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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courtesy Kansas City Irish Center

The luck of the Irish was with two arts organizations this past weekend at the 13th annual Kansas City Irish Fest at Crown Center.

The Irish Center of Kansas City kicked off a $3.5 million capital campaign for a new home. Festival officials matched on-site donations with a check for $125,000 for the non-profit, which has been housed in the lower level of Union Station since 2007. Also at the festival, a new company, Irish Repertory Theatre, announced its inaugural season. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

William Trowbridge is Missouri’s third poet laureate. He was appointed to a two-year term, and that was three years ago. But, he says, he continues to serve because he hasn’t been told to stop — yet.

When Trowbridge first took on the role, he was asked to write a poem about Missouri. He didn’t want to write a typical “I love my state poem,” so he came up with something else: "Unofficial Missouri Poem."

courtesy Grand Arts

After a 20-year run in the Crossroads Arts District, this First Friday will be the last for Grand Arts. The closing reception for the exhibition "Universe of Collisions," by The Propeller Group, a collective based in Vietnam and California, marks the end of the non-profit arts residency venue.

Founder Margaret Silva announced plans last year to donate the Grand Arts building, a former auto shop at 1819 Grand Boulevard, to the Kansas City Art Institute for its graduate program.

courtesy of A to Z Theatrical Supply and Service

After five decades in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City, A to Z Theatrical Supply and Service has moved to a long-vacant building in east Brookside. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Mike Wilson, of Independence, Missouri, has a hectic schedule — he works long hours as a mail delivery driver, and he's married with three kids (with one more on the way).

So Wilson sneaks in time to write when he can.

"Late, really really late, or really really early," he explains. "(I write) before they're awake, or when they're asleep, when I get home."

Wilson’s work has been published in literary magazines such as The Allegheny Review and Midwestern Gothic, as well as on Tweed’s fiction blog.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The deadline has passed, and two proposals are in, but it may be a while before there's a decision on the fate of Kemper Arena in Kansas City's West Bottoms.

City Council Economic Development Chair Scott Taylor says city staff is vetting the proposals to make sure they are complete and thorough. Until that is determined, limited information about the two applicants will be released.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

With its new production of West Side Story, Spinning Tree Theatre takes an intimate approach to a large classic musical.

It’s thought to be the first in Kansas City with an all-local, all-professional cast. And while maintaining the original choreography, two veteran cast members are putting their own stamp on it. 

Courtesy SFS Architecture

The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners Thursday will get a design update for the Arts and Heritage Center in a 1960s-era building in Overland Park, Kansas. 

The county bought the former King Louie West at 8788 Metcalf in 2011. Now, instead of ice skating and bowling, the facility is slated to house the Johnson County Museum, parks and recreation classes, and Theatre in the Park musicals.

Missouri Department of Tourism, via flickr

An anonymous donor has given the Kansas City Art Institute a gift of $25 million. It's the largest in the school's history and believed to be one of the largest donations to any arts college in the country.

The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation presented the record-setting donation to the school at a private ceremony Tuesday. Debbie Wilkerson, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a press release, "The gift comes from a donor who has the highest confidence in the Kansas City Art Institute, and therefore, wants to demonstrate that support financially."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

"I think once you start writing — and you really love it — you can't stop doing it," says Andrew Gordon Rogers, who graduated with a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

"Every form that I can think of, you know I've tried short stories, poetry, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and it's all fun to me." 

Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

Kansas City residents who'd like to experience nature in air-conditioned comfort have the option to do just this inside the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Three site-specific installations on display through September explore "what we have taken from nature and what we do to nature," says executive director Bruce Hartman.

courtesy of the artist

If you’ve driven through downtown Kansas City recently, you’ve probably seen the orange cones from the streetcar construction. But what about that blue petticoat at the top of a street sign, or the brightly colored quilts wrapped around bus shelters? 

Art installations and performances return this summer to Kansas City's downtown loop. 

"Everyone get in their starting positions," calls out dancer Maura Garcia, as she shakes a rattle. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Artists for the East Ninth Street Project in Lawrence were announced Tuesday – and all have ties to Kansas or Missouri. The project calls for streetscape improvements and art along 9th Street from downtown to the city’s east side, to help make the corridor more walkable and bike-friendly.  

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

This story was rebroadcast as part of our best-of 2015 series. It was originally reported in July 2015. 

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. 

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: 

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