards at Auschwitz — it's like finding out they ran Auschwitz," he says. "I had to make a decision about what to do with this. And it was absolutely clear what had to be done. I had to tell the truth."

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

A roving work of art has sparked a lot of thought about the nature of walls this year, especially among those who live near the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Walking Wall" is a 100-ton art installation that’s been blocking traffic and building friendships as it moved toward the Bloch Building at the museum.

On Wednesday, it goes inside — and stops.

Kevin Collison

An unvarnished account of the Vietnam War — from the Cold War domino theory that hooked the U.S. in the 1950s to a baby sweater left by a grieving mother at the Vietnam Memorial in 1990 — at the National World War I Museum doesn’t flinch from the brutality of the war and how it tore apart American society.

“This exhibit should help people think about what happened,” said Matt Naylor, CEO and president of the museum.

“It’s not a myopic view, but a balanced view that will examine the conflict from a variety of angles and will stimulate conversations around that.”

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