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. 

unknown / Wikimedia -- CC

Get ready to witness big change this weekend.

The transforming power of music-idol memories, all-natural body builders, souped-up collector cars and even moonlighting movie stars are among your options to shake up the norm.

Might you be forever altered by the experience? Wow, that got heavy in a hurry. See how quickly things can change?

1. Neil Diamond

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

Graduating seniors — more than a hundred of them — from the Kansas City Art Institute have crammed every usable floor, wall, hallway and corner of the H&R Block Artspace for the 2015 Annual B.F.A. Exhibition. Their work radiates the exuberance of accomplishment, the energy of youth about to break free into the world beyond school.

C.J. Janovy

Kansas City author Christine Taylor-Butler is an advocate for more diversity in children’s and young adult literature. She has written more than 70 books, most of them for Scholastic, the massive publisher of books and educational materials for kids. Taylor-Butler spoke with me about her newest book,  The Lost Tribes, and how she quit her management job to be a full-time writer.

KU Libraries Exhibits / University of Kansas

As a teenager, Laird Wilcox was fascinated by extremists, radicals and fringe movements, regardless of their views and objectives. He started collecting materials and attending political events, collecting leaflets, fliers, and newsletters from as many causes as he could.

Cody Newill / KCUR

For years, pinball and classic video games like Pac-Man held a special spot in American culture. But by the early 2000s, it was hard to find many arcades still open for business.

But that's changing with the rise of the arcade bar, a craze that Kansas City is just now getting in on.

At the opening night of the Up-Down, the newest arcade bar in Kansas City's Crossroads district, Brian Yates pumped token after token into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machine.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Paintings conservator Mary Schafer and registrar Jill Kohler hunched over a painting on a rolling cart beneath Thomas Hart Benton’s "Persephone" Tuesday morning in the Enid and Crosby Kemper Rotunda at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Using a flashlight and an iPad, the two were busy meticulously documenting the condition of Benton’s “Utah Highlands” before museum staff installed it on the wall of the gallery.

Laura Spencer

Chris Selby reads his work at poetry slams, where he goes by the name TOASTER — he says that’s slang for “awkward and old-fashioned.”

He’s seen several people close to him deal with the challenges of cancer, and he wrote this poem after the breakup of a toxic relationship a friend diagnosed as “emotional cancer.”

Saturday is Record Store Day, when independent music retailers around the country host parking-lot concerts and sell limited-edition pressings of vinyl records, which have made a small but forceful comeback in an age dominated by digital listening habits. But if there's one problem with the vinyl resurgence, it might be this: The machines that press vinyl records are decades old, and no one's building new ones, so keeping up with increased demand is hard.

  New York based drummer Matt Kane returned to Kansas City last year to record compositions by Ahmad Alaadeen, Pat Metheny and Bobby Watson. The resulting album, Acknowledgement, features the Kansas City Generations Sextet, an ensemble of local luminaries including local saxophonist Steve Lambert and trumpeter Hermon Mehari. This week’s Local Listen is a sensitive rendition of Metheny’s “Question and Answer”.

Matt Kane reunites with members of the band Friday and Saturday, April 24-25, at the Green Lady Lounge to celebrate the release of "Acknowledgement".

Mayra Chiachia/Flickr -- CC

Niecie's peach cobbler, Glacé's sweet corn ice cream, Winstead's skyscraper milkshake ... what makes for an unusual dessert that you can only get at a specific place in town? Is it in the presentation, an interesting take on a traditional classic, something totally original — or all of the above?


On this week's show, KCUR's Patrick Quick reminisces about the Peach Nehi float, a treat from Osceola, Missouri, and then our Food Critics Charles Ferruzza and Jill Silva weigh in on the best signature desserts in Kansas City.

This weekend has it all: rain, Royals and a whole slate of films for you to try. Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary critics have some suggestions to guide your appointment with the silver screen:

Cynthia Haines

Seymour: An Introduction 

  • Inspirational documentary about 88 year old pianist Seymour Bernstein 

Wild Tales 

Mid-America's vast prairies have inspired countless artists. But in a place so wide open, there's always the danger of a person's voice getting blown away by the wind. Perhaps that's one reason 'Lost Writers of the Plains,' a new multimedia literary project, captured the imagination of Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin.

Jake Jacobson

Louis Meyers has heard a lot of music.

He's a banjo player. He’s also one of the co-founders of Austin’s South By Southwest music, film and tech festival, and he spent ten years as director of Folk Alliance International – he was the one responsible for moving the organization and its annual conference to Kansas City. But there’s one record he’s heard only in his imagination: a bluegrass version of The Who's classic rock opera "Tommy."

Kelly Magerkurth

Kansas has a new poet laureate. The responsibility has fallen to the widely published and award-winning Eric McHenry, an associate professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka.

Poets laureate earn the honor after a rigorous application process involving a selection panel of their literary peers. When we asked McHenry why he wanted to be poet laureate, he expressed his feelings in the language of the common man:

“It sounds really cool.”

Worm That Turned / Wikimedia -- CC

What makes a classic? Well, that depends on your opinion. One person’s gratifying archetype can be another’s utter dud, and impassioned arguments may ensue.

Even without classic consensus, most of us tend to seek quintessential quality in the things that interest us; the quest for which can be appreciated in a variety of events around the area that clearly aspire to be memorable. Succeed or fail, let the classic chips fall where they may.

Isn’t it great when we work together? Have yourself a classic weekend.

Danny Clinch / Sacks And Co.

One of the most intriguing musical acts in Kansas City these days is a duo whom most musicians and fans here had never heard of until about a year ago.

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear — who is actually Madisen’s mom, Ruth Ward — started performing together off and on about six years ago in coffeehouses in Independence, Blue Springs and Overland Park. They played a lot of covers—Tracey Chapman, Adele, Fleetwood Mac — until Madisen started experimenting with songwriting and found he was getting a great reaction to his original songs.

Edwin Olson/Google Images -- CC


Whether it's the sound of the wind rustling through the tall grass, the crackling spectacle of a controlled burn or just the sheer enormity of this swath of land, the prairie has inspired authors for hundreds of years. We discuss the best books about the prairie with our Book Critics Jeffrey Ann Goudie, Mark Luce and Kaite Stover.

Porter Arneill, public art administrator for Kansas City, Missouri, and director of the Municipal Art Commission since 2002, is leaving for a new position in Lawrence, Kansas, where he'll be director of arts and culture. His last day on the job in Kansas City is April 22. 

"The past 13 years with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, have been tremendously rewarding for me and it's clear the city is moving in a good direction, particularly through the realms of art, craft, design and culture!" Arneill wrote in an email.

A native of St. Louis, Arneill trained as a sculptor and earned his master's degree in fine arts from the Massachusetts College of Art. But in the 1990s, he turned to arts administration. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Glenn North describes spoken word poetry as "in your face," using word play and slang. And he's gained a reputation as a performance poet, sharing the stage with poets like Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni. 

The community programs and education director at the Black Archives of Mid-America, North has worked with urban youth to develop their open mic skills, and encouraged them to write a style of poetry that's meant to be performed for an audience. 

It's severe weather season in Kansas city, and that means you'll want a some options for rainy day activities. Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary critics have a few for you:

Cynthia Haines

  • Wild Tales
  • The Hunting Ground
  • What We Do in the Shadows

Steve Walker

  • The Hunting Ground
  • While We're Young
  • Wild Tales
Paul Andrews

The first time Danny Cox visited Kansas City, it was not a pleasant experience.

It was 1963, a year before the Civil Rights Act banned racial discrimination in public places, and Cox was a nationally touring musician arriving for a show. When he walked in the door at the Muehelbach Hotel, the clerk told him that black people couldn't stay at the Muehelbach.

Though the word he used for "black people" was not quite so polite.

Most of Cox's fellow musicians and road crew were white, but they refused to stay in a place where their vocalist wasn't welcome.

Andrea and Annie, two students at the University of North Carolina, couldn't have had a worse college bonding experience. During their freshman year, both were sexually assaulted. The trauma united them to speak out about how badly sexual assault victims are treated on U.S. college campuses.

Subsequently followed across the country by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the director and producer of the startling new documentary The Hunting Ground, the young women manage to amass an army of like-minded survivors.

courtesy: Municipal Art Commission

For two decades, the public artwork Modern Communication has caused controversy in front of Kansas city's police and fire department downtown. A bronze businessman stands on a briefcase – he has a shoe in his mouth, fingers in his ears, and a tie flapping across his eyes. 

Frank Thompson photos / Flickr-CC

Spring has more than sprung – it’s sprouting with opportunities to get out and about this weekend.

From alfresco amusements to lively music and theater events, there’s stuff to put a spring in your step all around the town before the work week comes back around.

Dare I say, spring into action? I dare.

1. Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Denise Low was the second poet laureate of Kansas. She’s published 25 books of poetry and prose. She is co-publisher of Mammoth Publications, an independent small literary press specializing in Indigenous and Mid-Plains poetry and prose.

Her poems are rich with images of the prairie landscape, its people and history.

Jen Chen / KCUR

Thick or thin crust, red or white sauce, square or triangle ... Kansas City offers a plethora of pizza choices for just about everyone.

On this week's show, Erik Borger, chef/owner of Il Lazzarone, shows our Food Critic Charles Ferruzza how to make a certified authentic Neapolitan pizza. Craig Jones also discusses pizza tips for the home cook, and the Food Critics weigh in on the best pizzas in Kansas City.

Charles Ferruzza:

I love pizza: The good, the bad and the ugly...

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Just in the last handful of years, an industrial area in Lawrence, Kansas has been transformed into what's called the Warehouse Arts District. Previously boarded up buildings, like a former grocery warehouse and a cider vinegar plant, now house a gallery, a few dozen artist studios, and apartments. 

Thunderclouds have been gathering in the skies, so you might need a few rainy day activities for your weekend. Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics might have just the thing to start off your spring. 

Cynthia Haines:

  • Wild Tales
  • What We Do In The Shadows
  • Diplomacy

Steve Walker:

Jen Chen, KCUR

According to Erik Borger, the chef-owner of Il Lazzarone, there's a specific way to make authentic Neapolitan pizza. And he should know; his original Il Lazzarone restaurant in St. Joseph has been certified as authentically Neapolitan by the American Delegation of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.

Recently, our food critic Charles Ferruzza visited Borger's newest outpost in Kansas City's River Market to get the details on making an authentic Neapolitan pie.

Paul Mesner Puppets

Ever want to be a kid again? Join the club.

But even though the Fountain of Youth has yet to be found, adults wishing to revisit their salad days – as well as kids just wanting to be kids – can find and share in engaging events that speak to the ephemeral sense of wonder embodied by youth.

So go ahead and be a kid, if only for the weekend. Don’t dilly-dally. It’s not like you’re getting any younger!

1. Peter and the Starcatcher