Arts & Culture | KCUR

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. 

E.G. Schempf

Cardboard has a smell.

You notice it as soon as you walk into the glass-encased Kansas Focus Gallery at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, where eight of May Tveit’s cardboard sculptures emerge from the walls like sentries, layers of flat, precision-cut cardboard stacked into pyramids arranged in various rectangles. You recognize the smell; you just weren't expecting it in an art gallery.

But why not? As Tveit's exhibition makes clear, cardboard is an evocative medium. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

When seven Kansas City poets read new work this weekend, it'll be inspired by colorful, layered collages — a pieced-together medium that holds deep meaning for one emerging area artist.

“I think about collage as a metaphor to describe black culture,” says Glyneisha Johnson, a recent graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and Charlotte Street Foundation resident artist.


Christopher Burnett is a prominent Kansas City saxophonist, band leader, instructor and raconteur. He also operates Artists Recording Collective, a record label that has released dozens of albums by jazz musicians from around the world.

Daniel Chow / Flickr -- CC

It’s the time of year when you may need to feed a crowd — perhaps for holiday gatherings or for college bowl game-watching. And what better way than with pizza?

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Every once in a while, a Kansas City band releases an original Christmas song. But it’s unusual for area musicians to put out an entire album of holiday standards.

That’s what the bluegrass band Old Sound did this year, but making it happen involved something like a Christmas miracle.

“This is one those instances where the universe starts kind of opening up and giving you signs,” says guitarist Chad Brothers.

Courtesy The Floozies

The Floozies, a Lawrence based electro-funk duo, are one of the region’s most popular party bands. Their celebratory, dance-oriented concerts, accentuated with colorful lighting and video displays, have made the band a fixture on the summer festival circuit.

Brothers Mark (drums) and Matt (guitar) Hill have been honing their self-described “future funk” for more than a decade. In September they released their most fully realized album, the irreverently titled "Funk Jesus."

Aleksey Kaznadey /

Kevin Mahogany, the versatile and velvet-voiced vocalist who became one of the Kansas City jazz scene's more well-known exports, died Sunday. He was 59.

Mahogany had been living in Miami, but moved back to Kansas City in August after the sudden death of his wife, Allene Matthews Mahogany, over the summer, says Mahogany's sister, Carmen Julious.

The two had been married for 25 years, and Julious says Mahogany's grief had aggravated longer-term health issues.

Charvex / Google Images -- CC

If you voted in Kansas City, Missouri, in November, you may remember being asked whether the city should remove two pieces of land from the park system.

Those two parcels of land were “no longer necessary or appropriate for park, parkway or boulevard use.”

What does that mean? And who determines what park properties should be removed?

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

In the early 20th century, people didn't have a lot of options for making the tradition of unwrapping gifts more festive. They'd cover packages with brown shipping paper or newspaper, or sometimes wallpaper or fabric.

Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards, Inc., gets credit for starting the modern-day gift wrap industry 100 years ago, an invention created out of necessity during the holiday season. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

As always during this season, Kansas City musicians are booked for holiday gatherings.

"Christmas is the busiest time of year. We all have a million gigs," says Johnny Hamil, an area bass player and teacher (among his efforts to promote his instrument, Hamil lures esteemed bass players from around the world to town for his annual Kansas City Bass Workshop).

Courtesy Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is the region’s most prominent big band, dedicated to preserving and advancing the tradition of iconic Kansas City jazz ensembles led by William “Count” Basie, Andy Kirk and Bennie Moten. Guest vocalist Marilyn Maye, after all, performed at the band's debut concert in 2003.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The hulking, richly ornate Vaile Mansion, designed by famed architect Asa Beebe Cross, sits alone on a postage stamp of its former grounds in a mostly working-class residential neighborhood in Independence, Missouri. It looks more like a rip in time and space than a wonderland of Victorian Christmas cheer.

Courtesy Loaded Goat / Facebook

When The Matchsellers’ Julie Bates sent out the word that she was organizing Cover Me, Kansas City Folk, an evening of local roots and acoustic songwriters covering each other’s songs, nearly every songwriter leapt at the chance.

“People were really excited about it,” she says. “If they could make it, they signed up right away.”

Jules / Flickr -- CC

What's not to like about cheese? First of all, it's probably the one food item for which "ooey-gooey" was invented. (And if not, let's just say it was).

Whether you like it melted in a sandwich or by itself with a glass of wine or beer, cheese is having quite a moment in KC.

Updated Dec.12 — On Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the life and legacy of noted author and Washington University professor William Gass.

Joining him for the discussion were Lorin Cuoco, co-founder and former associate director of the International Writers Center at Washington University, Stephen Schenkenberg, creator and curator of the website Reading William Gass and author and publisher of "The Ears Mouth Must Move: Essential Interviews of William H. Gass" and William Danforth, chancellor emeritus and member of the Board of Trustees at Washington University.

Gass died on Dec. 6 at his home in St. Louis. He was 93. The former Washington University professor was known for his contributions to fiction, criticism and philosophy. 

Courtesy Elizabeth Schultz

Few people in their 80s are inclined, or able, to feed time and energy into a second career. Elizabeth Schultz is such an anomaly.

As an English professor at the University of Kansas, Schultz was an acclaimed scholar on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” However, just before her retirement in 2001, she felt a pull toward a more creative use of language.

courtesy: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art's third location, Kemper at the Crossroads, has closed. 

"An exhibition on display there was scheduled to close on Saturday, December 2," says Breeze Richardson, director of marketing and communications. "It felt like the most appropriate way to frame the closing, not installing a subsequent exhibition."

A sale of the property has been negotiated but not finalized, she adds.

Courtesy Andrew Schwartz / Veritography

A Thanksgiving feast in a Scottish castle was the cherry on top when Kansas City’s Fountain City Brass Band toured the United Kingdom last month as America’s highest-ranked brass band.

Fountain City is one of Kansas City’s strongest musical ambassadors, with a second-place finish at the prestigious Brass in Concert competition at Gateshead, England (placing ahead of top-ranked Cory) and a third at the Scottish Open in Perth. On their own turf, our homegrown ensemble held its own against bands with traditions dating deep into the 1800s.

Mathias Kang

Andrew Morris, a guitarist and vocalist from Indiana, and Julie Bates, a fiddler and vocalist with roots in the Kansas City area, have released two albums as The Matchsellers.

They're an old-timey, folk and country duo whose between-song banter is as entertaining as their music. Among their two shows in upcoming days is the “Cover Me, KC” benefit for the Midwest Music Foundation, which Bates organized, with a roster of well-known area musicians covering one another’s compositions.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

An entrepreneur is often defined as someone who designs, launches and runs a new business. A risk-taker, an individual who takes a big idea and brings it to life. 

On Tuesday, the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will recognize this year's honorees at the annual Entrepreneurship of the Year awards celebration. The Institute is housed at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

Courtesy Lyn Elliot

Can you name one practical thing you learned from a former partner?

This question was the seed of "Lessons from Exes," a new short film featuring five vignettes by Kansas City filmmakers.

“I was making some popcorn in a pan on the stove,” Lyn Elliot remembers, “and the thought came into my mind that a particular ex-boyfriend had taught me how to do that.”

Courtesy: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Barbara O'Brien, who had served as executive director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, for more than five years, left the museum on November 3, according to a statement posted on the Kemper's website.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

For 25 years, Kansas City’s newEar contemporary chamber music ensemble has been performing brand new music — some of it by composers who live here — in what has become a long and productive conversation between area musicians and composers. 

courtesy photo / The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

Let me just say it: Nothing lasts forever.

And yet…the human heart yearns for permanence, an assurance from somewhere that somehow our hopeful expectations that the things that matter most to us just might endure.

Leave it the ironically fleeting weekend to potentially deliver on that longstanding front, from holiday traditions and dreams of worldwide freedom to an unforgettable tale of miraculously durable love and purpose. Will it stick with you? Cross your fingers.


Courtesy Ami Ayars

In a town like Kansas City, no one has an excuse for sending anything but locally crafted, one-of-a-kind gifts to their relatives in less creative parts of the world.

The artisans who'll be selling their wares at the events below have created something for every person on your list, and buying from them will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling because you’re buying local.

Courtesy Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear

Madisen Ward and his mother Ruth Ward of Independence went from complete obscurity to a modicum of international celebrity in 2015. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear were playing at open-mic nights in area coffeehouses when they signed with Glassnote Records, home of superstar acts including Mumford & Sons.

Courtesy Joe Darling

Remember sitting by the Christmas tree, peeling back the wrapping on what could only be an LP – but which one? And by which of your favorite bands? Then listening for days, flipping that record from the A side to the B side, memorizing the lyrics on the liner notes, devouring the graphics.

Admittedly, some of you might be too young for those kinds of memories. But take it from someone who’s collected John Denver records since she was seven: A new album pressed on vinyl is a gift you receive several times over, every time the music plays.

Joe Darling agrees.

courtesy: Reference Recordings

The nominees for the 60th annual Grammy Awards were announced on Tuesday, and the Kansas City Symphony performs on a record nominated in two categories.

The recording is Adam Schoenberg: American Symphony; Finding Rothko; Picture Studies, and it features the Kansas City Symphony conducted by music director Michael Stern

Courtesy Edison Lights

The history of rock and roll is littered with lurid stories about the abhorrent behavior of male musicians. Chris Doolittle, who set aside a promising music career to help provide for his wife and children, is one of the good guys.

City and arts leaders on Monday announced a new two-month city-wide arts festival called Open Spaces 2018: A Kansas City Arts Experience

"It’s 60 days of city-wide visual and performing arts debuts on a scale previously unseen in the city," Mayor Sly James said at a press conference at the KCAI Crossroads Gallery in the Crossroads Arts District.

James said he expects the event will foster the city's reputation as an arts destination.