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. 

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.

Briana O'Higgins / KCUR

The thought of being locked in a small room with a bunch of math and logic problems might trigger some uncomfortable flashbacks to a 7th grade math test, but for two new businesses in Kansas City's River Market, that's the whole point.

Breakout Kansas City and Escape Room Kansas City both opened up within a few weeks of each other, and they're bringing an unusual experience to the metro area.

Paul Andrews

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys
"Long Shot of Hard Stuff" (Little Class Records, 2015)

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys' first album in a decade, "Long Shot of Hard Stuff," is a serious and fun, and seriously funny, record from a band that started out presenting itself as something of a joke. Blatant partial stage names adopted for each band member signaled from the get-go that these retro honky-tonkers were playacting. The Misery Boys would kick things off at late 1990s club dates with their front man still offstage, the better to introduce him to musical fanfare: “Rex! Hobart!” It was a cute conceit: This guy we’d never heard of was a country and western legend; we were his groupies. But it didn’t really work. As performance art, the band didn’t possess the chops yet to pull it off. For anyone not in on the joke, it hardly registered at all.

Cody Newill / KCUR

A new exhibit in Kansas City Crossroads district takes the city's data and turns it into visual art.

"The Art of Data" made its grand opening at ArtsKC Friday after months of planning. Dozens of First Friday patrons came to see the pieces, which are based on statistics like life expectancy by zip code and the city's homicide rate.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

Tina Hacker writes poems based on real events from the Holocaust. Her full-length book of poems, Listening for Night Whistles, was released by Aldrich Press in 2014. Her chapbook, "Cutting It," was published in 2010 by The Lives You Touch Publications.

From a nonagenarian with style to an independent Victorian lady, films on area screens this week have a wide variety of topics. Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics can help you navigate the many movie listings to find one that fits you.

Cynthia Haines

Ex Machina, R

  • A computer programmer is hired to test a new form of artificial intelligence.

Far From the Madding Crowd, PG-13

Julie Denesha / KCUR

A nice, shady front porch can be a great place to swap stories or share songs. And the community event called PorchFest continues this relationship — by pairing musicians with neighborhood porches.

The first PorchFest took place about 8 years ago in Ithaca, New York. It's spread to nearly 30 cities, including the West Plaza neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri, where visitors are encouraged to park their cars and follow their ears.

Matching musicians with the right porch

8one6 / Flickr-CC

The summer season boasts a bunch of festivals, but this weekend looks like a doozy for the get out-and-celebrate crowd.

An impressive assortment of public shindigs and get-togethers will recognize history, ethnicity, diversity, musicality and celebrity – hey, we love our famous folks in this country!

Pick a festival, any festival. Your shared experience awaits.

1. Downtown Days…Streets Alive Festival

The Arts & Culture team at KCUR is now reviewing records by musicians and bands in the region. We believe more critical conversations can broaden and deepen our community's understanding of our area's musicians and their work.

courtesy: Michael Schmidt and Andrew Smith

The roughly 1.5 miles between the Crossroads Arts District and 18th and Vine in Kansas City, Missouri, is not a lot of things.

It’s not a destination. It’s not a gathering place. It’s not particularly pedestrian or bike friendly. It’s not visually appealing. But what the 18th Street corridor does have going for it is a little momentum, in part due to conversations sparked by two college students.

Courtesy John Willison

John Willison started writing poetry a couple of years ago, after his cancer metastasized. His wife, Pauline, encouraged him to join a writing group at Turning Point, a center with programs for people with chronic and serious illness.

photo: EG Schempf / Collection of the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California

Brooklyn-based artist Adam Cvijanovic paints on sheets of a tough, durable product called Tyvek. It's often used to wrap or protect a building during construction, but for Cvijanovic it provides the canvas for his large-scale portable murals.

"I am really interested in narrative because I'm very interested in time," says Cvijanovic. "And I think painting as a plastic art, as a frozen moment in time, can offer insights into it."

Can you tiptoe through the raindrops to the movie theater this weekend? If you can get there, Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have a few suggestions for you.

Cynthia Haines

Ex Machina, R

  • A computer programmer is hired to test a new form of artificial intelligence.

Far From the Madding Crowd, PG-13

  • Three suitors pursue an independent Victorian woman.

Seymour: An Introduction, PG

Courtesy of James Randi

In the 1970s and '80s, a magician known as the Amazing Randi was a favorite talk show guest for the wryly entertaining way he debunked his fellow illusionists, evangelical faith healers, and psychics alike.

Steven Depolo / Flickr-CC

What is time? A trick of the mind? Something you can never get back or something that lasts forever?

Answers may be revealed at some of this weekend’s community festivals and live shows that by their very nature promise to deliver a timeless appeal. Or there may be no answers at all, of course. That’s the way that might go. I mean, figuring out what time means in a weekend is a pretty tall order.

Still, it’s all in the doing, isn’t it? Dare to tap into the eternal!

1. Rockfest

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Several dozen people representing neighborhoods, arts groups and the city of Kansas City, Missouri, assembled Tuesday night at the Kauffman Foundation to continue discussions about a proposed cultural district around the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

They broke into smaller work groups, then discussed and voted on three design concepts: 

Judith G. Levy

For her installation at La Esquina as part of an exhibit called Disturbances in the Field, artist Judith G. Levy tells succinct family stories, focusing on disconnects.

There's the stark contrast between the side of her family that supported Nazi Germany and the side that had to flee Nazi Germany. And what about the gap between her great-uncle's wife's appearance and the family's insistence that she was a Sephardic Jew, rather than Ethiopian?

Kate Reeder

A song recorded in a hotel room at the Westin during this year’s Folk Alliance International Conference is now raising money for a cause, and the musicians who championed the project are back in Kansas City for a show this week.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

Topeka poet Annette Hope Billings has described herself as a shy child who found her voice through theater productions at Topeka High School – but she didn’t fully devote herself to expressing that voice until after a long career as a nurse. After nearly forty years in that field, Billings retired earlier this year to concentrate on writing full-time. In March, the Topeka Capital-Journal wrote a profile of Billings.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The downtown performance space known as The Living Room arrived on the scene in 2010 with a debut season that included two plays by John Kolvenbach. Five years later, Scott Cordes and Katie Gilchrist are back in the directors’ chairs with both plays being performed in repertory.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

Musicians in the Kansas City Symphony play a lot of places out in the community, but earlier this week they found themselves in one place they’d never been: Lansing Correctional Facility. For the first time, they played a concert for inmates.

Need something to fill the hours of your three-day weekend? Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have a few suggestions for you.

Cynthia Haines:

Ex Machina, R

  • A computer programmer is hired to test a new form of artificial intelligence.

The Wrecking Crew, PG

  • Documentary about legendary studio musicians

Seymour: An Introduction, PG

Film 4 Productions

When editorial writers hoped to spur the country's westward expansion with the phrase “Go west, young man,” they might not have envisioned a sixteen-year-old from Scotland whose beloved has a bounty on her head. But that’s the deceptively simple narrative of Slow West, director and writer John Maclean’s creative, at times dazzling new western.

Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Jay, a teenager who left his native Scotland for the Colorado territories circa 1870, a place and time of volatility and random violence. Equipped with money, a gun, and two suitcases stuffed with clothes and cooking utensils, he’s on horseback and intent on reuniting with Rose (Caren Pistorius), his girlfriend from back home. Stopped and held at gunpoint by a grizzled outlaw, Jay is saved by a fellow renegade named Silas (the charismatic Michael Fassbender), who conveniently shoots the robber through the head.

George Hodgman is a writer and editor who's lived in New York and worked for places like Vanity Fair and Simon & Schuster.

After a childhood spent dreaming of New York and an adulthood caught up in the whirlwind of an intense career, he came home to Missouri to care for his ailing mother. Still, people from the small towns of his youth still think of him as the guy who went to New York.

So when he wrote a memoir, Bettyville, not about the glitzy social engagements in New York but about his childhood in Missouri, that meant something to people.

Just last week, he returned to Madison, Missouri — which had 554 residents as of the 2010 census — and gave a talk in a church basement. He regaled the town with stories about itself.

Local Listen: Cadillac Flambé

May 21, 2015

  Cadillac Flambé is one of the acts slated to perform on one of six stages at the Westport Roots Festival this Saturday. The Kansas City ensemble is a battle-tested blues-rock band. This week’s edition of Local Listen features the seething title track of Cadillac Flambé’s 2014 album “Old American Law.”

The Westport Roots Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday, May 23 - 24.   

South Dakota / Flickr-CC -- image cropped

As a famous song says, “Things will be great when you’re downtown.” And even more so this Memorial Day weekend.

Suffice it to say that downtown Kansas City will be a hub for music, art, sports and the biggest holiday party of its sort in the Midwest.

As the song says, “You’re gonna be alright now.” Just alright? Oh, I think we can do better than that.

1. Celebration at the Station

Cody Newill / KCUR

The 11th annual Troost Festival brought together hundreds of community members, artists and businesses Saturday for a one-day celebration of the culture of Troost Avenue.

Dozens of booths and pavilions lined the street from Linwood to 31st Street, with groups like the Harry Potter Alliance sitting next to Black Lives Matter activists.