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. 

Local Listen: Behzod Abduraimov

May 13, 2015
Behzod Abdurainov

Although he’s lived in Kansas City for seven years, Behzod Abduraimov will make his Kansas City solo recital debut on Friday at the Folly Theater. The 24-year-old pianist is the artist-in-residence at Park University's International Center for Music.

This week’s edition of Local Listen features a portion of Abduraimov’s rendition of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6, a piece that will be included in his performance at the Folly Theater.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Kansas artist Jane Booth specializes in large, abstract paintings. When she outgrew her workspace, she created one that could expand her reach. As part of our occasional series called Tools of the Trade about artists and their relationship to the tools that make their work possible — we visited Jane Booth's new studio.

One early morning, Booth is out on the back porch of her metal studio in Spring Hill, Kansas. She’s dressed for work — jeans and a smock splashed with layers of paint. The prairie is alive with birds and Booth is just starting a new painting. As pigment moves across the fabric, Booth begins to get excited about what she sees.

“I mean, you know, can you even stand it?” says Booth. “I just love what happens right there. Where that water is and isn’t. So, we’ll come back in a little while.”

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Kelly Cannon fell in love with writing in third grade, after she won a poetry competition. This poem, "Chiaroscuro," was inspired by a painting of a man sitting on a bed looking out a window. It reminded her of taking naps when she was a child.

Lightning has been striking all over the metro this week, and Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have a few recommendations to light up your weekend--without the rain.

Cynthia Haines:

Wrecking Crew, PG 

  • Documentary about legendary studio musicians

Ex Machina, R

  • A computer programmer is hired to test a new form of artificial intelligence.

Seymour: An Introduction, PG


Asserting that there's a “vital missing ingredient” in Kansas City's current arts renaissance, ArtsKC on Friday rolled out a five-county, two-state plan its leaders hope will fill that gap by providing “a shared vision for coordinated cultural development of the region.”

The sixty-page OneArtsKC Regional Cultural Plan comes after 18 months of town hall meetings, surveys, and other fact-finding efforts to assess arts needs in communities throughout the metro. ArtsKC leaders say more than 1,800 people participated, including private citizens as well as representatives from arts and cultural organizations and local governments.

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / IFC Films

Based on its trailer and the reputation of its rowdy star, one might expect the new Jack Black comedy The D Train to be thick with predictable shenanigans involving the pot-bellied man-child at its center. But the writing and directing team of Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul give Black unexpected layers of complex emotion to make a profound statement about contemporary male sexuality.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

For centuries, scientists have looked to artists to help visualize the complexities of the human body. The techniques have changed — from wood engravings and copper plate prints to microscopic photos and digital animation — but the focus on storytelling is the same. It’s a profession known as medical illustration and there’s an effort to cultivate more of it in Kansas City. 

Mixing art with science 

The illustration department at the Kansas City Art Institute is tucked into a former grocery store at 43rd and Oak. At two long tables near the entrance, a handful of students quietly surf the Internet or eat a snack just before the start of a biomedical visualization class.

Courtesy of Iris Appelquist

my dearest and most sweet

Wikimedia -- CC

Did you know that every day is Mother’s Day? If you’re fortunate enough to have your mother in your life, just ask her. She’ll tell you.

Even so, extra-special attention is formally awarded to Mom once a year. When that happens this weekend, grateful progeny will honor the woman who brought them into this world and did her best to set them on the right path. Cards, flowers and brunches will ensue.

What else might you do with Mom to show your appreciation? Naturally, I have suggestions. Or just ask her. She’ll tell you. That’s Mom.

Local Listen: Julian Vaughn

May 6, 2015

Julian Vaughn is among the Kansas City-based jazz musicians better known internationally than in their hometown. A few of the bassist’s recordings are mainstays on contemporary jazz playlists.

This week’s edition of Local Listen features “Initiate,” a track from Vaughn’s new album “Limitless.”

To hear more, check out the Gem Theater this Friday, where Vaughn will celebrate the release of “Limitless.”

Adam Kuban / Flickr--CC

The site of the world’s biggest tailgate party will also become the world’s biggest venue for barbecue competition. It was announced Tuesday that the American Royal’s World Series of Barbecue will be held at Arrowhead Stadium this fall on the first weekend of October.

Jim Rowland of the Jackson County Sports Authority says the process started when he observed stagnation in the West Bottoms.

A well-known writer chooses a book — and we all read it. That's the premise of NPR's Morning Edition Book Club. 

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Sometimes it just takes one teacher to change everything. For Seann Weir, who studies English and creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, it was poet Michelle Boisseau and her "high demand of excellence."

"I took a class with Michelle Boisseau," says Weir, "which terrified me and taught me how bad my poems were, which I'm really grateful for." 

Now a senior at UMKC, Weir is due to graduate next semester — and, after that, he plans to explore graduate school. Here, Weir reads a poem titled "In Your City."

Mother-Son Duo Are Reluctant Restaurateurs

May 1, 2015
Jen Chen / KCUR

Kashif Tufail is the owner of Chai Shai, a little Pakistani restaurant on the corner of 59th Street and Holmes in Brookside. Besides all the neighborhood regulars, it’s become a gathering spot for Pakistani students at UMKC. 

And before they eat, Tufail says, they always ask him, “Are these samosas as good as my mom's?"

“And I say, 'Yeah, I believe so.'”

Once they eat them, and agree on how good they are, Tufail reveals, “You know whose samosas those are? Those are my mom’s.”

If you prefer the light of a movie theater to sunshine, Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary film critics have some suggestions for your light sources this weekend.

Cynthia Haines

Clouds of Sils Maria, R

  • A veteran actress confronts ageism.

Ex Machina, R

  • A young computer programmer is hired to test a new type of artificial intelligence.

Seymour: An Introduction, PG

Explore the story behind the mysterious gnome houses that appeared along a local walkway, and get the inside scoop on a special group of studio musicians. These stories and more are appearing on local screens this weekend, and our indie, foreign and documentary film critics know which ones are worth the ticket price.

The Gnomist,  special showing at the Jewish Community Center May 9

courtesy: Lyric Opera of Kansas City

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City announced this week, just days after the season finale of Tosca, that artistic director Ward Holmquist is out of a job — one he's held since 1998. 

"Lyric Opera of Kansas City is reorganizing along the lines of standard industry structure for the purpose of improved effectiveness and efficiency in our operation and has eliminated the position of Artistic Director. Lyric Opera of Kansas City today announces the departure of Artistic Director Ward Holmquist. We thank him for his years of service," Board chair Kenneth Hager said in a statement issued Thursday.

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

There aren’t many places in town where an exceptionally talented high school musician can play a concert next to a professional. But that’s what the Midwest Chamber Ensemble has been doing for three years now.

Many of the ensemble's 35 musicians are students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, but others from all over the community — many quite young.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In 1961, in the heat of the civil rights movement, black and white college students rode buses through the South to challenge segregated public transportation. These "Freedom Riders" are the subject of a new play being staged by the University of Missouri-Kansas City's theater department. It's a collaboration between students, several playwrights, a director, and a choir. They hope to inspire a conversation about how the lessons of the past can have meaning in the present. 

C.J. Janovy / KCUR

In Salina, along the railroad tracks, in the shadow of grain elevators, next to a gravel lot filled with industrial propane tanks, is the headquarters of Acoustic Sounds.

It’s run by Chad Kassem. He’s originally from Louisiana.

“Back in the mid-’70s every teenage boy had a stereo, or most of the boys in my neighborhood had a stereo, and maybe a hundred albums,” Kassem says. “So I wasn’t any more of a collector than most of my friends.”

By the time he was 21, though, Kassem’s drinking and drug abuse was causing him trouble with the law.

“I came to Kansas to get sober in 1984. That’s where the judge picked.”

As we know, Kansas has alcohol, but in general, there were fewer distractions for a man who needed to dry out.

Ryan Hyde / Flickr--CC

First things first: Are you ready for the weekend? OK, that’s a silly question. But how might you get the most out of it?

Fortunately, several singular pleasures can help make the first weekend in May a memorable one – whether you’re a fine-art lover or a comic-book fan, a follower of the “Piano Man” or an admirer of the animal kingdom. And if you like merrymaking powered by Mexican-American entertainment and food? Then you’re in luck, my friend.

Be among the first to take part.

1. First Friday in the Crossroads

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In March, for the first time, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival staged a production not at Southmoreland Park in Midtown Kansas City, Missouri, but indoors, at Johnson County Community College’s Polsky Theatre.

Working without having to worry about rain, bugs, and people walking their dogs made the festival’s typical technical challenges a breeze, says executive artistic director Sidonie Garrett.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Spencer Theatre, the main stage for Kansas City Repertory Theatre, opened in 1979 on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The interior was updated with new seats in 2002, but over the past three decades, other changes have been limited. Starting May 18, however, a $5.5 million renovation gets underway. 

"It is my pleasure to welcome all of you today to the lobby of the Spencer Theatre, which six months from now will look significantly different than it does today," Scott Boswell, chair of the Rep's board of directors, said to a crowd of supporters and UMKC faculty and staff on Monday morning. 

Matt Rahner

Kansas City's new east side police station and crime lab on Prospect and 27th Street is still under construction — the campus is slated to open next year. Meanwhile, the city is still facing litigation over how the four-block area was selected for the campus, and how the people who lived there were moved to make way for the new construction.

Starting in the fall of 2012, photographer Matt Rahner documented the residents of the Wendell-Phillips neighborhood between Prospect and Brooklyn avenues and 26th and 27th streets. He wanted to capture the final months before the demolition of their homes.

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Norma Cantu is a professor of Latina/Latino Studies and English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. One of her projects is a collection she's working on called "Elemental Odes.”

"It's a play on Pablo Neruda's collection of Odas Elementales. I took it more literally," she says. "I'm taking the periodic table of the elements, and writing poems for each element."  Here are three of those.

The Native American tribe that gave Kansas its name will dance in the state for the first time in 142 years.   

The Kaw or Kanza tribe once occupied most of what became Nebraska, and nearly half of modern day Kansas. Tribal spokesman Ken Bellmard says bad treaties and European diseases decimated the tribe.

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR

Joseph Tomelleri is trying to discover a new species of trout. That's why he was just in Mexico, and that's why he'll be returning again soon.

Working as a scientist and an artist rolled into one, he's created upwards of 1,100 hyper-realistic colored-pencil illustrations depicting fish species for scientific books and magazines. He goes on research expeditions, documenting the distinguishing characteristics of each species, in some cases more faithfully than even a photograph could capture. 

Local Listen: La Guerre

Apr 24, 2015
La Guerre / Facebook

More than 120 acts are performing Ink’s Middle of the Map Festival this week, and La Guerre is one of them. The solo project of Lawrence-based Katlyn Conroy, La Guerre specializes in intimate indie-rock.

This week’s edition of Local Listen features La Guerre’s muted “Lover’s Sway.” La Guerre will appear at the Record Bar at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, April 25.

Thunderclouds might be creating a scary tableaux outside, but on the silver screen you can choose a different backdrop. Try a suggestion from Up to Date's indie, foreign and documentary critics this weekend.

Cynthia Haines:

Wrecking Crew

  • Documentary about legendary studio musicians

Seymour: An Introduction

  • Documentary about a pianist who found his calling as a teacher

Woman in Gold

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theater insiders will call someone who acts, writes, and directs a triple threat. Kyle Hatley, Kansas City Repertory Theatre's resident director, is such a person. Following his acclaimed performance in An Iliad earlier this year, he's now at the helm of Sticky Traps, the theater's third play by Kansas City's own Nathan Louis Jackson.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Hatley talks about his history with Jackson, a playwright-in-residence at the Rep, and what it means to rehearse a show with the playwright in the room.