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. 

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.

Courtesy Jewish Community Center

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a classic because its themes keep pace with the passing decades. Whether it’s the novel published in 1953 or Bradbury’s stage adaptation from 1979, each version is concerned with the control of information and media as a means of keeping the populace in its place.

Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

Geneticist Scott Hawley has a way with words — especially when it comes to explaining science to non-scientists.

For example, he remembers the connections he made the first time he saw "Star Warswhen he was in graduate school.

Courtesy Victor & Penny

The delightful vocalist Erin McGrane and the accomplished guitarist Jeff Freling lead the Kansas City ensemble Victor & Penny.

They once described their music as “antique pop,” but now they say it's "swing-infused folk-jazz" — based on the gypsy jazz tradition, it's a nostalgic sound more closely rooted in styles associated with Paris and New Orleans than Kansas City.

Courtesy Richie Wolfe

Start at Barney Allis Plaza.

Then the slabs at Gillham Park Pool.

Finish at the stairs in front of the abandoned Westport Middle School.

The Line, Richie Wolfe’s documentary about the history of skateboarding in Kansas City, is as much a love letter to the city and its iconic skateboarding spots as a record of the highs and lows of skateboarding industries and subcultures in the region.

courtesy B Trump Photography

For more than three decades, musician Bob Reeder has played weekly gigs — singing Irish folk songs and bawdy limericks — in an underground pub in Weston, Missouri. O'Malley's is roughly 50 feet underneath the ground in a limestone brewery cellar built in 1842. 

Courtesy of Mid-America Arts Alliance

With President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mid-America Arts Alliance will widen its advocacy efforts in hopes of preserving funding for the agencies, says Todd Stein, M-AAA's interim chief executive officer.

Courtesy Everette DeVan

Hammond B3 organist Everette DeVan is a beloved dean of Kansas City’s jazz scene.

Though the popularity of DeVan’s good-time, organ-based jazz peaked about 50 years ago, the throwback style gets revived several times a week at the Green Lady Lounge. Organist Chris Hazelton and guitarist Matt Hopper are among the younger Kansas City musicians DeVan has mentored.

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

There have always been Americans worried about some pending religious, social or natural cataclysm. But, the business of catering to those fears, and helping people prepare to survive the next big calamity, has changed substantially in the age of Donald Trump.

And that change is evident on a particular county road in Kansas, near the center of the continental United States.  Here, what looks like a grassy mound is protected by barbed wire fence and a heavily armed guard. A massive concrete entrance frames big, heavy steel blast doors.

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