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. 

Francis Bourgouin / Flickr -- CC

What sets a truly great happy hour apart?

Well, delicious food and drinks, for one. There’s also the vibe of the place.

“The social aspect of this cannot be discounted, even in the discounted world of happy hour,” Jenny Vergara told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard.

Plus, she added, it’s just good way to get to familiarize yourself with a new cuisine or try a restaurant that might normally be out of your price range.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

When the best Irish musicians get together to practice, it might as well be a concert. And some of Kansas City’s most talented players now have a regular place to do that in front of an audience.

On a recent Sunday night at Prospero’s Books, while customers thumbed through used paperbacks and lounged in armchairs, the sound of music drifted down from the second floor, where a couple dozen people were watching flute player Turlach Boylan and guitar player Davey Mathias.

Jon Blumb / Courtesy of Richard Klocke

His paintings have been called “exuberantly cheerless.”

Artist Mike Hartung loves that description.

The 73-year-old painter, who lives in Lindsborg, Kansas, has made around 700 paintings over his career.

His first exhibit, “Gas Stations, Laundromats and the Spaces Between,” opens this month in three venues across Kansas.

Hartung has also been described as a recluse, which he disputes, pointing to his recent exhibit openings in Salina and Lindsborg.

Courtesy Bloodstone

Bloodstone, a silky soul band that rose to prominence in the 1970s, is one of the most commercially successful groups to emerge from Kansas City.

Their classic R&B slow jam “Natural High” peaked at #10 on Billboard’s pop chart on July 21, 1973. Bloodstone was so popular that the band starred in the 1975 blaxploitation movie Train Ride to Hollywood.

Courtesy CLIC Abroad Foundation

Fewer than 750,000 elephants are left in the world, according to conservationists’ estimates. And the average American drinks more than 1,100 cups of coffee very year, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.

These statistics might seem unrelated, but D.K. Bhaskar, a Lenexa photographer, author and now filmmaker, shows they are crucially connected.

Jen Chen / KCUR 89.3

Last fall, after he was laid off from The Kansas City Star, Yael Abouhalkah did what many journalists do: he started a blog and continued to cover local and national politics.

That is, until couple of weeks ago, when he announced that he and his wife are heading to Namibia to be Peace Corps volunteers.

They’re leaving mid-August for a 27-month stint in southwest Africa.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

El Dean Holthus knows what people might think of a town like Smith Center, Kansas.

At nearly the exact geographic center of the contiguous United States, it's an hour from the nearest Interstate. It's home to about 1,600 people, but that population is declining like most of rural America's.

They probably think, he says, that "it's just a little hole in the ground."

Courtesy Jason Harrington

Jason Harrington, aka muralist Rif Raf Giraffe, thinks that in the near future, Kansas City will be home to perhaps the densest mural park in the nation.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

It's been a year since the Kansas City Council approved $7 million in funding for projects in the 18th and Vine district, such as stabilizing historic buildings and adding new streetscaping. On Wednesday, city officials provided a progress report. 

Jack Williams / NET News

In the middle of a cornfield in south-central Nebraska, an oasis of art is growing.

Art Farm, situated off a long dirt road outside the small town of Marquette, started back in 1993 as an artist residency program. Since then, it’s become a one-of-a-kind experience many artists can’t resist.

Courtesy Mac Lethal / Facebook

A hip-hop wisenheimer, Mac Lethal has successfully toggled between dual careers as a sardonic rapper and as a social media and television personality.

Ryan Welch / KSMU

Springfield, in southwest Missouri, is the state’s third most populous city. Its business districts are filled with historic buildings and gathering spaces that serve as platforms for artistic expression. But it’s a predominantly residential neighborhood on the city’s north side that’s becoming a new destination for artists.

If you were to stand in the middle of Lafayette Park and turn a full circle, you’d find at least one constant: the base of every utility pole is painted.

Hickok Cole Architects

What do artists in the Kansas City metropolitan area want when it comes to space? What are the top creative space priorities? 

To find out, Artspace, a nonprofit real estate developer, conducted a regional arts market study from October 2016 to January 2017. A total of 515 artists and 101 arts organizations or creative businesses responded to the online survey. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The Kansas City Fringe Festival is now officially a teenager. Organizers this year are making a push to reach performers and audiences about that same age, or a little older. 

The 13th annual festival kicked off on July 20, and runs for 11 days — more than 400 performances across 16 venues. The KC Fringe is teaming up with Kansas City Young Audiences to provide more opportunities for teenage actors, singers and dancers.

Anne Kniggendorf / KCUR 89.3

Paul Benson says he can’t help but assess the outdoor art he passes every day on his way to work as a conservator at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A lot of it is dirty. Some of it’s broken.

Just recently, he noticed that marble statues near 68th Terrace and Ward Parkway of Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt, and Hippocrates, “Father of modern medicine,” weren’t looking so hot. Fortunately, he’s in a position to help.

Facebook / Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

The diminutive Kansas City vocalist Millie Edwards, occasionally introduced to audiences as "the little woman with a big voice," performs Sunday alongside Lori Tucker and Geneva Price as the Wild Women of Kansas City.

Edwards is equally adept at belting out cabaret, pop, blues and jazz material and performs regularly as a solo act at The Phoenix.

Jeremy Enlow / Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition has been described as the Olympics for pianists. It's a grueling process to even make the cut. 

This year, nearly 300 pianists applied, 146 were selected for live screening auditions, and 30 were invited to Fort Worth, Texas, in May. And then the competition gets underway: 17 days, with four elimination rounds, and millions of people watching around the world

Isabelle Hurbain-Palatin / Flickr -- CC

There once was a time when "sausage" meant links or patties served with pancakes.

Not anymore, especially in Kansas City. We’ve seen a lot more sausage variety over the past few years.

“I think it’s part of the butchery trend,” Jenny Vergara told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard. “We have more and more chefs who are opening great butcher shops. With this return to artisan do-it-yourself butchery, sausage is a really incredible way to use up all the pieces and parts.”

Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

At a crossroads in his life, Kansas artist Dave Loewenstein was haunted by the words of an organic farmer.

"If we can't sell it to working class people," the farmer had asked about his produce, "what are we doing?"

Dave wondered the same thing of his art. He had a hard time seeing the point in his landscape paintings, even in a best-case scenario.

Danielle Hogerty / KCUR 89.3

On a busy Sunday afternoon in Kansas City's East Bottoms, there are people lunching at picnic tables on a gravel lot outside of the Local Pig. Inside, just behind the deli counter, there’s a huge butcher’s block, where chefs and amateurs alike have gathered for a crash course.

“There's a pretty good mix of people in the class,” butcher Jimmy Spradlin says. “There's a young chef and then just some old rough and tumble redneck guy that's like, ‘I'm just here for the pork chops.’”

But today, they’re all here to make sausage.

Courtesy Mark Montgomery

For three decades, Kansas City singer/songwriter Mark Montgomery has played guitar, bass, and harmonica in blues and jazz bands — and he's also a beekeeper

Montgomery spoke with Fish Fry host Chuck Haddix about his latest album, the first on his own Love Honey label, called "Difficult Man."

Luke Samuel Jordan

Experiences that used to exist only in the physical world become digitized each day — accessible through the Internet and on screens in one form or another.

But are the experiences the same? And what's lost or gained in the process?  

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

The American Jazz Museum still has about $150,000 in outstanding vendor bills. That’s despite catching up on payments to the musicians who played at the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival over Memorial Day weekend.

Šárka Ponroy Vamberová

A village in the Czech Republic was the site of a brutal massacre during World War II. 

On June 10, 1942, every man in Lidice over the age of 15 was executed. Some children were sent to German homes to be "re-educated" to Nazi standards, and others were gassed in a concentration camp at Chełmno in Poland. Most of the mothers were killed at Ravensbrück, a camp north of Berlin.

With the inhabitants gone, the Nazis razed the village.  

Courtesy Jake Wells / Facebook

Jake Wells' music exemplifies the craze for soulful troubadours. The Kansas City-based Wells, who plays at the Riot Room on Thursday, has released just three songs, but his most popular, "Roll Like Thunder," has been streamed more than 500,000 times on Spotify since its release in 2016.

courtesy Kansas City Zoo

Misting fans, chilled pools, ice treats and air conditioning. It's what a lot of people turn to in the summer in Kansas City — and so do the caretakers of the animals at the Kansas City Zoo.  

During the summer months, many of the animals are more active in the mornings when it's cooler. 

Todd Feeback / ShadowLight Images

At his sculptor's stand, paleoartist Gary Staab adjusted the expression on a 125-million-year-old predator in pursuit of prey.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

In small, incremental steps, a crew from Belger Cartage Service, Inc., on Thursday carefully moved Gates of Paradise into the Bloch Building at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The two, 17-foot-tall bronze doors weigh 4 1/2 tons, and installation is expected to take about six weeks. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

After months of stops and starts, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art now has the go ahead for the first phase of its master plan. On Thursday, the Kansas City City Council approved a zoning change for the museum's 29-acre property. 

Outdoor sculptures will take the place of the tennis courts of the former Rockhill Tennis Club along Rockhill Road. The clubhouse will be available for sale as a residence. The museum will expand offices, as needed, to the four historic houses it owns along 45th Street. 

Danny Wood / KCUR 89.3

Visitors to art galleries usually aren't there to look at picture frames. But frames at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art recently got some unusual attention, and one independent art specialist says they should get even more.

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