Laura Spencer

Arts Reporter

Laura Spencer caught the radio bug more than a decade ago when she was asked to read a newscast on the air on her first day volunteering for KOOP, the community radio station in Austin, Texas. 

After moving home to Kansas City, she learned the fine art of editing reel-to-reel tape as an intern and graduate assistant with the nationally syndicated literary program New Letters on the Air. Since 2001, she's focused her efforts on writing and producing feature stories as KCUR's Arts Reporter. 

In 2011, Laura was one of 21 journalists selected for USC Annenberg’s seventh National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater. She's received awards from the Associated Press, Kansas City Art Institute (Excellence in Visual Art and Education), Kansas City Association of Black Journalists, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Radio-Television News Directors Association (regional Edward R. Murrow Award) and Society for Professional Journalists. 

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Kansas City Art Institute

The Kansas City Art Institute's ceramics department dates back to the 1960s – and has a storied history, with larger than life professors who shaped the program like Ken Ferguson, Victor Babu and George Timock. 

This summer, Kansas City firms Helix and McCown Gordon Construction collaborated on a $750,000 renovation of "the old kiln room." 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Writer and poet Billy Brame majored in acting, and it's shaped his performances at readings and slams around Kansas City. Brame describes his style as silly, in the same vein as Shel Silverstein, and you'll hear that in his two poems — about politics, sort of, and bacon and dinosaurs.  

"I like whimsy, whimsy is where I'd squarely put these," says Brame. "I like just being the nonsense guy, the whimsy guy, wherever I land."

Julie Denesha / KCUR

  For two decades, Henry W. Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block, and his wife Marion, collected what they described as "pretty pictures" — mostly French Impressionist works by the likes of Degas, Matisse, and Monet. Nearly 30 of these paintings filled the walls of their Mission Hills, Kansas home.

Although these masterworks are not there now — you wouldn't know it by looking. 

The Blochs started collecting art in the 1970s for a very practical reason. "My wife and I had a home and we needed pictures in it," he recalls. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a writer, artist and musician. A member of the Latino Writers Collective, she’s also a self-described “collector of nostalgia.”

Here, she reads four poems in a series:

Courtesy photo / Kansas City Young Audiences

With a national spotlight on issues of racism and inequality — including protests after police shootings of unarmed black men and removal of the Confederate battle flag in some public places — jazz vocalist Lisa Henry says she wants to encourage more conversation in Kansas City with a new work called "Dear White People: The Racism Monologues Set to Music."

Wikipedia-CC

Hallmark Cards Inc. announced plans on Tuesday to transfer 400 jobs to Liberty, Missouri, from a distribution center in Enfield, Connecticut.

The East Coast site, open since 1952, currently employs 570 people. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Creative and commercial writer Lisa Stewart has traveled thousands of miles as a long-distance horseback rider, through the Rockies and the Midwest. In 2012, she took at 500-mile solo ride in Kansas and Missouri. 

flickr user jeff_golden

The night sky will light up this Fourth of July weekend with dozens of fireworks celebrations across the Kansas City metro.

The largest — and possibly the loudest — is likely to take place Saturday night at Jackson County's festivities at Longview Lake. 

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Update, 8:04 a.m., Saturday

At the moment, Westar Energy isn't reporting any outages in Wyandotte or Johnson counties. Independence Power & Light reports 3,798 customers without power. The Kansas City Board of Public Utilities reports 9,873.

Kansas City Power & Light reports 22,447 outages in Jackson County and 2,333 in Johnson County.

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At around 2 a.m. on Friday, a storm with winds up to 80 mph rolled through the Kansas City metro area, taking down trees and power lines.

Creative Commons/flickr user jrussell48

John Green, a retired airline pilot, has played "Taps" since his days as a battalion bugler at the Missouri Military Academy, and later as a regimental bugler at The Citadel. 

Green is one of a handful of musicians who'll perform "Taps" each night at sunset through Saturday at Liberty Memorial in a program they're calling Taps at the Tower

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Spoken word artist and poet Jeanette Powers started writing at the age of 9. 

"I realized that in my imagination, I was completely free. There were no rules, there were no laws, and invention was everything," says Powers. 

"Writing has been the one thing that's been the thread throughout." 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

The Kansas City Council will look very different after Tuesday's election.

Six current members of the 12-member council will be forced out due to term limits — opening up the body to new and fresh ideas regarding the city's approach to supporting the arts.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Potential developers gathered on Wednesday morning at Kemper Arena for a site visit. A national call for proposals is out for redevelopment of the underused arena built in the 1970s in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. 

Last year, city officials considered two competing ideas: demolishing the building to make way for a new multipurpose center, or re-purposing it for youth sports. After much discussion, the city decided to reboot the conversation. In May, a request for proposals was issued to adapt and re-use the arena. 

courtesy: Eric Bowers / http://blog.ericbowersphoto.com/

Demolition has been postponed – at least for now – for three 1920s apartment buildings on the Country Club Plaza. On Friday, Historic Kansas City applied to include these structures in the Nelle E. Peters Thematic Historic District, created in 1989 to protect other Peters-designed buildings. 

courtesy: Michael Schmidt and Andrew Smith

The roughly 1.5 miles between the Crossroads Arts District and 18th and Vine in Kansas City, Missouri, is not a lot of things.

It’s not a destination. It’s not a gathering place. It’s not particularly pedestrian or bike friendly. It’s not visually appealing. But what the 18th Street corridor does have going for it is a little momentum, in part due to conversations sparked by two college students.

photo: EG Schempf / Collection of the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California

Brooklyn-based artist Adam Cvijanovic paints on sheets of a tough, durable product called Tyvek. It's often used to wrap or protect a building during construction, but for Cvijanovic it provides the canvas for his large-scale portable murals.

"I am really interested in narrative because I'm very interested in time," says Cvijanovic. "And I think painting as a plastic art, as a frozen moment in time, can offer insights into it."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Several dozen people representing neighborhoods, arts groups and the city of Kansas City, Missouri, assembled Tuesday night at the Kauffman Foundation to continue discussions about a proposed cultural district around the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

They broke into smaller work groups, then discussed and voted on three design concepts: 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Alan Robert Proctor has published fiction, essays and poetry, in journals such as New Letters and I-70 Review. He's also a poetry editor for Kansas City Voices.

Proctor says when he reads a poem aloud he always includes the title at the beginning and at the end.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

For centuries, scientists have looked to artists to help visualize the complexities of the human body. The techniques have changed — from wood engravings and copper plate prints to microscopic photos and digital animation — but the focus on storytelling is the same. It’s a profession known as medical illustration and there’s an effort to cultivate more of it in Kansas City. 

Mixing art with science 

The illustration department at the Kansas City Art Institute is tucked into a former grocery store at 43rd and Oak. At two long tables near the entrance, a handful of students quietly surf the Internet or eat a snack just before the start of a biomedical visualization class.

A well-known writer chooses a book — and we all read it. That's the premise of NPR's Morning Edition Book Club. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Sometimes it just takes one teacher to change everything. For Seann Weir, who studies English and creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, it was poet Michelle Boisseau and her "high demand of excellence."

"I took a class with Michelle Boisseau," says Weir, "which terrified me and taught me how bad my poems were, which I'm really grateful for." 

Now a senior at UMKC, Weir is due to graduate next semester — and, after that, he plans to explore graduate school. Here, Weir reads a poem titled "In Your City."

courtesy: Lyric Opera of Kansas City

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City announced this week, just days after the season finale of Tosca, that artistic director Ward Holmquist is out of a job — one he's held since 1998. 

"Lyric Opera of Kansas City is reorganizing along the lines of standard industry structure for the purpose of improved effectiveness and efficiency in our operation and has eliminated the position of Artistic Director. Lyric Opera of Kansas City today announces the departure of Artistic Director Ward Holmquist. We thank him for his years of service," Board chair Kenneth Hager said in a statement issued Thursday.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Spencer Theatre, the main stage for Kansas City Repertory Theatre, opened in 1979 on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The interior was updated with new seats in 2002, but over the past three decades, other changes have been limited. Starting May 18, however, a $5.5 million renovation gets underway. 

"It is my pleasure to welcome all of you today to the lobby of the Spencer Theatre, which six months from now will look significantly different than it does today," Scott Boswell, chair of the Rep's board of directors, said to a crowd of supporters and UMKC faculty and staff on Monday morning. 

Porter Arneill, public art administrator for Kansas City, Missouri, and director of the Municipal Art Commission since 2002, is leaving for a new position in Lawrence, Kansas, where he'll be director of arts and culture. His last day on the job in Kansas City is April 22. 

"The past 13 years with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, have been tremendously rewarding for me and it's clear the city is moving in a good direction, particularly through the realms of art, craft, design and culture!" Arneill wrote in an email.

A native of St. Louis, Arneill trained as a sculptor and earned his master's degree in fine arts from the Massachusetts College of Art. But in the 1990s, he turned to arts administration. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Glenn North describes spoken word poetry as "in your face," using word play and slang. And he's gained a reputation as a performance poet, sharing the stage with poets like Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni. 

The community programs and education director at the Black Archives of Mid-America, North has worked with urban youth to develop their open mic skills, and encouraged them to write a style of poetry that's meant to be performed for an audience. 

courtesy: Municipal Art Commission

For two decades, the public artwork Modern Communication has caused controversy in front of Kansas city's police and fire department downtown. A bronze businessman stands on a briefcase – he has a shoe in his mouth, fingers in his ears, and a tie flapping across his eyes. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Just in the last handful of years, an industrial area in Lawrence, Kansas has been transformed into what's called the Warehouse Arts District. Previously boarded up buildings, like a former grocery warehouse and a cider vinegar plant, now house a gallery, a few dozen artist studios, and apartments. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

 Artist José Faus, a native of Bogota, Colombia, is widely known for his colorful community murals in the Kansas City area, but he's also a poet, writer and playwright, and a founding member of the Latino Writers Collective.

courtesy of the author

Joanne Saxon Hill  lives in Peculiar, Missouri, but her writing is rooted in the South. 

A novelist and short story writer, Saxon Hill grew up in Alabama in a strict religious family — an upbringing that, at times, was isolating. But she says, she's always been "tuned to life's quirkiness." 

Saxon Hill, who goes by the name Sister Saxon, incorporates bits of memory, overheard conversations, and imagination into her stories, like The Affliction.

Kathy Disney

Members of Kansas City's arts, LGBT and non-profit organizations are in deep mourning over the death of Stephen Metzler, widely described as "a pillar of the community" who suffered a stroke and died Tuesday at St. Luke's Hospital. He was 66. 

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