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visual arts

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kansas City’s art world is at a turning point.

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.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

On one busy corner of Kansas City's St. John Avenue, a community is coming together to create a piece of art that reflects the whole world.

Home to culturally and ethnically diverse businesses and many artists, the city's Historic Northeast neighborhood is already a colorful place.

Segment 1: New paintings by a Kansas City artist examine the 'brash volume' of public discourse.

Rodeo clowns, talkshow hosts, preachers. To Michael Schliefke, they're symbols for what public discourse has become. 

Segment 2: A Kansas-born author creates literary buzz with 'halal fiction.'

B.A. Van Sise / One Second

A little boy in traditional Italian clothing twirls while hanging onto the skirt of his mother's 18th century peasant dress. The two are in a Columbus Day parade in New York City, and photographer B.A. Van Sise figured it was the best shot he'd get that day.

After receiving a box of 35 mm film as a gift, Van Sise, who shoots for Atlas Obscura and Buzzfeed, set a challenge for himself: Take one photo a day with real film. The box contained enough for one year.

Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3

To help celebrate the Kansas City Chiefs’ 60th year, the franchise has asked area artists to design retro game day posters to raise money for area charities.

The idea was inspired by other major league franchises such as the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, which sold locally designed posters at each of its 41 regular season home games and into the playoffs.

Sabrina Staires/sabrinastaires.com

James Martin, an independent consultant and curator, writer and educator, has been hired by the city of Kansas City, Missouri, to serve as its public art administrator. The position has been vacant since April 2018. 

Martin's appointment fills a crucial need, coming just as questions and tensions mount over the most expensive public art project in the city's history: a new $1.5 billion single terminal project at Kansas City International Airport budgets $5.6 million for art as part of the city's longstanding One Percent for Art program.

More than a handful of public art projects are also in the pipeline.

"Kansas City has had such a long commitment to public art," Martin told KCUR. "You know, we've had a great run, and I'm just thrilled to be able to continue that tradition and contribute my part."

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

A vintage Vornado fan hooked to a bicycle wheel pushes a tumbleweed in a circle. Two sandstone rocks grind against each other to create a small pile of fine sand. A clockwork movement sends a feather swinging in an arc.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

If someone were to hike deep into the places he paints, says Kansas City artist Jason Needham, "it would be rough going, for sure."

As the sun rose one recent morning, he was concentrating on a tangle of overgrown vines surrounding a stand of cottonwood trees at Kessler Park in the the city's Historic Northeast neighborhood.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

A business and arts incubator in an art deco building in Kansas City is in the running for $2 million in grants through a Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign. 

The EGG (Economic Growth Gallery) building at 2659 Independence Avenue provides a pop-up space for entrepreneurs, as well as a third Friday gallery for local artists. The building first opened in 1945 as Rose Marie's Floral and Gift Shop.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas City Artists Coalition on Thursday opens its new location at the corner of Linwood Avenue and Gillham Road.

The Acme Building, boarded-up and vacant for nearly a decade, now incorporates office and gallery space on the first floor, as well as basement studios, for the Artists Coalition. The rest of the building includes 27 mostly one-bedroom apartments. 

"I'm really excited to be on that ground floor level where people can access the space just right from the sidewalk and not hidden away on an upper floor somewhere," said painter Laura Nugent, who was part of the search committee. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Mike Sims is a bit emotional. As he prepares to celebrate 40 years of working with an array of acclaimed artists, the master printer admits it's overwhelming.

"Huge memories, yeah," Sims says, shaking his head. "The biggest memories are the relationships with the artists, many of whom are dead and gone now.”

Since 1979, artists from around the United States have traveled to Lawrence, and then later to Kansas City, to work with Sims.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

"I don't like sanitized spaces," says artist Harold Smith, whose house in Kansas City, Kansas, doubles as his studio.

It's about a mile from where he grew up. 

"I like diversity," Smith says. "So just regular working class people."

Gabby Poulos / Yarn Social

Kansas City knitters and crocheters are not immune to the ugly politics often associated with social media — though this may surprise anyone hanging onto the idea that only sweet old ladies knit.

At the end of June, a website called Ravelry banned users who actively voice their support for President Trump.

The site serves as a social space for 8 million fiber art enthusiasts, that is, people who make things with yarn.

Cary Esser

Members of Kansas City's art world will gather on Saturday to toast Victor Babu, a Kansas City Art Institute professor who died in April but whose influence will be felt for generations.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Anyone who has been to Kansas City's Country Club Plaza has likely seen the work of Arthur Kraft, who sculpted the trio of bronze penguins near the corner of Pennsylvania and Jefferson streets. Even though his name has largely been lost to history, his work is still all over town.

Some Kansas Citians who do remember Kraft's significance argue that he should be as well known as the famous hometown painter Thomas Hart Benton.

courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM)

The new $1.5 billion terminal at Kansas City International Airport will be the largest single infrastructure project in the city’s history. And that construction budget translates to a lot of money for public art.

courtesy InterUrban Art House

After a rocky decade, state funding for the arts in Kansas has begun to improve.

As of July 1, the start of a new fiscal year, state funding for the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission increased to $500,000, up from just over $190,000 over the last few years. It marks the highest state appropriation since 2013.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City's big Open Spaces arts festival last summer was supposed to be a temporary, biennial event. But seven pieces of art are still on view.

For ten weeks last August through October, Open Spaces featured visual arts as well as performing arts across the city, including 40 public art installations in Swope Park and inside and outside cultural venues such as the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Mark Manning

Kansas City artist Ryan Wilks' new exhibition at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center attracted a group of women who formed a circle and prayed. It's not uncommon, Wilks says, for Christians to offer help with eternal salvation.

Wilks used to be offended by the behavior, but in this case it only provoked a shrug.

"The title itself, 'Hell' — it's blasphemy," says Wilks (who prefers plural pronouns). So they understand the women's impulse.

Copyright Nina Chanel Abney / Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

In the middle of June, Patricia MacHolmes travelled from Chicago to Kansas City for the baseball, the wine, the food and the museums — in particular, the "30 Americans" exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins.

As she walked around the exhibition on a Wednesday afternoon, MacHolmes said she was taken by how 90 pieces of art tell a story about African Americans.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

After her mother died of cancer almost ten years ago, Bernadette Esperanza Torres says she experienced an awakening. Her mother was always working, always helping other people. She'd planned to take a vacation when she retired.

"When my mom was dying she was like, 'I guess I'll never retire,'" Torres remembers. "She would not even take a day off to go to the doctor to help herself."

courtesy: Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library

For generations of school kids who rode buses to the Kansas City Museum, the most memorable part of the field trip, at least up until the early 1980s, might have been the full-sized igloo — you could climb in and out of it.

That igloo was less relevant to local history, however, than the 1910-style soda fountain, which served ice cream and phosphates, or the carriage house annex filled with dioramas of taxidermied animals.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Henry W. Bloch died Tuesday at the age of 96. A notable philanthropist, Bloch and his brother, Richard, co-founded the tax preparation business H&R Block Inc. more than six decades ago.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Roger Shimomura says he's found "the deeper meaning of life in Pop Art."

Shimomura is one of the area's most esteemed painters. He taught for decades at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and his work is in the permanent collections of more than 100 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian.

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