Arts & Culture

KCUR’s Arts & Culture Desk covers arts news from music to visual art to dance and theater, with a focus on Kansas and Missouri.

Our reporters explore the behind-the-scene stories about newsmakers and emerging artists. We also take a look at the intersections of arts and technology, science and creativity, and present profiles of creative people. 

A Hollywood idol filled the spotlight but had to hide his feelings from the world, and a widow discovers she can turn over a new leaf. Emotions swell in Up to Date's indie, documentary and foreign film critics' choices this week. Whether you need a good cry or a hearty laugh, they've got a suggestions for you.

Cynthia Haines

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, PG-13

  • A teenager befriends a classmate diagnosed with cancer.

Ex Machina​, R

Within the predictable summer onslaught of overstimulated superheroes in crushing surround sound, it’s refreshing to find a charming and funny antidote in "I’ll See You in My Dreams." Directed and co-written by Brett Haley, the movie stars Blythe Danner as Carol, a widowed resident of a retirement village who finds companionship with one man around her age and another some forty years younger. Both of them succeed at whittling away the tough barriers she thought she has needed around her.

Image Courtesy of Starlight Theatre / Copyright Bob Compton Photography

At the end of May, more than 2,000 kids and their friends and parents headed to Starlight Theatre for the Blue Star Awards, Kansas City’s high school version of the Tony Awards. They got decked out in dramatic formal wear, walked down a red carpet and had their pictures taken, then performed bits of their shows and made acceptance speeches.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

We’d all like to make our mark and leave something of lasting value. Of course, some of us are luckier than others in that department.

As luck would have it, though, this weekend offers emblematic entertainment of undeniable significance, as well as the efforts of folks still seeking to make an enduring difference – from the “world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band” still successfully chugging away in its sixth decade to aspiring young makers trying to shake up the world with their inventions.

Courtesy Dominique Sanders

Dominique Sanders
"A True Story Based On..." (Innate Sounds, 2015)

The people who hear Dominique Sanders perform tasteful jazz at venues throughout Kansas City have little reason to suspect the bassist is an active participant in a sonic revolution. But Sanders’ audaciously ambitious new album, “A True Story Based On…” reveals that mainstream jazz is merely a portion of his musical interests. The sprawling project includes cosmic funk, freaky jazz fusion, sultry neo-soul, hip-hop beats and jarring bursts of ambient noise.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In a small dressing room Saturday afternoon, nine young dancers from AileyCamp The Group crowded around a bank of mirrors checking makeup and donning leotards. The dance troupe was one of three performing in Festival on the Vine’s youth matinee performance at the Gem Theater in Kansas City.

The three-day festival of dance over the weekend featured Kansas City-based Owen/Cox Dance Group, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance from Colorado and CRISOL danza Fusión from Mexico. And Saturday was the moment for young dancers to take the stage. 

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

With the hope of providing "a shared vision for coordinated cultural development of the region," ArtsKC released its plan in May for the future of the arts in the Kansas City area. This edition of Up to Date looks at the priorities and strategies in the proposal and finds out how new initiatives will be funded.


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." 

Local Listen: Sara Morgan

Jun 19, 2015

The June release of her six-song EP “Easy to Dream” is likely to make Sara Morgan one of Kansas City’s most popular singer-songwriters. This week’s edition of Local Listen features the country-tinged title track of “Easy to Dream.”

Sara Morgan opens the main stage of the Boulevardia festival in the West Bottoms at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 21.

A French policeman tries to vanquish a drug ring and a computer programmer finds himself drawn into a surreal world in the films Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics are watching this week. Explore these and the others on their lists this week:

Cynthia Haines

About Elly, not rated

  • A young teacher from Tehran disappears during a seaside outing.

Far From the Madding Crowd, PG-13

Courtesy of KC Bass Workshop

That low, rhythmic pulse you’ll hear in the next few days? That's Kansas City enjoying its time as center of the bass-playing universe.

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.

The DLC / Flickr-CC

Whether you're craving Malaysian almond chicken, French duck confit or even hot dog fried rice, head north of the Missouri River — the Northland has become a dining destination.

James Lee / Flickr-CC

Go north!

Hardly subtle, I know, but without action, you could miss out on what there is to do this weekend north of the Missouri River, which can be misperceived as a boundary instead of the bridge it is to the Northland’s significant entertainment, family attractions and natural charms.

So get some northern exposure this weekend. The all-embracing go-and-doer in you will appreciate it.

1. Parkville River Jam

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. 

The City of Kansas City, Missouri, has announced a new pilot program that will allow artists to apply for short-term micro-loans to grow their practices.

“Professional individual artists living or working in Kansas City, Missouri, who are actively pursuing work within an artistic discipline, building an artistic portfolio, and creating work with intentions to present to the public are eligible," city spokeswoman Jennifer Rusch said in an email, adding that the city would also survey artists to determine future business needs.

Music Review: Kasey Rausch's 'Guitar In Hand'

Jun 16, 2015
Paul Andrews Photography

Kasey Rausch
"Guitar in Hand" (MudStomp Records, 2014)

Foreshadowing the wild horse ride that closes the record, guitars and mandolin whicker and stir before engineer Rob Nold announces, “I’m rolling.”

That’s when Kasey Rausch’s newest album takes off. Upright bass pushes rock 'n' roll-flavored bluegrass on the opener. Fiddler Molly Healey yearns around the edges, but by the second song she’s engaged in a spirited breakdown.

courtesy: Eric Bowers /

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. 

The Best Books About Summer

Jun 15, 2015

Summer can be defined by so many things: weekends spent lounging at the lake, barbecues and fireworks on the Fourth of July, the all-night chirps of cicadas and quick bursts of light from fireflies. 

Feelings of summer nostalgia have inspired authors to write profound literature on the subject. On KCUR's Central Standard, Gina Kaufmann discussed the best books about summertime with our book critics Jeffrey Ann Goudie, Mark Luce and Kaite Stover. Below are their picks for best books about summer, along with some picks from KCUR staffers.

   Jeffrey Ann Goudie, freelance journalist and book critic: 

  • The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

Kaite Stover, readers' service representative, Kansas City Public Library

  • Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
  • Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp
  • The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  • Foolscap by Michael Malone (adult)
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (adult, coming October 2015)
Julie Denesha / KCUR

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival has graced Southmoreland Park for 23 seasons — and actor John Rensenhouse has been there for 10 of them. This year, he takes on the role of King Lear, with his volatile moods and ungrateful daughters. 

"He still wants to be king but he doesn’t want to do the work, so he is going to divide his kingdom up into three parts and give a part to each of his daughters," Rensenhouse says. 

Cody Newill / KCUR

The 2nd Annual American Jazz Walk of Fame honored six jazz musicians with medallions on the sidewalk in front of the Gem Theater off 18th and Vine in Kansas City Saturday.

Jazz figures like Coleman Hawkins, Myra Taylor and Lester Young were honored posthumously, but longtime Kansas City jazz-organist Everette DeVan was there in person to receive the honor.

Kelly Magerkurth

The widely published and award-winning Eric McHenry, an associate professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka, was  named Kansas poet laureate this spring.

At the time of the announcement, we asked him for his advice to aspiring poets, and he told us three rules all poets should follow.

We also invited him to our studios to read. Here's one of those poems:

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR

Sometimes, it’s just not the right time for an alcoholic drink.

As luck would have it, bartenders and bars across Kansas City are beginning to offer options for non-drinkers, from the Berry-tini at Eden Alley, to the Mango Tango at The Brick.

The mixology movement has picked up over the last few years, and as a result mocktails — cocktails without the booze — have become increasingly available, more popular and without a doubt, more tasty.

The mysterious disappearance of an Iranian teacher intrigued Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics this week, and just as a new Thomas Hardy adaptation has delighted them. To see what drew them to theater, try one of their picks for yourself. 

Cynthia Haines

About Elly, not rated

  • A mysterious young Iranian teacher disappears during a weekend by the sea.

Far From the Madding Crowd, PG-13

Courtesy Tina Garrett

A painter in Lee's Summit is preparing to ship one of her portraits to Barcelona, Spain, where it is a finalist in an international figure-painting competition. Tina Garrett is sending off the painting with a viewing party at her home on Saturday evening.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

Once a month, thousands of people head to the Crossroads Arts District for First Friday art openings.

But every other month, people who want to engage more deeply with the work of area artists can head to a small storefront gallery in the West Bottoms, just across the street from the Livestock Exchange Building, called Plug Projects.

That’s when the gallery has critique night, involving three artists who volunteer to have their work critiqued by guest moderators, other artists — and the public.

Lance Rothstein / TBO

Feel good?

You can this weekend with spirit-lifting options that include front-porch music for the masses, the mythological power of a Broadway classic and an evening with one the most playful and insightful comic talents of the last 50 years.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel good already.

Alyson Raletz / KCUR


This was 13-year-old Olathe resident Vanya Shivashankar's final word right before she was named co-champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland last week.

Pronounced share-in-shnit-ah, Vanya said that the German word has quickly become one of her favorites.

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

The Missouri River's nickname, which evokes a wide current of mud, misses its aesthetic potential. Its most famous admirer may be the Missouri painter George Caleb Bingham.