This week marked the launch of a series of public meetings – at community centers, libraries, churches, a museum, an art gallery, even a police station - to discuss the future of the arts in Kansas City.
The Mayor's Task Force for the Arts was established about a year and a half ago, shortly after the 2011 mayoral election. Kansas City Mayor Sly James tapped lawyer Mike Burke, a former city councilman and a competitor in the mayoral race, to lead the task force. The goal: to review the city's arts-related policy - for the first time in about 20 years. "Envision Arts & Culture KC," a community-wide outreach campaign to brainstorm about the arts and cultural life of the city, is now underway.
A combination of arts and culture, but not enough belief
On Monday night, cars lined the streets outside ArtsTech, a brick building in the East Crossroads, for the "Envision Arts & Culture KC" kickoff meeting. Mayor James received a standing ovation from the animated crowd of arts supporters and artists (estimated at just over 300).
"I am truly honored to be your mayor," said James. "I love the job because I love the city and this city has so much to offer. And one of the greatest things it has going for it is our combination of arts, culture, sophistication, down home-ness, friendliness, beautiful vistas, green spaces. We’ve got it all and we simply have to start believing in ourselves."
James thanked the audience for “their interest in the arts” and the members of the task force for “raising the profile of the arts and culture in Kansas City.”
Creating a plan for the future
"This is a time where those who have worked before us to build the arts community in Kansas City should be very proud," said task force chair Mike Burke. "But resting on our laurels is not what we do in Kansas City. It's time that we take our community to the next level."
The audience members were divided into about 6 groups - some standing or sitting in chairs in the large open room, others packed into smaller rooms. Facilitators led the discussion based on the same set of questions.
"This is your time to vent, to talk," suggested Burke. "What we want to come out of this with is a strategy for the next decade on where we take the arts in Kansas City and where the city takes the arts. So that's the goal."
The cultural life of the city
Standing at the front of one group, facilitator Martin Cohen of The Cultural Planning Group started the discussion by prompting: "What is it that you find that's distinctive about the cultural life of Kansas City? What are the things that come to your mind?" Artist Cory Imig of Plug Projects took notes with a black marker on a large sheet of white paper.
Some responses to the questions included cross-disciplinary work, distinctive neighborhoods, density, Art Deco architecture, and fountains.
"Accessibility," said Kansas City Art Institute student Kendell Harbin. "It's incredibly inviting and open to anybody. It doesn't seem in any way exclusive."
"The way that the city has always been one where the art comes from culture, rather than being the culture of art," said artist and YJ’s Snack Bar owner David Ford. "We've always developed artists. Previously, we've shipped them off to other metropolitan (areas), now we're keeping them."
Facilitated community conversations about the arts are expected to continue over the next month. The feedback gathered through meetings, the website, and social media will then be collected into an assessment and planning report. This will be presented to the City Council to help shape the city's arts and cultural policy.
Mayor's Task Force for the Arts hosts public meetings, January 28 - 31, 2013. Check here for a complete schedule.