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. 

Whitney Thouvenelle

Howard Iceberg & the Titanics
Smooth Sailing

Putting the name Howard Iceberg & the Titanics next to an image of a sinking ship on a CD cover creates an impression of doom-and-gloom, but in a hokey, cartoonish way. Add the title Smooth Sailing, and you get something else: irony, or at least smart-aleck cynicism.

Lynn Wilson / Washburn University

As a teenager in Topeka, Kansas, Gary Jackson found solace from loss and loneliness in comic books, with a best friend named Stuart, and in putting his own pen to paper.

He captured those memories in a 2010 poetry collection called Missing You, Metropolis that won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a first-book award for "exceptional manuscripts by black poets."

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

If you’ve ever wondered what food tasted like 100 years ago, Dixon’s Famous Chili on Highway 40 is like a culinary time capsule.

With its red décor, bar stools and historic photos, it looks like a 1960s-style diner, and that’s when this particular restaurant opened near the stadiums on U.S. Highway 40.

In 1919, Vergne Dixon opened the original location at 15th and Olive streets just east of downtown, which makes it one of the oldest family-run establishments in the Kansas City metro; Dixon’s Chili eventually became a chain of 13 restaurants, including one in Minnesota. 

Lead the charge for women's right to vote or head up a different fight in 1950s Germany. This week, Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have a selection of fiery movies to keep you warm as that November chill sets in.

Cynthia Haines

Labyrinth of Lies, R (German) 

  • During the 1950s, a German prosecutor pursues Nazi war criminals.

99 Homes, R

Paramount Pictures

It’s important to show appreciation. That includes showing up to laud cherished entertainment heroes and/or concepts when the opportunity arises.

Sometimes, the heroes are able to appear in person to receive their due. Other times, worthy stand-ins embodying the notion of the original’s excellence must suffice.

This weekend offers chances to be laudatory in both categories. Lay it on thick, because when we acknowledge what we admire, we bring out the best in ourselves.

1. Gladys Knight and the O’Jays

Courtesy Fox Networks

In May 1978, three masked men strode into the Virginia Tavern east of downtown Kansas City and shot up the joint. Michael Spero was killed and his brothers Carl and Joseph injured. In his book The Mafia and the Machine: The Story of the Kansas City Mob, Frank Hayde called it "the most aggressive gangland hit" since the 1933 Union Station Massacre.


Kansas City musician Lauren Anderson has a master’s degree in music therapy, and her gritty new album “Truly Me” is loaded with sonic solace. This week's edition of Local Listen features “One Day,” a brash song that combines Anderson’s love of blues and soul.

Anderson is part of a stellar lineup of blues acts at Knuckleheads on Friday, Nov. 13. The show starts at 6 p.m.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

More than 200 people are expected Wednesday at the Gem Theater at 18th and Vine for a daylong community conversation about race.

Though the Fall Symposium: Race, Place & Diversity hosted by the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey might feel like a response to this week’s events at the University of Missouri in Columbia, the organization hosted a similar symposium a year ago and is committed to doing so for the next five years, says the organization’s executive director, Tyrone Aiken.

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. 

Cody Newill / KCUR

Kansas City No Violence Alliance partners and ArtsTech came together with neighborhood associations along Prospect Avenue Saturday to honor Ivanhoe neighborhood leaders with a mural.

Youth artists with ArtsTech unveiled the mural, titled "Then and Now," at the corner of 39th and Prospect. The mural was collaboratively painted by more than 75 youth artists, photographed and then framed.

One half depicts 39th and Prospect as it looked from the 1940s to 1960s, and the other shows what the area looks like and could feature in the near future.

Courtesy Photo / Julia Barnett

Julia Barnett spent her childhood backstage at the theatre while her mother, Cathy, took center stage. She didn’t have any intention to carry on in the family business.

“I actually started college as a global studies and world religions major,” Julia says.

Despite her plans, show business eventually found its way back to her — though she is still most comfortable behind the scenes.

“It’s absolutely in my blood," Julia says.

In addition to her actress mother, Julia’s father, Dan Barnett, is a writer.

Whether you want to tackle life in China after the Cultural Revolution or sit back and take in a dark comedy about two friends going through a tough time, Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have choices for you this weekend.

Cynthia Haines

The Second Mother, R (Portuguese with English subtitles)

  • Brazilian housekeeper's daughter moves in and causes havoc.

The Assassin, not rated (Mandarin)

Spin some satire about the class system  in Brazil or get a look behind the scenes of Dan Rather's downfall. Now that the baseball season is over, and you need something else to do, Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have a wide variety of films to fill your fall weekend.

The House on Pine Street, not rated, Glenwood Arts (Kansas International Film Festival)

Julie Denesha / KCUR

For a solid 10 years, actor Don Richard performed on nearly every Kansas City stage. A production of the musical Jane Eyre that began in Wichita, Kansas, eventually landed in New York City on Broadway, where he often appears today. He's currently back in town for Musical Theater Heritage's production of Urinetown: The Musical. 

As part of the monthly series Actors Off Script, Richard, who's now based in Chicago, talks about his journey from modest parts in local theaters to the Broadway stage.

slack12 / Flickr -- CC

We all know what happens to leftover Halloween candy – it gets eaten. Let’s just say I’ve been doing my part.

Thank goodness, there are sweet activities to take part in this weekend that require no overt sugar intake.

Stop scarfing the surplus Milk Duds (until they’re entirely gone, of course) and check out what other sweet stuff is up, including ice-skating, wine tasting and saying hi to Santa – yes, already.

1. Crown Center Ice Terrace

courtesy: Empty Bowls KC

One man has been driving all over Kansas City for eight months transporting hundreds of fragile handmade bowls.


“I show up with newspaper and a mish-mash of boxes that I’ve grabbed. Right now, I’ve probably got four or five boxes [of bowls] and before the end of the day I will have a few more,” says ceramic artist LeRoy Grubbs.

Mike Edmund / Courtesy Andrew Jenks Entertainment

Ryan Ferguson was nineteen years old on March 10, 2004, when he found himself in the back of a police car headed to the station in Columbia, Missouri.

On the basis of flimsy eyewitness reports and faulty if not fabricated evidence, he would be convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder two years earlier of Columbia Daily Tribune staffer Kent Heitholt.

As the guitarist of the Count Basie Orchestra, Will Matthews plays swinging Kansas City jazz around the globe. He often performs with an organist and drummer in his hometown when he’s not on the road with the big band. This week's edition of Local Listen features Matthews’ rendition of “Corner Pocket.”

Courtesy Anthony Ladesich

Anthony Ladesich never got to buy his father a drink.

Ladesich was just 19 when his father, Vincent Floyd Ladesich, died after a brief illness in 1992. Afterwards Ladesich vaguely remembered how, when he was about 12, his father had called him to the basement one day, excited to play him some tape recordings of his friend from World War II.

Ladesich, a self-described punk, was more interested in riding his skateboard than listening to his dad's old tapes. But after his father died, Ladesich dug through old boxes and found the reel-to-reels.

David Chancellor - kiosk

Cecil the Lion’s death at the hands of a trophy hunter made headlines around the world a few months ago but that type of hunting is common in Africa. Photographer David Chancellor documented the people who participate in the sport, along with the big game targets they kill in his documentary series, Hunters.

Courtesy Johnny Hamil

Thanks for Everything (Johnny Hamil/GAV7D)

This extension of Kansas City's Mr. Marco’s V7 is a testament to the wide-ranging brilliance and vision of its bassist Johnny Hamil. Even though Hamil wrote virtually everything here — give or take the improvisation he encourages and the lyrical contributions noted on three cuts — and even though Hamil plays bass, keys or vibes on everything, key to that vision is humility and thankfulness.

Book Review: Denise Low's 'Jackalope'

Nov 2, 2015
Jason Daily

Denise Low
Jackalope (Red Mountain Press, 2015)

In the opening pages of Trickster Makes This World, his freewheeling 417-page masterwork on the subject, cultural critic Lewis Hyde argues that the trickster of ancient mythology hasn’t vanished. Trickster is everywhere, whether you recognize him — or her — or not.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Pickling is a trend picking up all over the country, and Elise Landry, sous chef at Ça Va in Kansas City's Westport neighborhood, is pickling everything. Turnips, husk cherries, shallots … you name it, she’s pickled it.

“The other day I was called a pickled petunia by a customer, which I’ll always remember,” she laughs.

Initially, Landry started pickling to keep the seasonal produce she got from the Brookside Farmer’s Market fresh. But it’s gone far beyond practicalities.

Shed some light on what it's like to twirl and leap for a major ballet company and see how a housekeeper's daughter brings chaos to the life of a family in Brazil. This week, Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have a few treats — but no tricks — for your Halloween weekend.

Cynthia Haines

Coming Home, PG-13

  • The affect the Chinese Cultural Revolution has on a Chinese family

The Second Mother, R (Portuguese with English subtitles)

Karen Eisenbraun / Twitter

If you've watched the World Series at all this year (and if you live in Kansas City there is a very good chance you have, according to FOX's TV ratings) then you know 'Fur Hat Lady.' She's this year's 'Marlins Man.' 

There she is, peeking over the shoulder of right-handed batters and boring her sunglass-gaze into your deeper conscious. 


Courtesy Oskar Landi / Urban Romances, A Sundance Selects Release

Though the late choreographer George Balanchine may have been a genius, he had a skewed vision of what his ballerinas should look like. He dictated they be flat-chested and that they follow diets so strict they stopped menstruating. Today that's called body fascism in some circles. And it might have produced as much hurt as art.

C.J. Janovy

Back when he was in college, Mark L. Groves heard something frightening: "None of you will ever be professional authors."

It was his second creative writing class. The first one had been great, with a teacher who gave constructive criticism in a humane way. Now, this second creative writing professor was humiliating him.

Groves had been writing since his fourth-grade class with Mrs. Amos. He still remembers the name of his first story: "Joe Dude Groves vs. Your Monster Here."

taymtaym / Flickr-CC

Dressing up as someone you’re not is more common than ever in today’s society.

It’s called costume play or "cosplay," and participants need only the slightest excuse to turn themselves into their favorite character from, say, "Game of Thrones," or maybe one of the nerds on “Big Bang Theory.” Because some people just think it’s fun to go out and pick up a quart of milk as Sheldon.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Photographer Mike Strong has spent the past two decades capturing the movement of dancers on Kansas City stages. 

When Strong first became interested in dance, he says he couldn't find much information about metro-area dance events. So in 1997, he started his own website, and has published photographs of performances and rehearsals ever since. 

Heather Burton / Facebook

Rock fans preferring disorientation to terror will congregate at Californos on Oct. 31. The Halloween party features Kansas City psychedelic rock bands that daze rather than scare. This week's edition of Local Listen features “January” by the atmospheric trio Riala.

The festivities begin at Californos at 8 p.m. Oct. 31. Also on the bill will be After Nations, Temp Tats and Drag Me To Safe Harbour.