Laura Spencer


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. 


Arts & Culture
3:42 pm
Wed September 24, 2014

At Twenty, Kansas City's 'Sky Stations' Are An Artist's 'Once-In-A-Lifetime' Project

A helicopter places one of the ornaments on top of a pillar, more than 200 feet over Bartle Hall, in 1994.
Credit courtesy: Zahner

Sky Stations are the shiny, space-age sculptures on top of Bartle Hall (more commonly called "hair curlers").

Twenty years ago this week, a helicopter hovered overhead to place the four steel and aluminum sculptures atop 300-foot concrete pylons in a public art installation that closed the downtown streets in Kansas City, Mo.

New York-based artist R.M. Fischer reflects on Sky Stations 20 years later: 

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Arts & Culture
1:03 pm
Fri September 19, 2014

Lawrence Public Library Releases Banned Books Trading Cards

'Harriet the Spy' by Louise Fitzhugh
Lora Jost

The Lawrence Public Library on Thursday revealed this year's set of banned books trading cards.

It marks the third time the Kansas library has celebrated Banned Books Week by highlighting shunned classics and contemporary works with a set of trading cards. 

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Arts & Culture
10:05 am
Fri September 19, 2014

A Nelson Curator's Favorite Works In 'The Plains Indians' Exhibition

Gaylord Torrence, senior curator of American Indian art, stands at the entrance to the exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

The new exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, includes nearly 140 masterworks from private and public collections across North America and Europe. 

There’s a 2,000-year-old pipe, 18th century-painted robes and beaded designer shoes from 2011. 

Some curators might find it offensive if someone asked them to choose a few favorite works — well, actually, just two — from an exhibition they'd worked on for nearly five years. 

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Up To Date
12:49 pm
Wed September 17, 2014

Three Museum Directors On The New Plains Indians Art Exhibit At The Nelson

Museum directors (from left to right) Stéphane Martin, Julián Zugazagoitia, and Kevin Gover, talked to Up to Date host Steve Kraske.
Credit Beth Lipoff / KCUR

The exhibition The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, now at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., marks an international collaboration, years in the making. Three museums on two different continents, featuring nearly 140 objects from North American and European collections. 

Julián Zugazagoitia, director and CEO of the Nelson-Atkins, says this builds on a museum tradition, started in the 1970s with Sacred Circles, of bringing Native American artwork to a larger audience.

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Arts & Culture
7:50 am
Tue September 16, 2014

New NEA Chair Jane Chu Returns To Kansas City

The American Jazz Museum was NEA Chair Jane Chu's first stop of the day. The museum's CEO Greg Carroll (left) took Chu on a tour.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

Monday marked Jane Chu's first official visit to Kansas City as the new chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Chu's post at the NEA was confirmed by the Senate in June. Before then, she served as president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

During her tour of Kansas City, Chu gave a talk about creative leadership and attended a reception with the arts community. She started the day with visits to three arts organizations, including the American Jazz Museum. 

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Arts & Culture
1:37 pm
Fri September 12, 2014

How The Power Of A Pipe Organ Is Like Riding A Harley

The Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, Opus 3875, in Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Credit courtesy: Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Jan Kraybill, principal organist for the Dome and Spire Organ Foundation and organ conservator at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, plays and maintains the three largest pipe organs in the Kansas City metro area. The Kauffman Center's Casavant organ ranks third with 5,448 pipes. 

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Arts & Culture
6:45 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

Finalists Selected, Design Process Starts For UMKC's Proposed Downtown Arts Campus

An artist rendering of the future home of the UMKC Downtown Campus for the Arts. The proposed site is south of the Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts.
Credit courtesy: University of Missouri-Kansas City

Five architect teams are on the short list to design the first phase of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s proposed downtown arts campus.

The finalists include Kansas City-based firms BNIM, el dorado, Helix, Hoefer Wysocki and International Architect Atelier, each teamed with national architecture firms. 

The initial stage of the project calls for relocating the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance -- students, faculty, classes, and most performances -- to the Crossroads Arts District. 

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Arts & Culture
7:30 am
Tue September 9, 2014

BNIM's Bob Berkebile Wins $50,000 Sustainability Award

Bob Berkebile is a founding principal of BNIM, an architecture and planning firm based in Kansas City, Mo.
Credit courtesy: BNIM

Architect Bob Berkebile, founding principal of Kansas City-based BNIM, is this year's recipient of The Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership in Sustainability. It's a $50,000 award, the largest for "sustainability in the built environment."

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Arts & Culture
5:30 am
Sat September 6, 2014

Corporate Rockers Win Battle Of The Band Challenge

Sprint's Cleyson Brown Unlimited is one of eight bands to compete in this year's FORTUNE Battle of the Corporate Bands.
Credit courtesy: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Update: Sprint's Cleyson Brown Unlimited won first place. The band was also recognized for Best Horns (David Freeland), Best Bass Player (Frank Minolfo), and Best Drummer (Jason Smith). 

Original post follows: 

Companies around the country will be in heavy competition this weekend - on stage, with musical instruments.

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Arts & Culture
8:35 am
Thu September 4, 2014

Kansas City Symphony And The 'Bohemian' Life

Credit Photo courtesy of Chris Lee / Kansas City Symphony

The Kansas City Symphony’s Classics Uncorked series is a more informal concert experience — shorter and with a theme. This weekend’s program, called Bohemian Rhapsody, features works by Dvorák, Bizet ... and Queen.

Nick Hersh, assistant conductor at the Baltimore Symphony, and Aram Demirjian, associate conductor at the Kansas City Symphony, met a few years ago at the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen. They conducted and stood as partners for two summers in the cello section of the Conductors' Orchestra. 

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Arts & Culture
5:30 am
Sun August 31, 2014

After 35 Years, A Nelson Security Guard Calls It A Day

Henry J. ("Hank") Raya, 82, watches over the museum's collection of South and Southeast Asian art Friday at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Julie Denesha KCUR

The oldest, and longest-serving, employee at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art retired on Aug. 31.

Henry J. ("Hank") Raya studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and served in the U.S. Navy before working for two decades as an illustrator at The Kansas City Star. Then he stepped into a new career: as a security guard at the Nelson-Atkins, where he's helped the visitors and protected the art for 35 years. 

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Arts & Culture
7:53 am
Fri August 29, 2014

Remembering Agustín Romero-Diaz, Leader Of The Loose Park Drum Sessions

Agustin Romero-Diaz died on August 21. He was 67.
Credit courtesy: Pat Conway

Agustín Romero-Diaz, a native of Cuba and Kansas City resident, died last week at the age of 67. A drummer and singer, he wasn't known for his performances in a band, or on stage. In his three decades in Kansas City, he shared his passion for Afro-Cuban music each week during afternoon drum sessions in Loose Park. 

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Arts & Culture
7:45 am
Fri August 22, 2014

'Word Play' Exhibition At The Belger Explores Power And Humor In Text

The Belger Arts Center has collected the work of Renee Stout for decades, including 'Fatima's Sign.' Gallery assistant Mo Dickens describes it as a voodoo menu, lotions and potions you might find in a voodoo shop.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

The experience of viewing a work of art often involves words — think of the neatly typed wall panels with an artist’s name and background, or details about the work itself. The written word — and its role in and on an artwork — is the focus of a Belger Arts Center exhibition in the Crossroads Arts District. 

"A couple of years ago, there were some visitors waiting for the elevator over there," says gallery assistant Mo Dickens, on the third floor of the Belger Arts Center. "And I heard one turn to the other and say, 'Hmm … I don’t know. I’ve never liked text on paintings.'" 

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Arts & Culture
2:41 pm
Wed August 20, 2014

Nelson Responds To The Onion, 12 Picassos In Collection

A photograph of Pablo Picasso, taken in 1957 by David Douglas Duncan. In 2013, Duncan donated 161 inkjet prints of Picasso to the museum.
Credit Courtesy Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art / Gift of the artist

The parody news site, The Onion, targeted the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., last week in a story with this headline: "Museum Proudly Exhibits Picasso Shitty Enough To Be In Kansas City."

The article poked fun at the museum and its fictional acquisition of a Picasso pencil sketch, a "forgettable piece-of-shit doodle" filling up an entire wall. 

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Arts & Culture
3:27 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

HOK And 360 Architecture To Merge, Take Company Full Circle

Credit courtesy: 360 Architecture

Architecture, engineering and design company HOK announced Tuesday the acquisition of Kansas City-based 360 Architecture. The merger brings HOK, a St. Louis-based firm with offices around the country, back into the realm of sports architecture. 

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Arts & Culture
10:43 am
Mon August 4, 2014

KCAI President Announces Retirement, Effective Monday

KCAI President Jacqueline Chanda has announced her retirement.
Credit Mark McDonald / Kansas City Art Institute

Updated: 5:30 p.m., Monday

The Kansas City Art Institute has announced that President Jacqueline Chanda is retiring, effective Monday.

In May, the faculty sent the board of a trustees a "no confidence" vote for Chanda. 

The board distributed a letter this morning to faculty, staff, and students including the following: 

"Jacqueline Chanda, president of the Kansas City Art Institute since 2011, has informed the board that she plans to retire on Aug. 4, 2014." 

The chair of the board, Steve Metzler, will step in as interim president. 

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Arts & Culture
7:45 am
Mon July 28, 2014

'The Sound Of Music' Director On Giving Back

"The Sound of Music" director Philip William McKinley (at right) listens to the cast run through the musical on Wednesday at Starlight Theatre.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

A circus and theater director, Philip William McKinley's name has been linked to high-profile Broadway productions over the last decade, such as the Tony award-winning The Boy From Oz and Julie Taymor's controversial Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. (He stepped in to direct in 2011 after producers fired Taymor due to delays and artistic differences).

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4:37 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

Co-Founder Of The Writers Place In Kansas City Dies At 82

Gloria Vando and her husband, Bill Hickok, co-founders of The Writers Place in 2006.
Credit Dennis Lowden

William "Bill" Hickok died Monday at the age of 82 in Marina Del Rey, Ca. Two decades ago, Hickok and his wife, Gloria Vando, co-founded a literary community center in Kansas City, Mo. called The Writers Place.

Hickok, a first cousin several times removed of the gunslinger "Wild Bill" Hickok, was born in Kansas City; he graduated from Southwest High School and the University of Missouri.

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Arts & Culture
8:44 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Kansas And Missouri Artists Selected For 'State Of The Art' Exhibition At Crystal Bridges

Calder Kamin, Kansas City, Mo. 'Impact Proof: Arkansas Residents and Visitors' (2014).

In 2013, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., embarked on a project to discover “the most compelling American art being created today.”

Over a period of about 10 months, museum president Don Bacigalupi and assistant curator Chad Alligood crisscrossed the country. They traveled more than 100,000 miles — by plane and car — and stopped in the homes and studios of nearly 1,000 artists.

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Arts & Culture
11:13 am
Fri July 18, 2014

KC Fringe Encourages Writers To Present New Work

In '(Virgin.),' Ellen Kirk plays an overprotective mother. Here, she holds a chastity belt as Matt Leonard, who plays the father, and Kenna Hall, as Mary Sue, look on.
Laura Spencer KCUR

The KC Fringe Festival, an annual event featuring actors, dancers, poets, storytellers, filmmakers, and visual artists, turns 10 this year. The festival offers about 50 theater performances, from R-rated to puppet shows for kids. And, KC Fringe often provides an opportunity for performers to try out new material.

It seems appropriate that Jesse Ray Metcalf, the writer of a new production called (Virgin.), would say: "This is my first time doing Fringe."

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Arts & Culture
3:31 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

Sneak Peek: Second Fridays In Kansas City

Renee Stout, 'Fatima's Sign,' 2002
Credit courtesy: Belger Arts Center

So — maybe First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District is a little too crowded for you. How about Second Fridays?

Some Kansas City metropolitan area galleries have started opening their doors on the second Fridays of the month to host new exhibitions or simply provide a less elbow-to-elbow opportunity to view the artwork.

Here's what's on tap:

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Arts & Culture
9:22 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Your Guide To KC Fringe, By The Numbers

At the red carpet walk in 2013, Emery Woods kept her headdress in place as she waited with other members of the burlesque troupe De Allure.
Credit File: Julie Denesha / KCUR

In 2004, when Kansas City launched its first fringe festival as a showcase for experimental work, the event hosted 30 performances over three days.

KC Fringe is now an 11-day festival, and includes nearly 400 performances by more than 100 artists in venues from downtown Kansas City, Mo., to the Country Club Plaza.

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Arts & Culture
8:30 am
Thu July 10, 2014

Parting Questions For The Rep's Kyle Hatley

The Rep's associate artistic director, Kyle Hatley, is moving to Chicago in August.
Credit courtesy: Kansas City Repertory Theatre

The Kansas City Repertory Theatre announced this month that Kyle Hatley, associate artistic director, plans to relocate to Chicago in August.

Hatley, a 33-year-old native of Memphis, started working at the Rep in 2008. During his time in Kansas City, Mo., he's earned a reputation as an energizing force in the theater community — as an actor and director, as well as the creator of innovative new works at the KC Fringe Festival and The Living Room.

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Arts & Culture
8:00 am
Thu July 3, 2014

Public Art Commission Awarded To Iowa Artist Sparks Discussion

A rendering of David Dahlquist's artwork at the KCPD East Patrol.
Credit courtesy of the artist

More than 200 cities across the United States have a percent-for-art ordinance, calling for a portion of construction project budgets to be set aside for public art.

Kansas City's one percent for art ordinance has been in effect since 1986. The first installation: "Bull Wall" by Kansas City native Robert Morris in the West Bottoms in 1992.

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Beyond Our Borders
10:15 am
Wed July 2, 2014

3 Challenges Of Transforming A Vacant Lot Into An Edible Landscape

This section of a vacant lot in the Ivanhoe neighborhood is envisioned as the future site of an orchard.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

There are thousands of vacant lots in Kansas City, Mo. In the Ivanhoe neighborhood, from 31st Street to Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard and Prospect to Paseo, the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council owns more than 150.

"Every lot can't be a community garden. Every lot can't be an urban farm. So it's like, what else can we do with these lots?" asks Dina Newman, who's coordinating a project in Ivanhoe called LOTS of Love.

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Arts & Culture
9:51 am
Fri June 27, 2014

From Page To Park: Focus And Anticipation At A Tech Rehearsal

Walking through a scene during a tech rehearsal for “The Winter’s Tale” Jan Rogge (Paulina) listens for instructions from director Sidonie Garrett on stage in Southmoreland Park.
Julie Denesha KCUR

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Winter’s Tale is well underway. But it takes a lot of time and effort – and people — to put the show together. For our series, From Page to Park, we’re taking a behind-the-scenes look at the process.

About two weeks ago in Southmoreland Park in Kansas City, Mo., actors, musicians, designers and directors were working through perhaps the most intricate part of staging a play, a rehearsal called tech.

Breaking it down and putting it back together

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Up To Date
3:44 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Local Listen: Greg Mackender

"The Winter's Tale" at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival.
Credit Roger Ridpath / Heart of America Shakespeare Festival

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival begins this weekend and while the play may be the thing, there’s live music too.

During performances of The Winter's Tale, there are three musicians on stage, including resident composer Greg Mackender on percussion and mallets, Sascha Groschang on cello and Laura Parks on violin.

"I left a lot of openings for impromptu types of things," says Mackender. "There are other spots where they can get a little livelier, we can play around a little bit."

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Arts & Culture
12:15 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Artists Explore Possibilities Of Vacant Lots In Kansas City

LOTS of Love coordinator Dina Newman points to the future site of an orchard in the Ivanhoe neighborhood.
Laura Spencer KCUR

Artists have a reputation for moving into places others don’t – turning areas once full of empty buildings into thriving districts, such as the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, Mo. So, it’s not surprising they’d take a look at the thousands of vacant lots and vacant houses in the city, exploring everything from sculpture parks to art galleries on some of the least desirable lots.

Creating a new space with a purpose

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Arts & Culture
1:12 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

Take A Look At The World Cup Stadium Designed In Kansas City

The facade and roof of Arena das Dunas include 20 petal-shaped modules. These appear to move, like the nearby dunes.
courtesy of Populous

While watching the FIFA World Cup match between the United States and Ghana on Monday night, perhaps you noticed the venue.

The 42,000-seat stadium, called Arena das Dunas or The Stadium of the Dunes, has a petal-shaped canopy and was designed by Populous, a sports architecture firm based in Kansas City, Mo.

According to the firm, the challenge was to create a "grand space" for the people of Natal, Brazil. Architects drew inspiration from the flowing sand dunes that dominate the city.

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Arts & Culture
4:17 pm
Tue June 17, 2014

A New President And CEO For The Kauffman Center

The Kauffman Center Board of Directors named Paul J. Schofer as president and CEO.
Credit Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Paul J. Schofer was announced Tuesday as the new leader of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Since March 2012, Schofer has served as the Kauffman Center's vice president of operations and chief financial officer.

Schofer will replace outgoing president and CEO Jane Chu, who's leaving to take on a new post as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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