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. 

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

In 2010, Kansas City Public Schools closed nearly 30 schools, mostly because of declining enrollment and a budget deficit. Some of these buildings are still in limbo, and others have been sold, leased, or mothballed for future use.

At the former Westport Middle School at 200 E. 39th Street, classrooms, where students used to work on projects, are now co-working spaces for entrepreneurs. 

University of Missouri-Kansas City

The Missouri Senate has voted to approve $48 million in funding for a new downtown campus for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance.

The $96 million project, which would relocate the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance to the block immediately south of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, is seeking $48 million in state bond funding to match private and city contributions already lined up.

Courtesy Summer Breeze

Lenexa drummer and philanthropist Billy Brimblecom says he’s put blood, sweat, and tears into trying to be an original musician.

“But seriously, one of the most fun and — dare I say — at least locally successful things I’ve done, is this.”

Courtesy Jim Murray

Jim Murray will never forget the first time he heard "Study for Strings" by the Czech composer Pavel Haas. It was a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra in Kansas City back when Murray was a junior at William Jewell College.

Karen Neoh / Flickr -- CC

There’s a lot that can go between two slices of bread.

Portable and fuss-free — no need for utensils — sandwiches are perfect for work lunches or picnics.

Courtesy Unbound Book Festival

On a recent Wednesday morning at his home Columbia, Missouri, Alex George was ignoring his day job. He’s an attorney and author whose second novel, Setting Free the Kites, was released in February. But on this day he was working on neither writing nor lawyering.

courtesy: Emporia State University

The Kansas Humanities Council on Thursday announced a new Kansas poet laureate: Kevin Rabas (pronounced as RAY-bus).

Rabas, an associate professor of poetry and playwriting at Emporia State University, grew up in Shawnee. He co-directs ESU's creative writing program and serves as co-editor of Flint Hills Review.

His latest collection of poetry, Songs for My Father: Poems & Stories, was published in 2016. 

Alicia Solo

As the dynamic singer of the now-defunct Beautiful Bodies, Alicia Solombrino was a whirlwind front person, displaying as much energy with her free-spirited stage antics as any contemporary Kansas City musician.

Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

In a tiny plane over the Amazon rainforest, Kansas City writer Candice Millard plummeted to what she was sure would be her death.

Blake Stoppel

Kansas City’s BkMk Press has a new collection of poetry by Native American writers about the Middle East.

The book's title — The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East — was inspired by advice given to BkMk managing editor Ben Furnish by a teacher years ago.

Courtesy Lalah Hathaway

Six weeks after stumbling over the roll-out of a major new jazz festival scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, leaders of the American Jazz Museum made the announcement again Thursday, this time joined by Kansas City Mayor Sly James and City Councilman Jermaine Reed.

Claire Tadokoro / KCUR 89.3

Moving back to Kansas City from New York City in the mid to late 1980s was an eye-opening experience for David Hughes.

"I started meeting artists, curators, dancers and musicians. I saw a lot of amazing individuals doing interesting work," says Hughes, who realized that "artists need support." 

American Century Investments, his employer at the time, contributed $10,000. And, in 1997, four cash awards were distributed to artists as the newly created Charlotte Street Foundation

Bryan Thompson / KCUR 89.3

If President Trump gets his way eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts as he has proposed in his budget, it would be another blow to a Kansas arts community that took a hit when state funding was eliminated a few years ago.

Courtesy Eddie Moore

Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle, a youthful group of forward-thinking jazz-based musicians, is one of Kansas City’s most accomplished ensembles.

The core Outer Circle band currently consists of keyboardist Moore, guitarist Adam Schlozman, bassist DeAndre Manning and drummer Zach Morrow. The band occasionally tours (it has a gig in Austin later this month) and Moore hosts a weekly jazz jam session every Wednesday at Californos and a monthly showcase at the Tank Room, in which he collaborates with hip-hop artists.

courtesy of the artists; photo of Daniel Coburn by Bruce Wagman

Applicants are warned, as Inside Philanthropy puts it: "Don't even think about attempting to apply for this fellowship unless you are at the absolute top of your game."

stu_spivack / Flickr -- CC

It’s hard to go wrong with fries.

They come in all sorts of shapes and textures, and they’re a great vehicle for dipping sauces, seasonings or even gravy.

Whether you prefer thin and crispy, thick and pillowy-soft inside — or waffle-shaped, crinkle-cut or curly — on Friday's Central Standard, KCUR’s Food Critics searched out the best fries in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Whether they realize it or not, many Kansas Citians have probably seen Wilbur Niewald’s paintings. They might even have seen the artist at a canvas in one of the city’s parks.

courtesy Todd Rosenberg Photography

If you're not standing after a live performance of classical music, theater, or musical theater in Kansas City, you might be sitting alone. 

Standing ovations are standard practice these days, and that was the topic of discussion on Thursday's Central Standard.

So when it comes to a standing ovation, why do we stand up? And when does a production deserve it?

C.J. Janovy / KCUR 89.3

Playwright Alice Carroll of Overland Park recently dropped off donations at a thrift store. A man in her age bracket got her attention. He said he was collecting old toys to fix and give away.

“Then he looked at me and he said, ‘Tell me: How are you enjoying your old age?’ I looked at him and I laughed. ‘Well,' he said, 'I’m old too,’” Carroll says, laughing again at the memory.

In her one-act play, "Age Inappropriate: A Short Play About Senior Misbehavior," Carroll's heroine has a similar interaction.

Amy Britain

Culture wars were raging. The National Endowment for the Arts was under threat. A conservative senator from a southern state was earning his reputation as a "prominent unabashed white racist." Protesters were hitting the streets.

"It was a really interesting time," Mark Manning says of the early 1990s. "Similar to now."

Courtesy Katy Guillen & The Girls

Katy Guillen & the Girls — the blues-rock trio of guitarist Katy Guillen, bassist Claire Adams and drummer Stephanie Williams — is one of Kansas City’s most accomplished bands, touring regularly throughout the country.

Courtesy Todd McLellan

Taking things apart and putting them back together again is almost hypnotic. And that is what Canadian artist Todd McLellan does in Things Come Apart, an exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution opening this weekend at the Kansas City Public Library.

A time-lapse video patches together images of objects swiftly being disassembled then reassembled. Buttons, coils and wires are exposed, neatly organized against a white background.

courtesy of the artist

Poet Nikki Giovanni's career spans five decades. A writer, activist and teacher, she's published more than 30 books of poetry and non-fiction as well as children's literature. 

"As a creative writer, I think, there are things you have to let go," Giovanni told New Letters on the Air host Angela Elam in a 2015 interview.

"I guess it's like anything else you do — you do it and you let it go. You do it and you let it go."

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

The artist: Calvin Arsenia

The song: "Kansas City, Baby"

The album: Catastrophe

The accompaniment: Jessica Paige (vocals), Coleen Dieker (violin), Joe Donley (upright bass)

The story: Calvin Arsenia calls his music neo-classical urban folk. His signature instrument is pretty unusual – it's a harp.

Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Peter I. Tchaikovsky wrote three classic ballets, but until now, the Kansas City Ballet has only performed two of them: Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. Besides completing its repertoire of Tchaikovsky ballets, the company's premiere of The Sleeping Beauty is a case study in how setting a ballet to the great composer’s music requires changing it.

University of Missouri-Kansas City

After hitting a high note last month with overwhelming approval in the Missouri House, the proposed University of Missouri-Kansas City downtown arts campus is scheduled to debut next week before a tougher audience, the Missouri Senate.

Courtesy Second Hand King

Working as Second Hand King, the locally based Joe Stanziola is a self-described “doo-wop rap” artist.

Courtesy Sky Smeed

An 11 a.m. Sunday slot at any festival, especially the Kansas City Folk Festival, is a dicey gig, and Lawrence singer-songwriter Sky Smeed admits his morning show last month made him anxious. Turned out that anxiety was unnecessary: The room filled up with people who weren't just awake — they were enthusiastic.

Erin / Flickr -- CC

Brunch can take on many different forms.

There’s the all-you-can-eat buffet, complete with waffle and omelet stations.

And don’t forget the boozy brunch — quite possibly the only time of the week where one could have a drink in the morning without feeling too guilty.

On Friday's Central Standard, KCUR's Food Critics took their annual look at the best brunch dishes in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Cynthia Levin / Unicorn Theatre

Audiences expect challenging productions from the Unicorn Theatre, whose mission is to produce "thought-provoking plays" that "illuminate social issues." Still, Danai Gurira's Eclipsed might require playgoers to work harder than they're used to.

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