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. 

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.

Courtesy Unicorn Theatre

Audiences at the Unicorn Theatre will see higher-tech productions thanks to a $100,000 grant, the theater has announced.

The grant, from the David Beals Charitable Trust, will support technology upgrades in lighting, sound, projection and electrical systems.

“We’re going to be able to do some things we couldn’t do before,” said Cynthia Levin, the Unicorn’s producing artistic director.

Analog Heart Music

David Cook
Digital Vein (Analog Heart Music)

The mania surrounding David Cook was once so frenzied that the audience hardly seemed to notice his most notable opening act — Justin Bieber — at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater in 2009.

Kyle Smith / KCUR

Perhaps it's the insight into the creative process. Or maybe it's because they seem like larger-than-life figures. Whatever the case, there's just something fascinating about reading about the lives of artists.

KCUR's Bibliofiles — our book critics — share their favorite books about artists with Gina Kaufmann on Central Standard.

Here are their recommendations:

Kaite Stover, Kansas City Public Library:

Tread carefully through China after the Cultural Revolution and learn how Malala became so brave. Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics are feeling an international vibe this week, and there's something for everyone on this list.

Cynthia Haines

Coming Home, PG-13 

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

He Named Me Malala, PG-13

Rs-foto / Wikimedia Commons

Need a lift?

Whether you’re stuck on the side of the Road of Life or just feeling a bit down, we can all use a boost now and then.

So here are a few opportunities to feel better – not only about yourself, but about your fellow human beings. Wow, thank you, weekend.

Local musicians tell the story behind a recent song and explain how it was constructed musically in The Story of a Song, a monthly segment from  KCUR's Central Standard.

Artist: HMPH!

The Song: Sghetti Sauce

Kansas City Art Institute

It’s official: the Kansas City Art Institute’s interim president, Tony Jones, will stay on as the school’s next leader.

Jones came to Kansas City last year from Chicago, where he was chancellor and professor emeritus at the Art Institute of Chicago.


The guitarist and bandleader Ron Carlson has quietly become an integral component of Kansas City jazz scene during the last couple years. Musicians from New York and Kansas City combine their talents on Carlson’s new album “Kind Folk.” This week's Local Listen features the mainstream swing of “Beatrice.”

Carlson performs with pianist Roger Wilder and bassist Bob Bowman at the Art Factory in Overland Park at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23. 

Courtesy of Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Artist Thomas Hart Benton was a larger-than-life figure. A muralist who's well-known in Missouri, where he was born and lived the last three decades of his life — he's not as familiar as he once was outside the Kansas City area.

But that's starting to change. 

Audiofiles: Podcasts We Love — Fall 2015

Oct 20, 2015
Photo Credit: Sascha Kohlmann

Central Standard’s podcast connoisseurs take to the mic to share what podcasts deserve your time and attention. Here’s what they recommend:


Jeremy Bernfeld, editor of KCUR's Harvest Public Media

Music Review: Lauren Anderson's 'Truly Me'

Oct 20, 2015
Rob Smith Photos

Lauren Anderson
Truly Me

It’s easy to miss the obvious with Kansas City blueswoman Lauren Anderson — that dangerous label after the slash after “singer.”

Lauren Anderson is a fine songwriter, too, versatile and honest. She puts her cards — and her heart — on the table, right there in the liner notes: “This CD ... includes most of what I know, who I am, who I’d like to be and where I’d like to go.”

Discover how a library connects two people across international boundaries, and see what it's like when your parents want to arrange your marriage for you. Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have a variety of choices to spruce up your weekend.

Cynthia Haines

Sicario, R

Mike / Flickr-CC

As we have come to learn in our society, diversity is vital to achieving optimum success in the workplace. But did you know that it can also work wonders for your weekend?

Well, let me tell you. I mean, literally, right now. Yep, that’s what I’m here for.

Prepare to diversify!

1. Lenexa Chili Challenge

As Kansas City re-lives what feels a lot like last year's magical Royals post-season, one of last year's most popular expressions of fan love is back — with a charming update.

Last year everyone went nuts for the "Lorde - 'Royals' Parody|Kansas City 'Royals'" video in which a local singer named John Long performed Aaron Lage's prophetic lyrics (a rewritten version of Lorde's "Royals") in the bleak dead of a Kansas City winter, dreaming our team would be "Kings of the MLB."

Courtesy Aaron Barnhart

The story of Kansas abolitionist John Brown — the wild-eyed man who killed pro-slavery settlers in response to the sacking of Lawrence before the Civil War — has been told so many times he's now a historical figure of mythical proportions. Few people, however, know the story of August Bondi, who fought alongside Brown in less-murderous Free State skirmishes.

Photograph © Nick Vedros 2015

The lives of inmates in prisons across Kansas is a world away from the aesthetics of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Kansas City photographer Nick Vedros is bringing those worlds together with his Faces of Change photo essay — inspired by a unique self-help program in Kansas prisons. The exhibition is set to open at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art next month.

 Howard Iceberg leads an unusual double life. He’s an immigration attorney by day …. and one of Kansas City’s most respected troubadours by night. Local Listen features “You and Your Hazel Eyes,” a song from the singer-songwriter’s new album…. “Smooth Sailing.”

Iceberg and his band the Titanics perform an early show at the RecordBar on Saturday.

Cristina / Flickr-CC

Fall is in full swing – and fading fast.

That’s the funny thing about fall. One moment the leaves are changing color and the next they’re on the ground. Turn away and you’ll miss it.

Don’t be left holding a rake – or, worse, a snow shovel – before taking advantage of what this fun and fleeting season has to offer.

Courtesy HMPH!

Headrush (Haymaker Records)

Hearing the instrumental math rock HMPH! is like watching a mastermind play an intense game of Tetris. Like blocks, notes keep coming with no indication of where they will fall, making the band’s debut album, Headrush, an unpredictable journey.

Jen Mann

Mouthy blogger and New York Times bestselling author Jen Mann is at it again.

In her latest book, Spending the Holidays With People I Want to Punch in the Throat, the Overland Park writer takes down "humblebraggers," elves and bell-ringers alike. 

Whether its her love/hate relationship with chocolate covered peanut butter balls, or her love/hate relationship with her kids being home on winter break, she's got something to say. 

Here is an excerpt from the book, in which Mann lists the things she hates most about the holidays: