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

During World War II, nearly 350 men and women, known as the Monuments Men, worked to protect and restore millions of cultural artifacts. This group of art curators and historians recovered sculptures and paintings looted by the Nazis, from artists such as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Don Ipock / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

A prisoner on death row, for a decade, prepares to die. But, then something goes wrong on the morning that's supposed to be his last - the lethal injection is not lethal. That's the premise of the production, When I Come to Die, at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

After nearly 30 years with Fox Associates, in St. Louis, Mo., Richard (Rich) Baker will take on a new role as president and CEO of Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Mo. in March.

Fox Associates owns and operates the 4,500-seat Fox Theatre, as well as MetroTix, an online ticket broker, and Fox Theatricals, which runs Briar Street Theatre in Chicago, Ill.

Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, is President Barack Obama's pick as the next chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Obama announced on Wednesday he intends to nominate Chu, who's led the Kauffman Center since November 2006.

The NEA awards grants to artists and arts organizations. In fiscal year 2012, its budget was $146 million.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

You will likely face two challenges if you want to try cross country skiing in Kansas City: the right weather conditions and available equipment.

Cross country skiing is considered one of the most challenging of the endurance sports. Participants use skis and poles to move across snow-covered terrain. Traditional cross country skis are long and narrow; holding on to the poles, you push with one ski and glide with the other.

Courtesy Union Station Kansas City, Inc. and Premier Exhibitions, Inc.

In April, Union Station will be the first venue in North America to host The Discovery of King Tut. The exhibition marks Union Station's largest to date, and includes 1,000 reproductions of artifacts found in the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and The James A. Reeds Family

They were a group of soldiers with something in common — a knowledge of art and how to preserve it.

On Monday's Up to Date, we talk about the Monuments Men, a special division from the Allied forces during World War II who braved the battlefields to save priceless art and architecture from the ravages of war.

J. Robert Schraeder / Courtesy the Coterie Theatre

For more than three centuries, Salem, Mass., has been linked to the infamous witch trials. In 1692, at least 20 men and women died after being convicted of witchcraft; it was then considered a crime punishable by death. Hundreds more faced accusations.

A new production at the Coterie Theatre, Afflicted: Daughters of Salem, provides the story behind the girls — the accusers, who started it all.

Afflicted is written by Laurie Brooks, a longtime Coterie collaborator. She says the play is "not easy. It’s subtle, it’s complex. It's about relationships."

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Art and religion have been described as natural bedfellows – and yet, it’s been a complicated relationship. One Kansas City artist, Dylan Mortimer, explores religion in his artwork – including a series of halos, where anyone can choose to be illuminated.

Stepping inside the halo

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Veteran Kansas City radio newsman, Dan Verbeck announced his retirement Monday. Verbeck has been a reporter in the Kansas City region for 40 years. Since 2008, Verbeck has served as a general assignment reporter at KCUR.

Previously, Verbeck worked at KMBZ 980 AM for 23 years, where he was well known for his signature signoff: "Cruiser 980 ... clear."

"I have always admired Dan as a hard-boiled radio newsman who has a poetic and empathetic approach to the people in his stories," said KCUR News Director, Frank Morris.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The one-woman play, Grounded, by George Brant, explores the destructive power of modern warfare through the eyes of a female combat pilot. After an unexpected pregnancy, she's reassigned to a windowless trailer in the Nevada desert as the desk pilot of a military drone.

The Unicorn Theatre's production marks the third in a series of "rolling world premieres" presented by members of the National New Play Network, dedicated to the development of new work.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

It was 30 years ago this year that Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey was created as a second home for the New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a modern dance company founded in 1958.

To mark this milestone, the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation on Friday issued a challenge grant. At $375,000, it’s the largest grant in the history of the Friends of Alvin Ailey.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Two friends from Kansas City, Kan., are teaming up for a project called If Da Dirt Could Talk. It combines collaborative quilts with a performance in an historic graveyard in old Quindaro.

Quilting to share history

Artist Nedra Bonds started quilting at the age of six. "Yeah, I didn’t have a choice, I come from a family of quilters on both sides," she says. "So this was something that we did, based upon who we were, based on the needs of the family, and we just always have done it."

Kansas City City Manager Troy Schulte submitted his official proposed budget for 2014-2015 to Mayor Sly James Wednesday afternoon.

The plan calls for an overall 2.7 percent increase in spending. About 40 percent of that $37 million increase will go to start fully funding the city's share of its long underfunded employee pensions.

Basic services budgets remain at about 2013-2014 levels, but cuts are planned in the municipal court and in jobs at City Hall.

Schulte did include funds to meet a council commitment to increase spending for arts programs by $325,000.

Gift of David Douglas Duncan

In October 2013, photographer David Douglas Duncan, a native of Kansas City, Mo., donated 161 photographs to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Some of these photographs document the Korean War, but most were taken over nearly two decades at the home of artist Pablo Picasso.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

This weekend, Kansas City Symphony concertmaster Noah Geller performs his first solo performance in the Symphony's classical series with a beloved work by Beethoven, his Violin Concerto.

Courtesy of the Spencer Museum of Art

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of William S. Burroughs, who was born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1914. A writer, painter, and spoken word artist, Burroughs is considered one of the seminal members of the Beat Generation. He spent his final years living in Lawrence, Kan.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

In December, a city ordinance shifted management of the Kansas City Museum from Union Station Kansas City, Inc. to the  parks department, as of May 1, 2014. Corinthian Hall, the home of the museum, is under renovation – so much of the vast collection remains in storage at Union Station.

So what's in the museum's collection of more than 70,000 objects?

Licensed gun owners in Kansas will now be allowed to bring their concealed weapons into Johnson County public libraries. The expansion of the concealed carry law passed in July by a wide margin in both the Senate and the House. But, the library system was granted a six-month extension to explore increased security, which expired on Jan. 1.

 Republican state representative Stephanie Clayton opposed the law. And Clayton says due to the nature of the bill, library staff members cannot ask if a patron is carrying a weapon.

Updated 3:04 p.m.

Rain is expected to continue this afternoon with snow tonight and overnight, according to an update from the National Weather Service.

In the latest report, NWS forecasters say: "Light snow accumulations will be possible with a dusting to 3" in the local area. Snow will end by daybreak Saturday, with a chilly day anticipated."

A winter weather advisory remains in effect for the metro area through 9 a.m. on Saturday.

School and community closings (Saturday)

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Since the mid-1960's, Hallmark Cards Inc. employees, past and present, and their spouses, have gathered each year - not for an exchange of greeting cards, but of cookies.

Hallmark, the 103-year-old Kansas City-based company, has about 11,000 employees around the world, including just over 3,000 in the metro area.

Donna Moore, a former employee, began working for Hallmark in 1962. She recalls how the event became an annual tradition, mostly for women.

Creative Commons

After years of discussion, the Kansas City Council Thursday approved a new long-term agreement for the Kansas City Museum. Union Station Kansas City has managed the museum since 2000. The agreement transfers it to the city’s parks and recreation department. But the bulk of the collection remains owned by Union Station. 

"This is a very long awaited resolution to a somewhat extended and difficult partnership that we've had with Union Station," says Councilwoman Jan Marcason, who introduced the ordinance before the council. It passed with a unanimous vote.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

The Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol has a large cast, including about three dozen children and young adults. Rehearsals start in early November, and the hours can be long and demanding. There are song lyrics, and sometimes lots of lines to learn. It’s a challenging job for the young actors - and for the staff charged with keeping track of them.

courtest of the artist

Jazz pianist and bandleader Tim Whitmer has gained a reputation for building on jazz traditions, as well as performing original compositions. Whitmer is a mainstay at jazz clubs, but he also plays in local churches.

Whitmer spoke to Chuck Haddix, who hosts the KCUR music program, The Fish Fry on Friday and Saturday nights.

Interview Highlights: Tim Whitmer

On merging the sacred and the secular

The city of Kansas City, Mo. is one step closer to taking back management of the city-owned Kansas City Museum. A contract has been in place with Union Station Kansas City since 2000. It’s taken time and effort to reach a new agreement.

Charting a new path

Julie Denesha / KCUR

After about two years of research, work and community engagement, Kansas City Mayor Sly James' Task Force for the Arts presented its findings on Thursday during the City Council’s business session.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

The Alexander Majors House, a two-story white antebellum home, is a relic from the 1850's, and still stands at 82nd and State Line. It was built by one of the founders of the Pony Express, and it's tucked next to an office building, just north of Ward Parkway Shopping Center.

Inside the house, there’s historic furniture and fixtures, and also on the property, a blacksmith’s shop, carriages, and a barn – where, for now, there’s a newly restored piano. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

At Kansas City International Airport, Air Canada, US Airways and United are moving to Terminal C, and Terminal A is expected to close on Jan. 9, 2014. But what does this mean for the public artwork - inside and outside the terminal?

courtesy of the artist

In late September, a billboard went up picturing a white man aiming a rifle at The Scout, the locally-famous statue of a Native American on horseback that’s in Penn Valley Park. The billboard also called out a cheery “Discover Kansas City!” in cursive font. But, it didn’t go over very well. The billboard came down about a week after it went up, and it nearly wasn’t installed at all.   

Cory Weaver

Artist Jun Kaneko grew up in Japan, but he's been based in Omaha, Neb. since the mid-1980's.  He's known for his monumental ceramic sculptures, including his signature "dangos," or rounded forms - and he’s also created scenic and costume design for opera.

Mozart’s The Magic Flute marks Kaneko's third opera. The set is almost entirely digital animated projection, with colorful, whimsical costumes. The Lyric Opera of Kansas City opens the production this weekend at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.