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

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.

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.

Beth Buchanan / Kansas City Symphony

Singer-songwriter Ben Folds had a strongly worded message for an audience at a sold-out Kansas City Symphony concert at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts this week: "Cities without symphony orchestras are crap."

courtesy: Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to confirm Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo., as the next chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The nomination was approved by a voice vote on the Senate floor.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

This summer, Heart of America Shakespeare Festival presents the tragicomedy, The Winter's Tale, in Southmoreland Park in Kansas City, Mo.

It marks the first time the 22-year-old festival has staged the play, which explores the nature of jealousy.

Music, food, and craft beer will jostle for center stage this weekend at Boulevardia, a three-day festival in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Mo.

More than three dozen brewers from 11 states, from Oregon to Maine, as well as two Belgian breweries, will be on tap to provide samples. And – of course — there will be beer from local favorites in Kansas and Missouri (such as Boulevard Brewing Co., the organizer of the event).

Helix Architecture + Design

The Kansas City Repertory Theatre on Wednesday announced $3 million from the Hall Family Foundation, the largest gift in the company's history. The funds will support the renovations of the Spencer Theatre and its lobby in James C. Olson Performing Arts Center on the UMKC campus.

The center was completed in 1979. The Rep's artistic director, Eric Rosen, said the stage is ready for an upgrade as the company marks its 50th year.

The 1960s marked “the second golden age” in Kansas City’s theater history, according to historian Felicia Hardison Londré. It was a time of transition from touring companies providing entertainment to the city creating its own.

For Kansas City, this meant the creation of the first resident professional theater company since the 1930s: the Missouri Repertory Theatre, now known as the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. The “solid foundation” of the Rep, said Londré, led to the thriving theater scene across the Kansas City metro today.

Dwight Carter, 2001

Poet, memoirist and political activist Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86, reportedly after a long illness. 

“Hello, good morning ..." is how Angelou opened the conversation when we talked by phone last week. At home in Winston-Salem, N.C., she joked about the weather in the Midwest.

"Because I think you people change weather in the way that other people change clothes," she said with a laugh.

Courtesy: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.

Barbara Stuber has shown generations of schoolchildren and adults through the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She’s worked as a docent there for 25 years. Stuber’s new novel, Girl In Reverse, highlights the museum’s collection - including its Asian art.

The book’s set in the early 1950s, the Korean War is underway, and teenager, Lily Firestone, who’s adopted and Chinese, faces discrimination. But, at the museum, she finds a link to her culture and her past.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, was nominated in February as the next chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts.

According to Kauffman officials, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Wednesday moved Chu's nomination forward to the full Senate.

The timing of the vote has not yet been released. Chu isn't expected to comment until the confirmation process is complete.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Vacant lots are a problem for cities across the country. They’re costly for city budgets, as the lots have to be mowed and cleared of trash. For neighborhood residents, they can affect quality of life, and decrease property values.

There are thousands of vacant lots in Kansas City, Mo., including at least 3,000 parcels in the city’s Land Bank, and most of them are located east of Troost Avenue. A team of University of Missouri-Kansas City students spent the semester investigating vacancy and mapping out creative solutions.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

A new museum linked to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, opens Monday in Overland Park, Kan. The Museum at Prairiefire, at 135th and Nall, will feature two traveling exhibitions a year from the New York-based museum, as well as permanent displays, a hands-on children's discovery room, classrooms and a cafe.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

It's estimated Kansas City, Mo., has at least 4,000 to 5,000 vacant lots. These sites, sometimes weedy and filled with trash, contribute to neighborhood blight and lower property taxes.

This semester, 11 seniors in the Architecture, Urban Planning and Design department at UMKC documented the parcels of vacant land scattered across Kansas City, Mo. They zeroed in on an area with the highest rate of vacancies, predominantly in the urban core and east of Troost Avenue.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Choreographer Victoria Morgan, artistic director and CEO of the Cincinnati Ballet, based her narrative ballet, Cinderella, on the classic story by Charles Perrault, as well as drawing on her own experience dancing the title role in previous productions. The Kansas City Ballet presents the work, which opens this weekend.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, hosted two days of meetings on May 1 - 2, with about 600 legislative leaders at the Downtown Marriott in Kansas City, Mo. The council is a conservative advocacy group.

On Friday, protesters gathered across the street for a Stand Up to ALEC event.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Walt Disney opened his first animation studio, Laugh-O-Gram, on the second floor of a red-brick building near 31st and Troost in Kansas City, Mo. The business folded in 1923, and the building, due to deteriorating conditions, was almost torn down about a decade ago.

But now, plans are underway for the site to return as a center for animation, but one for the 21st century. This includes digital storytelling, experimental animation training labs, and a theater to showcase new work – as well as an upgrade, so the building is sustainable.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

An attempt to breathe life into a building near Troost Avenue with ties to Walt Disney could help erase the corridor’s stigma as a key dividing line in Kansas City, says Butch Rigby.

Rigby, chairman of the non-profit Thank you Walt Disney, is behind an effort to revitalize Laugh-O-Gram Studio, which is just east of 31st Street and Troost.

File: Susan B. Wilson / KCUR

Thursday marks a new chapter for the Kansas City Museum. The city’s parks and recreation department takes over management – and a new executive director is on board. 

Since 2012, Anna Marie Tutera has served as executive director of the Wornall/Majors House Museums. Now, she’s taking over leadership of another historic home: Corinthian Hall.

The former residence of lumber baron R. A. Long and his family, Corinthian Hall is located in the city's historic northeast. It's housed the Kansas City Museum since 1940.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

It's a Thursday morning in the rehearsal space at the Lyric Opera Center in the Crossroads Arts District. About 20 students from the Kansas City Art Institute stand on either side of a long table covered with sketches, floor and building plans and colorful set drawings. They reach into pockets to snap photos with cell phones, or focus in with larger cameras.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Standing near the entrance of the new exhibition, Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday, Julián Zugazagoitia, director and CEO of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, called the more than 200 recently discovered artifacts a "revelation for humanity."

Two roads are explored: the incense trade routes, caravans transporting frankincense and myrrh from Arabia to Mesopotamia and the Greco-Roman world, as well as the network of roads for travelers on religious pilgrimages to Mecca.

Courtesy: Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA)

There are more than 200 works in the traveling exhibition, Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from the fourth millennium B.C. to the 1930s.

The exhibit, now at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., features prehistoric tools and figures sculpted by early inhabitants, as well as ceramic vessels, jewelry, coins, tombstones and sculptures — ranging in size from small to monumental.

Courtesy: M-AAA

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, 40 percent of their grant budget is dedicated to partnership agreements with state arts agencies and regional arts organizations – like the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City, Mo. The NEA recently announced a second round of grants for 2014.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced charges Friday against a man tied to recent highway shootings in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The afternoon announcement revealed Mohammed Whitaker, 27, of Grandview, Mo., faces 18 felony counts, including class A and class B felonies related to shooting into a vehicle.

The charges stem from a series of at least a dozen shootings on Kansas City area highways. Three people have been hurt as a result.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Blue Valley High School, at 159th and Nall in Stilwell, Kan., was closed earlier this week for a previously scheduled professional development day. Still, counseling support was available for staff and students in the wake of Sunday's shootings that killed three people, including a Blue Valley student and his grandfather.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Updated 10:47 a.m.:

Frazier Glenn Cross, the suspect in Sunday's shootings, is being held at the Johnson County Detention Center without bond. Kristi Bergeron, of the District Attorney's Office in Johnson County said he will not be arraigned Monday.

He will face both federal and state charges.

Updated 10:36 a.m.:

The Children's Center for the Visually Impaired released this statement:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

After nearly three decades with the Kansas City Ballet, Ballet Master James Jordan has accepted the same post with The Sarasota Ballet as of the 2014-2015 season.

Devon Carney, the Ballet's artistic director, said in a news release that Jordan's national reputation as a stager of Anthony Tudor ballets led to the Florida connection.

courtesy: Folk Alliance International

Folk Alliance International announced its pick for a new executive director on Wednesday.

The board of directors selected Aengus Finnan, a musician, community leader and arts administrator. Finnan will replace Louis Meyers, a South by Southwest co-founder who's served as executive director since 2005.

The 3,000-member organization moved its headquarters from Memphis to Kansas City in August.

Private Birthday Party / Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, UMKC

In the 1950s and 1960s, gay and lesbian clubs dotted the Kansas City metro area.

Bars, with names like The Ivanhoe Cabaret and The Terrace, "were widely viewed as having some of the finest entertainment around," according to the News-Telegraph in a 1992 article. But these drag balls, also called "tea parties" or "private birthday parties," were mostly underground events.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

ArtsKC, the arts council for the Kansas City metro area, announced a move Monday from downtown to the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, Mo.

The new location, at the corner of Southwest Boulevard and Baltimore, places the 15-year-old organization squarely in the center of a thriving arts and cultural scene.

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