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. 

Ways to Connect

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

If you've been to the Mutual Musicians Foundation or even driven past 1823 Highland Ave. lately, you might do a double take. The formerly bright pink building is now brown. 

"Why keep the pink?" asks executive director Anita Dixon, with a laugh. "We've got a 100-year history ahead of us and we chose a palette that we liked. And it's not really brown, it's kind of beige." 

courtesy of the artist

The Kansas City Chorale and the Phoenix Chorale, under the direction of artistic director Charles Bruffy, received a Grammy for Choral Performance on Monday for the album Rachmaninoff: All Night Vigil.

The award was announced just after 4 p.m. by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

To date, recordings by the Kansas City Chorale have received nine Grammy nominations and five wins. 

Artists often have limited access to finances but very specific funding needs — such as booking studio time to record a new CD, renting a van for musicians on tour, or replacing stolen equipment.

Megan Crigger is the director of creative services for Kansas City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services. She says an expanded micro-loan program called ArtCap will provide a larger, dedicated loan pool for artists. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The ballet Swan Lake is a tragic love story. A beautiful princess, Odette, is under a spell, and, by day, turns into a white swan. A handsome prince falls for her, but then he’s tricked into pledging his love for an evil witch, Odile, the black swan. And the spell cannot be undone. 

Veteran dancer Cynthia Gregory made her debut as Odette/Odile in 1967, at the age of 20, on tour with the American Ballet Theatre in San Francisco.

KCMO Housing and Neighborhood Services / Opendata KC

The Kansas City Missouri City Council on Thursday received a proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 from Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte that would make big changes in vacant housing and boost funding for the arts.

The key proposal from the $1.5 billion budget would issue a $10 million bond to raze more than 800 dangerous houses, most of which sit east of Prospect Avenue.

A new plan for 18th and Vine Jazz District upgrades trims phase one commitment to $7 million.
Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

The 18th and Vine Jazz District played a crucial role in Kansas City's history as a center for African-American commerce and culture. Today, it's home to the American Jazz Museum, Black Archives of Mid-America, Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and more.

EG Schempf / Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

The largest collection of Kansas City artists in the metropolitan area can be found at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College, according to executive director Bruce Hartman.

And now, there's also a gallery exclusively devoted to artists with ties to the state of Kansas called the Kansas Focus Gallery. 

Kansas City Repertory Theatre

In the 1930s and 1940s, many Jews in Europe lived in fear — or in hiding — from the Nazis. 

A cramped attic in Amsterdam served as a makeshift home for two years for Anne Frank, her family, and four others. 

This secret annex was discovered, and Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only one to survive the concentration camps – but their stories live on through Anne’s diary, first published in 1947. 

Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl, was turned into a play and a film in the 1950s. Now, decades later, there’s an update for a new era. 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Updated at 1:43 p.m.  

A 16th-century oil-on-wood panel, in the collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for decades, is now considered to be the work of Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch. 

The Temptation of St. Anthony is one of only 25 paintings attributed to Bosch in the world — and only one of five in the United States. 

"You see the figure of St. Anthony resting on one hand on his staff, that is one of his significant attributes. And with his other hand, he is dipping a big, bulbous jug into the water," described Rima Girnius, associate curator of European painting, on Up to Date

"He's surrounded by a host of various, hybrid creatures, little monsters, that really personify different temptations that he is trying to resist."

Jim Mathis for Johnson County Library

Christopher Leitch, the library's community relations coordinator, says after nine months of construction at the Johnson County Central Resource Library, there was lots of anticipation — even before the doors re-opened to the public at 9 a.m. on Friday. 

"We had a line of people at 8:45 a.m., waiting for their new library to be available," said Leitch. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

If you're the parent of young children — especially under the age of 5 — it might be difficult to picture them at a classical music concert. No talking, listening quietly, sitting still, and not kicking the seat in front of them for more than a hour? 

The Kansas City Symphony is working to break down some of those perceived barriers with a new program called Petite Performances — for the youngest audiences, ages zero to 6. This series invites listeners on stage for a short concert at Helzberg Hall, up close to the musicians and their instruments. 

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

The American Jazz Museum's board of directors on Thursday announced that Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner will be the museum's next executive director. 

"There was no question ... that Cheptoo has the broad perspective, experience, and community knowledge to be able to help us hit the ground running and accelerate our progress," said board chair Trey Runnion in a news release. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Plans to transform the former King Louie bowling alley and ice skating rink in Overland Park into the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center are now underway.

On Thursday, a kickoff event marked the official start of re-purposing the 1960s-era building for a new use. 

Bruce W. Davis was named Tuesday as the new president and CEO of Arts KC — Regional Arts Council. ArtsKC has a staff of 10 people and a budget of $2 million to advocate for the arts in the five-county metro area. 

"I'm excited to play a role in Kansas City's arts renaissance," said Davis in a news release. "What is going on in all genres of the arts in Kansas City is history-making, and I'm thrilled to be part of it." 

Davis has worked in arts administration, fundraising and arts advocacy in California's Bay Area for more than three decades. 

courtesy: Burns & McDonnell

Greg Graves announced plans last week to retire at the end of 2016 as president and CEO of Burns & McDonnell, a Kansas City-based engineering firm. It was a role he'd served for 12 years.

And, on Monday, Graves had a follow-up announcement for the employee-owners: Ray Kowalik will succeed him as CEO. 

eg schempf / courtesy Leedy-Voulkos

Dylan Mortimer has explored faith and spirituality in his artwork for more than a decade in a very public way — outdoor prayer booths with knee pads where people can stop and pray, and oversized sculptural haloes that light up when visitors approach. 

Now, for the first time, he's addressing his chronic illness, cystic fibrosis, in spectacular glitter. 

Rohini Devasher, Bloodlines, 2009 / Museum purchase: Helen Foresman Spencer Art Acquisition Fund, 2010.0066

The National Endowment for the Arts announced this week more than $27.7 million in grants for 1,126 projects across the country. The first round of NEA funding in this fiscal year provides tens of thousands of dollars for arts initiatives in Kansas and Missouri. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Two classical music organizations, Kansas City Symphony and the Kansas City Chorale, will be vying for the Best Engineered Album, Classical, in the 58th annual Grammy awards. The nominees were announced Monday morning.

"I think it's excellent for Kansas City," says Kansas City Symphony's executive director Frank Byrne, "because it brings attention to the great work being done here and it gives our entire city a great deal of which we can be proud." 

Kelly Seward / Belger Crane Yard Studios

The traditional art-opening weekend meets the traditional gift-giving season at the following shows and sales, which involve multiple Kansas City artists.

Belger Crane Yard Studios Open House & Holiday Sale
2011 Tracy Ave., Kansas City, Missouri
Artists in their studios sell handcrafted pottery, jewelry, sculpture and ornaments as part of the Kansas City Clay Guild’s Annual Pottery Tour.
Friday, Dec. 4, 6-9 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

EBT. For some Kansas Citians the acronym has no particular meaning, but for long-time residents it's a reminder of the former downtown department store, Emery, Bird, Thayer & Company — or the restaurant that takes its name and some of its decor from this former Kansas City institution. EBT the restaurant announced to staffers Monday that it would close on December 31.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Nearly 70 buildings were demolished on Kansas City’s east side to make room for a new police station and state-of-the-art crime lab. The $74 million Leon Mercer Jordan Campus, funded by a city public safety tax and bonds, opened to the public with tours of the facility at 2640 Prospect Avenue on Tuesday. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey announced two new top leadership roles on Tuesday. 

Harlan Brownlee joins the organization in the newly created position of chief executive officer.

In July, Brownlee stepped down as president and CEO of ArtsKC, the regional arts council. He's worked in arts education for three decades, including as a dance teacher and choreographer, and calls this a "great fit." 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

A white police officer with his arm around the neck of a black man. Officers standing in a line, wearing helmets and carrying rifles. These images are not from photographs taken this year or last year – as you might guess – but during the Civil Rights movement many decades ago. 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, like many museums, maps out exhibitions in advance – often years ahead.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

On July 17, 1981, about 2,000 people gathered at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, for a dance. What followed was one of the most deadly structural failures in American history.

Shortly after 7 p.m., two 32-ton skywalks collapsed — the fourth-story walkway fell on to the second-story walkway and both crashed into the lobby. The toll: 114 killed, 200 injured. 

Now, more than 30 years later, a memorial honors those who died and recognizes the contributions of the first responders. At a dedication ceremony Thursday morning for the Skywalk Memorial Plaza, many personal stories were shared.

Writer and teacher Sandra Moran died on Saturday, November 7, at the age of 46, after a brief battle with cancer.

Moran was born in Topeka, Kansas, on Dec. 20, 1968, and grew up in Dover. She earned three degrees from the University of Kansas: a bachelor's degree in journalism, and master's degrees in public administration and in anthropology. 

After months of racial tension on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia and an escalation in faculty and student protests, including a hunger strike and a boycott by football players, Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri System president, resigned Monday morning.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

The arrival on Monday morning of the city's first working streetcar in more than 50 years was overshadowed by the Royals' World Series victory. But dozens of residents, city officials, and transit leaders, gathered in the River Market to watch streetcar #801 roll onto the tracks.

"I don't think I could find anything to make me any happier, frankly," says Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

Courtesy of Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Artist Thomas Hart Benton was a larger-than-life figure. A muralist who's well-known in Missouri, where he was born and lived the last three decades of his life — he's not as familiar as he once was outside the Kansas City area.

But that's starting to change. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

A love of the arts doesn’t fade as we age. But getting older – and less mobile – presents some challenges for seniors who still want to experience arts and cultural events.

For our series Aging in Place, a few local seniors shared strategies for connecting with the arts — such as looking for new sources of transportation, reaching out to arts opportunities at home and volunteering.

Getting active in the arts in retirement

Todd Rosenberg Photography

It's been a decade since Michael Stern started his appointment as the fourth music director of the Kansas City Symphony.

Stern's contract with the Symphony was up in June 2016, and it was not a given that he would choose to stay. But officials announced Wednesday that his contract has been extended through the 2019 - 2020 season.

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