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. 

As the summer winds down, are you looking for some music to rev you up? Our critics here at Up to Date have scoured the best of local, national and international music released this year to give you a wide selection.

Chris Haghirian

Local picks:

The Sluts, "Let Me Go" from The Sluts

  • "It's a nice, loud ruckus-y garage band sound. It looks like he's protecting himself with his drumsticks."

Hipshot Killer, "Give Me Something Better"

Chris Haghirian

Whether you're working out at the gym or drifting to sleep, it's nice to have some music to keep you company and Kansas City has plenty of great artists to add to your playlist. 

Kansas City music critic Chris Haghirian has compiled his favorite albums of 2015 — so far. 

Haghirian writes about music, organizes the Middle of the Map Fest and you can hear him on his local music show Eight One Sixty every Tuesday evening on 90.9 FM The Bridge.  

A tale about murder takes a dark turn in Kansas, and on another screen, Robin Williams gives his final cinematic performance. This week's selections from Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics are all over the board when it comes to emotions.

Cynthia Haines

Boulevard, R

  • A closeted gay man forms a bond with a young male prostitute

Tangerine, R

Doane Gregory

Given the titanic success of Kansas City native Gillian Flynn's third novel Gone Girl and the subsequent David Fincher film, it isn't surprising that Flynn's back catalog would look tasty to the entertainment industry. But can lightning strike twice?

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

First Friday in Kansas City's Crossroads neighborhood is always a street party. But on the first Friday in August, the third annual Southwest x Central Street Fest spotlights artists who don't typically get as much exposure as others: the musicians, writers and artists of Imagine That!, a non-profit studio of artists with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Eli Christman / Flickr-CC

Colorful characters – both real and imagined – rule this weekend’s lively entertainment calendar.

Leading events range from a country superstar still successfully strutting her stuff during her first concert tour in more than a decade to fantasy fans gathering to fervently celebrate their favorite far-flung heroes. And would you believe a trio of First Friday artists having their way with used refrigerators? I didn’t see that coming.

Whatever intriguing activities await you this weekend, be sure to color outside the lines.

1. Kansas City Comic Con

courtesy of the artist

If you’ve driven through downtown Kansas City recently, you’ve probably seen the orange cones from the streetcar construction. But what about that blue petticoat at the top of a street sign, or the brightly colored quilts wrapped around bus shelters? 

Art installations and performances return this summer to Kansas City's downtown loop. 

"Everyone get in their starting positions," calls out dancer Maura Garcia, as she shakes a rattle. 

Anyone with a laptop computer can act as a one-man band in 2015, but A.J. Gaither goes about it the old-fashioned way as he simultaneously howls, flails at a guitar and pounds on drums during his frequent performances in Kansas City’s barrooms.

This week’s Local Listen is Gaither’s typically-unhinged song “Natural Habitat.”  

Gaither performs at the Westport Saloon August 8 at midnight.

Fally Afani /

Spank (High Dive Records)

On first listen, it’s easy to dismiss Spank, the new EP by the Olathe, Kansas three-piece appropriately named Bummer, as a generic angry punk record. But as of the second listen, it’s more than just raging noise.

Deadly themes rise out of dismal drones and pounding thuds fill this 20 minutes of what the band describes as "Neanderthal rock," which ends in a fiery feedback fuzzblanket that might unleash repressed tears or a fit of cathartic wall-punching.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Artists for the East Ninth Street Project in Lawrence were announced Tuesday – and all have ties to Kansas or Missouri. The project calls for streetscape improvements and art along 9th Street from downtown to the city’s east side, to help make the corridor more walkable and bike-friendly.  

Jeff Widgren / Courtesy Jeff Widgren

Kansas City jazz lovers are agonizing over the news that Take Five Coffee + Bar will close on Aug. 15.

“We are very sad to have to make this announcement, but Take Five is going to be taking an indefinite ‘set break,’” owners Lori and Doug Chandler wrote on the venue’s Facebook page on July 31.

Since then, an outpouring of sentiment on social media has “made a very difficult situation for us much easier to bear,” says Lori Chandler.

Image courtesy of Larry Christy

Larry Christy owns Missouri River Rafting, where he guides canoe and rafting trips. He’s logged more than 5,000 miles on the water. He’s canoed the entire length of the Missouri River, from Montana to St. Louis – it took him three months. During the winter he works as a carpenter, restoring Victorian houses. He's also written poetry since he was a child. Here, the river guide and carpenter reads a poem about work.

Cassie Mundt

The worn, forlorn Teddy bear clearly misses the little girl with him in the photograph from nearly 110 years ago. Mable was her name.

But more little girls will be coming now. Kansas City's Toy and Miniature Museum is open again.

After a year of renovation and redesign, the National Toy and Miniature Museum at 5235 Oak reopened Saturday.


Check out the story of two transgender prostitutes or duck gunfire from Mexican drug cartels. This week's selections from Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics take you to many different worlds.

Cynthia Haines

Amy, R

  • Searing documentary about singer Amy Winehouse

Tangerine, R

  • Dramedy about two transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, PG-13 

Kansas City Art Institute

The Kansas City Art Institute's ceramics department dates back to the 1960s – and has a storied history, with larger than life professors who shaped the program like Ken Ferguson, Victor Babu and George Timock. 

This summer, Kansas City firms Helix and McCown Gordon Construction collaborated on a $750,000 renovation of "the old kiln room." 

SqueezeBoxCity /

Music isn’t just an open door – it’s a palace of passageways leading to all kinds of tunes around every corner.

This weekend, check out some of the different ways to explore the musical mansion, from superstar country to indie rock, jazz, blues and more.

The best part? You get to sing along.

1. Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean

  Six accomplished members of Kansas City’s indie-rock scene have joined forces as The Philistines to create what they characterize as “interstellar psychedelic rock 'n roll.”  Twitch of the Death Nerve, the lead single from the band’s forthcoming debut album, is this week’s Local Listen.

The Philistines perform Friday, July 31, at the Tank Room

Jerry Moran / Native Orleanian Fine Photography

Samantha Fish
Wild Heart (Ruf Records)

“Turn it up!”

Samantha Fish’s demand to crank the volume during a song of the same name on her new album “Wild Heart” reflects her general orientation. Although she’s invariably classified as a blues artist, “Wild Heart” reveals that Fish is actually a first-rate rock-and-roller.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Writer and poet Billy Brame majored in acting, and it's shaped his performances at readings and slams around Kansas City. Brame describes his style as silly, in the same vein as Shel Silverstein, and you'll hear that in his two poems — about politics, sort of, and bacon and dinosaurs.  

"I like whimsy, whimsy is where I'd squarely put these," says Brame. "I like just being the nonsense guy, the whimsy guy, wherever I land."

The only thing as hot as the weather are the films being touted by the Up to Date indie, foreign and documentary film critics.  Beat the heat with some cool films.

Cynthia Haines

Amy, R

  • Searing documentary about singer Amy Winehouse

Tangerine, R

  • Dramedy about two transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, PG-13 

Katie Knight/KCUR

It’s an age-old question: In the battle of pie vs. cake, which is superior?

Some contend that cake is a great vehicle for frosting. Others say that pie can incorporate more seasonal ingredients, like fresh fruit.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

For two decades, Henry W. Bloch, co-founder of H&R Block, and his wife Marion, collected what they described as "pretty pictures" — mostly French Impressionist works by the likes of Degas, Matisse, and Monet. Nearly 30 of these paintings filled the walls of their Mission Hills, Kansas home.

Although these masterworks are not there now — you wouldn't know it by looking. 

The Blochs started collecting art in the 1970s for a very practical reason. "My wife and I had a home and we needed pictures in it," he recalls. 

AllieKF / Flickr-CC

Move or be moved.

While that suggestion may seem like a marching order, I’d rather think of it as merely a heads up to anyone interested in having their emotions helpfully set in motion this weekend. That’s right, feelings matter. And if we don’t find meaningful ways to connect with them, it’s easy to become a hollow shell. Yuck.

So find a way to be moved this weekend – I said, move it! See how that works? I just discovered my inner drill sergeant.

1. Kansas City Dance Festival

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye counts out the beats as he directs three dancers darting across the floor in a rehearsal room.

Earlier this year when Jolicoeur-Nye created a pas de deux for Kansas City Ballet’s “New Moves” showcase set to the music of composer Max Richter, it caught the eye of Kansas City Dance Festival’s co-artistic director Anthony Krutzkamp. The two decided to collaborate on a larger work for the festival this weekend that they’re calling "Richter Scales."

Be/Non / Facebook

Brody Rush has alternately delighted and confounded Kansas City’s rock community for 20 years. As the primary visionary behind his band, Be/Non, Rush has crafted a compelling catalog of psychedelic rock.

This week’s edition of Local Listen features Spark 22, a typically adventurous track from Be/Non’s 2009 concept album “A Mountain of Yeses.”

America has a long history with Peter, Paul and Mary, the folk group that endured for 49 years, won five Grammys and kicked out 13 top-40 hits.  Noel Paul Stookey, one of the two living members talks about the trio's memorable career and of the issues he's still passionate about today.

Courtesy the Hillbenders

The HillBenders
'Tommy: A Bluegrass Opera

The HillBenders’ bluegrass version of "Tommy" has no real precedent. Other acts have done new versions of classic albums; the Flaming Lips’ recording of "Dark Side of the Moon" springs to mind. But the Hillbenders, an acoustic five-piece from Springfield, Missouri, aren’t attempting to reinvent the Who’s classic album in the way the Lips did Pink Floyd’s classic.

Gina Kaufmann / KCUR

Modernist architecture flourished in the Kansas City area in the period following World War II, particularly at the time that the Johnson County suburbs were developing in Kansas.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a writer, artist and musician. A member of the Latino Writers Collective, she’s also a self-described “collector of nostalgia.”

Here, she reads four poems in a series:

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Greg Carroll, CEO of the American Jazz Museum since 2007, has announced his resignation, effective immediately.

In a news release announcing Carroll's resignation, museum board officers praised Carroll's leadership but gave no explanation for his sudden departure.