performARTS Presents Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey

Choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey said, “I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.” For the staff at Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, this quote guides them in carrying out their various year-round educational programs, dance classes and outreach efforts.

BlockParty-1334While the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey is known for bringing the two principal Ailey dance companies to Kansas City each year, the arts organization offers up so much more than those performances. When Alvin Ailey came to Kansas City in the late 60’s, he saw potential… and when he was looking for an extension of his artistic vision, the Kansas City community rallied with their support. Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey (KCFAA) was formed in 1984 through that partnership. Executive Director Tyrone Aiken has been a strong presence in that partnership and is a wealth of information, thoughtfully sharing the 30-year history of the KCFAA organization. “What we do day in and day out provides the opportunity and experience to further dance in our community,” he says.

From its modest beginnings, the organization has significantly grown and been able to accomplish a lot in its 30 years, and is strategically looking to the future. Aiken sees this 30th anniversary to continue to expand the organizations’ offerings beyond the performances in October. In addition to the current year round programming that serves the Kansas City community, KCFAA is partnering with the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance for a Fall Symposium. The September 4 symposium is the starting point for a five-year project that will “focus attention on fostering awareness of issues of diversity at the local, regional, national and international level.  The featured speakers will share their contributions to American cultural arts and give important insights on race, diversity and success.”

The first Symposium will feature three dance legends: Cleo Parker Robinson, the director of the Denver-based cultural arts institution Cleo Parker Robison Dance; Ann Williams, the founder and artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and Joan Myers Brown, founder of The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) and The Philadelphia School of Dance Arts. The three presenters will talk about African-American dance, contributions, race and ethnicity, the importance of dance, creating your own business and developing partnerships. There will also be a free community town hall meeting about Race, Place and the Importance of Diversity at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4 at the Gem Theater.

Coming up this fall, KCFAA is presenting The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Oct. 22-25. As part of the 30th Anniversary celebration, KCFAA is partnering with local university students. Students from the Kansas City Art Institute are creating costumes, décor, centerpieces and a 30th Anniversary video for the Gala. “Several dancers from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance will audition and be selected to dance with the Company for the performance of Alvin Ailey’s Memoria”, Aiken says. The performances at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts will be a mix of the classic and traditional pieces, plus both Kansas City and World premieres.

This 30th Anniversary celebration is a platform for new programming into 2015, including a larger dance festival in June in the 18th and Vine District. This anniversary year really helps the organization sharpen the focus on the mission to be relevant, exciting and innovative with the events for the community. Aiken says, “We are also working on the ‘Ailey in Your Neighborhood’ program in 2015, where we take dancers to communities where people live and work. We want to expose people to the arts.”

Along with serving as the official second home of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, KCFAA puts significant energy into developing and delivering youth programming. Annually, about 30,000 young people are reached. In 30 years, Aiken estimates that about 1 million people have been touched by dance because of their organization. “Dance, probably more than any other art format, allows an access point that is intellectual, artistic and spiritual. For young students, they may learn they have unique gifts and they can feel an immediate sense of accomplishment.”

Aiken says with dance not being a usual subject matter in schools, KCFAA fulfills an important role in the community. “Dance has an athletic component, as well as historical and creative aspects. We can impact young people and provide the community with open access to this.” Along with dance, KCFAA works on civic leadership and engagement through health and wellness. “We want to strengthen the whole community’s well-being. Dance can be a motivator.”

AileyCamp 2014

AileyCamp 2014

Michael Joy, the Director of Artistic and Educational Programs at KCFAA, aims for integrity and joy when he is helping design educational programming. “In an administrative role, I still have the opportunity to teach and work closely with our teaching artists, and the students and families in our programs. On the administrative side, I aim to uphold the integrity and artistic merit of our year-round programs through working closely with KCFAA clients, school administrators and teachers.”

Joy sees life skills being formed through these programs. “We work on skills that help shape us as people, not just dancers. This could be honoring others, treating others with fairness, and instilling a work ethic. While I was training to be a dancer, I went to work with my father at the fish market. I learned the importance of hard work and how that applies to being successful.” Joy started dancing at 21and has danced all over the world, including with the Ailey Company in New York. “Camp is a highlight of my year. We used the theme of ‘Legacy’ at AileyCamp this year. We talked about the importance of how we want to be remembered each day, not just how you’re remembered when you’re gone. At camp we learn that each day is an opportunity to make better choices and inspire others. We set expectations, but the best part is meeting people where they are and growing together each day. Everyone sees a transformation at the end of the six weeks.”

IMG_4177 NEWBoard president Robin Royals has been involved with the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey for more than six years. “I was an athlete and I remember what organized sports did for my life, I know it is a similar structure in the summer AileyCamp. It’s all about what we able to do for the kids. We can help change their lives forever. If I drew a diagram, I would put the kids in the middle.”

For Royals, as with Aiken and Joy, the success comes with the ability to fill a void within the community as a whole. “There are a lot of passionate people. I believe in what the organization does and we can always fall back on what the kids gain. I know personally I have gained more than what I have given. The connection in the community is so rich.”

As the organization moves into its 30th year, the strategic plans have been aided by Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center. He started his arts business career as Executive Director of the Kansas City Ballet and had teamed the ballet dancers with Ailey dancers in the past. “He also served as Executive Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. One of his goals is to get us to talk more about the good story we have. We have to ensure that we are around 30 years from now and beyond. We have to continue to share that we are an integral part of the Greater Kansas City area,” Royals says. “We honor diversity. Our audiences are diverse, as well as our Board and Co-Chairs of any event. We are part of the community fabric and the coming celebration is not just for Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, but a celebration of greater Kansas City.”

Aiken, Royals and Joy know that the future will include growth and change. “There’s always room for improvement,” Aiken says. “We want to continue to meet the challenges and needs in the community.” Joy sees the staying power for KCFAA because all of the organization’s programmatic aspects touch people. “We will stay true to our mission and aim to touch people in emotional and intellectual ways. As we celebrate the local, national and international artists, we will help Kansas City continue that move toward being an international city.”

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Inheritance: Memories and Imaginations at Southeast Community Center

Southeast Community Center is nestled near the northwest corner of Swope Park on 63rd Street. The center opened in 2008 to replace a beloved but smaller and mostly obsolete facility.

As a city building, it required the inclusion of a one percent for art component. In collaboration with the Parks and Recreation Department, the Municipal Art Commission implemented a national call to artists and received some 60 responses from local and national artists. The selection panel carefully reviewed the submitted portfolios and accompanying information and ultimately selected local artist team Julia Cole and Leigh Rosser who proposed a conscientious, multi-faceted approach to honor the site, its history and future activities in the community center.

Inheritance consists of five artworks that connect thematically throughout the facility.

Upon entry, visitors encounter a touchable, topographical “map” of the community center site and surrounding area made from carved plywood, called Common Ground.

To the right of the reception desk, visitors see three maps mounted on glass panels titled, Mapping Community: Map of Probability, Map of Possibility and Map of Being, which explore ways of representing “community,” both as a place and a way of living.

Photos Courtesy of Municipal Art Commission and Cole+Rosser

Photos Courtesy of Municipal Art Commission and Cole+Rosser

Hanging from the ceiling in the clerestory, visitors see Ripple Effect, a 150 foot long kinetic sculpture crafted of translucent blue fins mounted on a cable spine. When visitors pass a secret sensor the sculpture reacts by sending a gentle rhythmic ripple down the length of the artwork much like a ripple in a pond or a community.

In the community area opposite the fireplace, visitors encounter Connection Web, a unique wall hanging that serves both as art and a working instrument to teach and explore webs of connection. The panel includes dozens of artist-drawn ceramic “buttons” which illustrate the relationships between living beings in Kansas City; where they live and how they eat. By moving a lever, an instructor can move the buttons, and the artists have provided blank backing pins so that community members can create their own teaching exhibitions.

The final artwork includes two video stations called Video Explorers, mounted outside the two doors of the Game Room. The artists created videos that show the discoveries they made while exploring Swope Park. They plan to work with the Parks Department staff to purchase video cameras so that students at the facility can create and exhibit their own videos about their community.

Inheritance was funded by the City of Kansas City One Percent for Art Program and implemented in collaboration with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. Julia Cole and Leigh Rosser are among a handful of local artists who have gained valuable experience through the city’s one percent for art program and who have gone on to compete for other, larger commissions locally and nationally.

Southeast Community Center is nestled near the northwest corner of Swope Park on 63rd Street. The center opened in 2008 to replace a beloved but smaller and mostly obsolete facility.

Photos Courtesy of Municipal Art Commission and Cole+Rosser

Photos Courtesy of Municipal Art Commission and Cole+Rosser

As a city building, it required the inclusion of a one percent for art component. In collaboration with the Parks and Recreation Department, the Municipal Art Commission implemented a national call to artists and received some 60 responses from local and national artists. The selection panel carefully reviewed the submitted portfolios and accompanying information and ultimately selected local artist team Julia Cole and Leigh Rosser who proposed a conscientious, multi-faceted approach to honor the site, its history and future activities in the community center.

Inheritance consists of five artworks that connect thematically throughout the facility.

Upon entry, visitors encounter a touchable, topographical “map” of the community center site and surrounding area made from carved plywood, called Common Ground.

To the right of the reception desk, visitors see three maps mounted on glass panels titled, Mapping Community: Map of Probability, Map of Possibility and Map of Being, which explore ways of representing “community,” both as a place and a way of living.

Hanging from the ceiling in the clerestory, visitors see Ripple Effect, a 150 foot long kinetic sculpture crafted of translucent blue fins mounted on a cable spine. When visitors pass a secret sensor the sculpture reacts by sending a gentle rhythmic ripple down the length of the artwork much like a ripple in a pond or a community.

In the community area opposite the fireplace, visitors encounter Connection Web, a unique wall hanging that serves both as art and a working instrument to teach and explore webs of connection. The panel includes dozens of artist-drawn ceramic “buttons” which illustrate the relationships between living beings in Kansas City; where they live and how they eat. By moving a lever, an instructor can move the buttons, and the artists have provided blank backing pins so that community members can create their own teaching exhibitions.

The final artwork includes two video stations called Video Explorers, mounted outside the two doors of the Game Room. The artists created videos that show the discoveries they made while exploring Swope Park. They plan to work with the Parks Department staff to purchase video cameras so that students at the facility can create and exhibit their own videos about their community.

Inheritance was funded by the City of Kansas City One Percent for Art Program and implemented in collaboration with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. Julia Cole and Leigh Rosser are among a handful of local artists who have gained valuable experience through the city’s one percent for art program and who have gone on to compete for other, larger commissions locally and nationally.

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On the Board with April Roy

April Roy works as the branch manager at the L.H. Bluford Library, one of the branches of the Kansas City Public Library. During her personal time, she serves as president for the board of StoneLion Puppet Theatre. She has been on the volunteer board for nine years and has been president for two years.

April Roy

April Roy

“I am a librarian and I got to know StoneLion through the library shows,” she says. “I like their style and the message. Much of their efforts focus on bringing free art to generally under-served areas. After seeing a few shows, I knew I had to be involved and I was quickly recruited when I spoke up about my interest.”

The StoneLion board supports the non-profit needs. “Heather (Nisbett-Loewenstein, the founder) and the small staff have great artistic vision. We are a supportive role to Heather’s vision. We can provide feedback. We volunteer at events especially the community festivals. As board members, we get to experience part of the joy in seeing StoneLion Puppets in the community and how kids react to the puppets, the art projects and all the hard work we do.”

Roy came on the board before StoneLion started the giant puppet pageants. “The first big event was at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and we all got to see how it developed from that first event to the most recent event. The growth, literally, has been spectacular. It’s also been exciting to see how much Heather has learned from her trips to Dubai and other visits aboard and we can all see how these puppets have developed. The have changed artistically. It’s been fun to watch her crazy ideas come to life.”

Some of the recent recognition from outside sources, including the Kansas Stormwater Grant, pleases Roy. “We are always thrilled when we receive grants. I know that before I came on the board, StoneLion had a more traditional structure of a puppet theater with a structured season and ticket sales. However, with the grants, StoneLion acts more as a true non-profit. The crew offers up free art for the community and we as a board have encouraged that.”

As for the future, Roy expects StoneLion Puppet Theatre to be even more important. “As schools trim or cut art and arts funding, the community will need organizations like StoneLion to help fill that void. Kids who have never experienced the arts seldom appreciate art during adulthood. The Sunday in the Park with StoneLion initiative at the Westport Roanoke Community Center makes sure kids and families are experiencing art. They need to see the art and when art sticks with you, the impact can be immeasurable. It is so vital. To help make the experience even greater, we can always use more volunteers. We have plenty of committees that can use help such as hospitality or budget. If you call or e-mail, we will get you involved.”

Roy applauds Loewenstein for her energy. “Having someone with such strong artistic vision gives us all an easier job. We are a supportive board and being part of it is a great opportunity.”

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StoneLion Puppets and Parks Department Putting More Creativity into Westport Roanoke Community Center

Westport Roanoke Community Center could become a full-fledged arts center aimed at all ages, including those “young at art.” For Heather Nisbett-Loewenstein, the founder of StoneLion Puppet Theatre, the steps are already being taken, especially on her part. As a Kansas City Parks and Recreation partner, StoneLion Puppets is already well and truly recreational as they have been performing in parks and centers all over the city. As a matter of fact, many in the city saw their work at the Big Picnic, celebrating The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s sculpture park.

Dubai Puppet Festival

Dubai Puppet Festival

The center, originally opened in 1963, recently underwent a $1.25 million face lift that included an updated pottery room, reception area, bathrooms, new heating and cooling, plus a security system. Now, StoneLion Puppets and Loewenstein are frequent performers at the community center for Sunday in the Park with StoneLion. The afternoon shows on the first Sunday of each month are designed to bring families together. StoneLion Puppet Theatre has the first Sundays scheduled through June of 2015. On Sept. 7, the show will be The Toy Box. The Oct. 5 show will be Stellaluna and the Nov. 2 show will be Kachina Drums in honor of Native American history month.

Loewenstein calls the process an “adventure.” “We are working to develop this community center into ‘the arts center’ for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation

Flitter and Stella

Flitter and Stella

Department. We really want to see people experiencing affordable arts in their own neighborhoods. The thrill is to educate our audiences that art can be found all over. Of course, there is joy in finding and shaping new audiences.”

The community center aspect makes sense to Loewenstein as well. “If Kansas City is going to be seen as the Artistic Crossroads, the idea has to permeate all over. Our city has blossomed with great art from the Kauffman to Starlight and all the many companies producing. Much of that art has a cost associated to it that is out of the realm of many families. Westport can be a springboard to develop new audiences.” However, Loewenstein and her crew do a stellar job in taking their creative arts out into the world. StoneLion will be the guest artists for the month of October at the Smithsonian. They are also in demand at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. She will perform 417 shows by the time 2014 ends.

“This is a slow process but we have started programming in the building,” she says. “I think it will take time for all of the different entities involved, governmental and community, to buy into the concept which was mandated by the Mayor’s task force. Right now Parks has invested some funds to upgrading the stage.” At the Parks Department, one of the biggest supporters for this initiative has been Deputy Director Terry Rynard.

With the various studies of the arts in Kansas City, the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department is amplifying its focus on the arts. Rynard says that as a department, staff has been reviewing opportunities for locations to house the needed programs. The Westport Roanoke Community Center seems like a natural fit, she says. “The stage is in decent shape and we know that performances were there in the past. We need to work on better lighting. The next trick is to figure out how to augment what is already at this center. We have always had a strong pottery program there. Our goal is to see how to integrate programming without hindering what is already there. We are giving people what they want and doing programming the community wants.”

The arts partnership with StoneLion is a win-win situation, Rynard says. “We are closely aligned in missions … Sunday in the Park with StoneLion is aimed at this community outreach. We are fortunate to have strong partner organizations that come along side and bring in the performing arts. The other win is that Heather and her crew has such a following. She can leverage her contacts and bring in more folks. We are fortunate to have StoneLion offer up shows focused on the environment, history and lots of fun.”

Loewenstein and her staff ran a few camps before school started. She’s also hoping to capitalize on the ceramics studio and the other gallery space. “I want folks to drive by the center and see art. It should be a place that has live performances, workshops, classes and more. I can see a couple of festivals being part of the line-up.”

As with such plans, StoneLion seeks funding through grants and sponsorship to expand this center beyond what the Parks department and StoneLion can now budget. “How far this center goes will depend on how much funding we can generate and sustain. My goal for the coming year is to find the funding to underwrite weekly classes, holiday break camps and to fund display cases for exhibits by artists outside of StoneLion,” Loewenstein says.

Rynard says many community members have spoken about the former Theatre Under the Stars program which put on significant shows. “In five years, it would be great to see some plays and musicals at Westport Roanoke for children and adults. It will take work and funding, but we have begun demonstrating that partnerships work. It’s a great community to begin with and can only get better.”

The move to expand the arts coincides with StoneLion’s 20th anniversary. Loewenstein started her work in 1994 and became a non-profit in 2001. “There is no greater joy than when a young adult tells me that I am remembered because I came to his school. The positive efforts are noticed. I am told that I made a difference. I made people laugh and think. I found my niche with puppetry in Kansas City. I have students from the Kansas City Art Institute who serve as my interns so I am helping shape the next generation. I want StoneLion to continue beyond me and with those who love this art of puppetry, I know it will keep going.”

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Vivien Jennings Spends Some Time with Shakespeare

Vivien 1 NEWMy partner Roger and I recently collaborated with Lisa Ball Travel Design to host a literary journey around England. One of the highpoints of our trip was an after hours private tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Though we all thought we were pretty familiar with Shakespeare, our visit to the house and gardens where the greatest of all writers (and the one who has the most universal appeal) was born held many surprises.

Actually, the precise date of Shakespeare’s birth is not known, but since records show that William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church on April 26, 1564 (and it was customary to baptize an infant three days after birth) his birthday is traditionally celebrated on St. George’s Day, April 23.

Following his death in 1616, once the family line had come to an end, the house was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair until a rekindling of interest in the 18th century. Isaac Watts, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Carlyle , and the actress Ellen Terry were among the notables that visited the birthplace and their signatures still remain on the windowpanes around the house. A guest registry book includes the signatures of Lord Byron, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, John Keats and William Thackery. Still, the house was put up for sale in 1847, and the dramatic auction poster proclaimed, The Truly Heart-Stirring Relic of a Most Glorious Period and of England’s Immortal Bard, The Most Honoured Monument of the Greatest Genius That Ever Lived. That evidently got the American showman P.T. Barnum’s attention, and he proposed to buy the home and ship it “brick-by-brick” to the United States.

Gravely offended by this offer, The Shakespeare Birthday Committee formed, including such leading figures as Dickens, and organized a series of amateur performances around the country featuring other noted contemporary literary figures and finally raised the 3,000 pounds necessary to buy the house for the nation.

The restored house is relatively simple, with interesting displays of family life and period domestic furnishings, including William’s father John’s glove making workshop laid out for the day’s work, and for the late 16th century it would have been considered quite a substantial dwelling.

The walled garden at the back of the house layout dates from the mid-19th century and has been specially planted with flowers, herbs and trees that would have been known in Shakespeare’s time and are mentioned in his plays.

Our guide shared with us that the length of the bed in the “birth” room did not mean that the people of that time were short, but that they believed that the Devil would try to come for their souls as they slept, so they slept propped up as if sitting to deceive him that they were still awake.

We also learned that nine months after an exceptional harvest in late August of 1582 in the farming community of Slottery, Anne Hathaway gave birth to a daughter Susanna, following a rushed marriage to Shakespeare in November. Shakespeare was one of only three men who married before they were 20 and the only one whose bride was pregnant. Since he was 18, and Anne was 26, their match was unusual.

The guide’s explanation of the copy of the First Folio of the Bard’s works (published in 1623) on display was intriguing. He explained that the collection was complied by Shakespeare’s fellow actors John Hemminge and Henry Condell, and that without their efforts, half of Shakespeare’s dramatic work would have joined the scores of lost plays by other writers from the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. “Without it, Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare,” he said.

Asked why Shakespeare remains a household name to this day, Clive shared these thoughts: His plays portray recognizable people in situations that most of us experience at one time or another—including love, death, mourning, guilt, difficult choices, separation, reunion and reconciliation. They are written in a way that allows each new performance to take on a life of its own, so that they remain fresh and infinitely adaptable. They help us to understand what it is to be human, and to cope with the problems of being so.

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Folly Theater Remedies the Sad State of American Popular Music

By Bill Shapiro

Pop music is the aural wallpaper of our life and times. From the Broadway show tunes to Top 40 hits which monopolized American listening for the first half of the 20th century, it was primarily a temporal art form – background sounds for our daily doings. Rock and roll changed all that by simultaneously mirroring and shaping the current zeitgeist, broadening its scope and in its best incarnations ‑ providing depth, meaning and cultural relevance. It emerged in the mid-1950s, reached its zenith in the 1960s and 1970s and began a decline in the 1980s which continues to this day.Folly-Theater-celebrates-history-rebound

The advent of the Cyber era with its unholy grafting of video to audio has exchanged that meaning and relevance for vacuous disposable entertainment. Today’s concert reviews focus as much on costumes, dancers, visual effects and pyrotechnics as they do on musical/lyrical content. We’ve witnessed a “golden age” deteriorate into a gilded one. We’ve lost a great deal.

Thankfully all isn’t totally lost. The transitory impact of the big screen/bad sound quality of the arena event is mitigated by the existence of a few artists and venues devoted to the intimacy and deep emotional connections which provide memorable listening experiences. In Kansas City foremost among them is the historic Folly Theater which has been doing it for 114 years. If you’ve not experienced the intimacy and acoustical purity of this local landmark you’ve deprived yourself of the satisfaction that truly great performances uniquely provide, person to person relationships between artist and audience that impact the listeners’ perceptions of reality.

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What Speaks to Me Most … Hope, Heritage, History through the Arts

What Speaks to Me Most …

What does your neighborhood mean to you? Do you know your neighbors? Are they friends, passing acquaintances … someone to wave to as you drive by? I get it … we have become an insulated society where we fear meeting folks. I am guilty of it. However, there are pockets around town that are defying these ideas of isolation. One major example is the Ivanhoe Neighborhood.

Ivanhoe 1The Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council (INC) was originally formed in 1967 and is one of the oldest and largest organized neighborhoods in Kansas City. The geographical boundaries are 31st Street on the north to Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard on the south, Prospect on the east to Paseo Boulevard on the west. This significant area includes about 6,000 residents. To help folks out, INC staff and volunteers started mobilizing an effort to get people involved and hopefully help decrease the crime. Because Ivanhoe continues towards its vision of having a thriving neighborhood, it seeks adaptive and technical solutions that invest social, philosophical, and cultural resources towards the advancement of the community’s sustainability.

That cultural angle piqued my interest and I reached out to Yolanda R. Young, the youth and family outreach specialist with INC. So she and I talked about a crowdfunding effort titled “Hope, Heritage, History through the Arts.” To take even greater steps and bring together even more people, Young and Executive Director Margaret J. May are seeking support to put together art related workshops and training opportunities serving individuals and families in Ivanhoe and surrounding neighborhoods. The women are thinking small. They aimed at $5,000 for the first three workshops. Young wants to provide 12 community workshops aimed at bringing in all ages. To offer support or learn more, visit www.incthrives.org.

INC is partnering with local musicians, storytellers and landscape artists including James and Angela Ward, AY Musik, Tracy Milsap, Carmelita Clark and Hilary Noonan who will not only have the opportunity to train and educate, but who will have the opportunity to showcase their talents and share the beauty of their work while workshop attendees gain valuable, transferrable skills. The workshops and trainings are designed to help attendees explore and interpret African American History through visual and performing arts.

INC already has the Positive Alternatives Programs in place. These programs are defined as youth outreach and activities for all ages. “This program provides a positive alternative to alcohol, drugs, violence, gangs, and delinquency.”

Among the programs are Ivanhoe Reads where books are put into the hands of children and adults. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are encouraged as well. There is also an Explorers program, plus sports such as Little League Baseball, the Ivanhoe Heat Basketball and Cheer teams too. During the summer, there’s also Eating From the Garden, College Coaching, a teen/youth council, plus music. During the school year, the music program runs after school and includes an interactive jazz education program teaching children/youth basic instrumental music theory, composition, and performance. In the summer, the program continues with a different time schedule.

For Young, the addition of sports, the arts and other activities make sense. “The summer programs have been a hit and we know that young people with idle time can find trouble,” she says. “We know the return to the arts is so important for us and for the young people around us. School districts hack at arts budgets, but we want to see if through some monthly workshops, we can open up minds to the arts again. However, the workshops are not just for kids, but for all the neighbors.”

Young is glad to get local artists to join the mix. “They are transferring their skills to the local community,” she explains. “We are pressing forward with workshop plans. We are looking at a culinary arts theme for September and some poetry, spoken word and storytelling in October. Historically, African village elders shared their words of wisdom by stories. We think poetry and literature will just add to the mix.”

Young is on the same page with the wonders and enrichment that the arts provide. “We know art brings about change and improves folks. Success shows up in many ways. First and foremost, we hope the use of visual and performing arts helps break the ice. It’s a connection with the soul and the act of building and creating camaraderie. The joy comes in being in stronger neighborhoods. We can smile and learn from each other. In turn, those lessons are taken into homes and their own blocks. Hopefully we add to a better Kansas City. We really want people to look forward to this monthly workshop. People come together around the arts.”

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Greater Kansas City Japan Festival Oct. 11

One of the most unique art festival in town is the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival, organized by the Heart of America Japan-America Society. The 2014 Japan Festival runs Oct. 11 on the campus of the Johnson County Community College.

Festival Executive Director Francis Lemery says the festival has been around for 17 years, aimed at bringing in classical and modern performances and creative arts. Examples of the two ends of the spectrum include traditional Japanese music and a young Japanese pop star Aya Uchida who travels to the festival to perform. The other visual to explore is the idea of ancient calligraphy to the modern art of anime and manga.

Miyuki Sugimori

Miyuki Sugimori

Lemery says one of the most popular rooms hosts Miyuki Sugimori, one of the only women trained in Ame Zaiku (Japanese Candy Art), a candy artistry dating back 250 years to the Edo period. There are only 15 formally trained Ame Zaiku artists in the world. She began her apprenticeship in 1989 under her grandfather. After completing her training and becoming an independent candy artist, she has traveled extensively in Japan and Europe to demonstrate her artistic creation of the candy arts at conventions, local festivals, and private parties. She just retired from Epcot, the second theme park built at Walt Disney World.

“It is amazing to watch her form a ball of candy into an eagle or dragon. She is amazing and her room is always packed,” he says. “We put her in the Carlsen Center lecture center. It’s a sloped lecture room and there are cameras focused on her hands. It is performance and visual art combined.”

The festival was first hosted on the campus of the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 1997. A few years later, the festival relocated to our current location at Johnson County Community College. Each year, the festival introduces and educates more than 5,000 visitors on the culture of Japan.

CosplayContest1NEWThe more contemporary attractions include anime and manga exhibitions, plus cosplay. Entries must be related to the Japanese culture so anime, manga and Japanese video game characters are welcomed, along with other Japanese fashion imagery. The third floor of the Carlsen is transformed for the cosplay contest and shopping.

“We want to promote the Japanese culture in the greater Kansas City area,” Lemery says. “We have folks who come to participate or to be part of the day from Texas, Kansas and Missouri. It simply draws a lot of people where they can experience culture and education combined in a fun way.”

Other exhibitions look at Japanese dolls, samurai swords, gardens, calligraphy and clothing. Guests can shop for unique Japanese crafts, Kimono, yukata, happi coats, kokeshi dolls, games, books, Japanese serving ware, ceramics (sake sets and tea sets) and much more. Participating organizations are the Heart of America Japan-America Society, the Greater Kansas City Japan Club and the Independence Sister City Committee.

The Japanese Cultural Village, presented by the Kansas City Japanese School, is packed with fun activities for kids and adults. Young and old attendees will be entertained with many opportunities to experience the “real” Japan here in Kansas City and features Kimono and Samurai armor portraits, face and nail painting, and Japanese bazaar.

MartialArts4 NEWMartial Arts participating schools for 2014 are the Jimmukan Japanese Sword School, After School Judo Academy, Midland Ki Society (Aikodo), Kansas City Kendo Club, Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu and Okinawan Karate.

Other musical acts include the Denver Taiko drummers, Three Trails Taiko, Ki Daiko Olathe High School Taiko Group, and the Ottawa Suzuki Strings Institute. Performing arts groups are Buyo dancer Yoshiko Yamanaka, Kansas State University Yosakoi Dance Group and the Emporia State University Japanese Association Sakura Choir.

TeaCeremony2 NEWAgain, the traditional arts include a tea ceremony demonstration by Yoko Hiraokal. Workshops include bonsai workshops, calligraphy workshops, Japanese conversations, introduction to reading Japanese, origami, Japanese garden design and maintenance, musical lectures including Taiko drumming with the Denver Taiko group, and dance workshops with the K-State Yosakoi Dance Group. The food vendors include some of the area’s favorite Japanese restaurants and grills.

“You could spend four or five hours with us and not be bored,” Lemery says. “Experiment with new food. And of course, the festival is indoors so no matter what the weather, we will be busy.”

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Art Abounds Around the Community With Festivals, Fairs and Art Walks

Westport Art imageART WESTPORT 2014

The Art Westport 2014 show is the 35th for the organization. The annual festival has become a Kansas City tradition. The three-day event will take place in Historic Westport, providing the perfect backdrop for a “Kansas City” Artists Fair. Top artists from around the Metro will line the streets of Westport showcasing their original art, unique jewelry, fine crafts and much more. The dates are Sept. 5-7 with the show opening at 5 p.m. Sept. 5 and closing at 5 p.m. Sept. 7.

BRUSH CREEK ART WALK

The Brush Creek Art Walk is a bit different from a traditional art festival. The uniqueness starts with artists scattered across four miles of Brush Creek, painting and conversing while some musicians play. The goal of the organizers is simple, “to help unify the artists, and the people.” The weekend event is Sept. 12-13.

Then the artists will display their work at the Bruce R. Watkin’s Cultural Center. The opening reception is Oct. 7. The public is invited to view the juried paintings. The art will be on display through Oct. 24.

ANNUAL PLAZA ART FAIR

Plaza Art Fair logoThe 83rd Annual Plaza Art Fair runs Sept. 19 –Sept. 21. One of the largest festivals in the area, the exhibiting artists journey from all over the United States. The exhibitions also include culinary arts and a kids’ art workshop area. Along with the art, there will be three stages for music.

UNPLAZA ART FAIR

This annual fundraiser for PeaceWorks will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 20 and from noon to 5 p.m. Unplaza Art Fair logoSept. 21. The fair is on the grounds of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut, across the street from the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. As the fair enters its 23rd year, volunteers shared that the festival began on the front yard of one of the board member’s yards and has grown to the church grounds. There will be about 75 to 80 artists representing all art media.

SUMMIT ART FESTIVAL

Last year, the former Longview Art & World Music Festival moved to downtown Lee’s Summit and was renamed the Summit Art Festival. For the second year, the festival Oct. 10-12 will again be in downtown Lee’s Summit. “We have really enjoyed the move as the city of Lee’s Summit is encouraging more participation with the downtown district. The city passed a bond to create a festival plaza and we are enjoying the venue,” says Teresa Hogan Summit Art Festival logoKeene, festival director. Keene also runs Got Art Gallery on Third, an independent nonprofit gallery “dedicated to enriching the cultural landscape through art exhibition, arts education and professional artist development.” Keene is a mixed media artist as well.

Keene says artists lead the way on the festival. “We are an art festival created by artists,” she says. “We have support from artists who have been participating in festivals for 30 years. In the past few years, the post-festival response has been so positive. Artists like the hospitality from the festival staff and the businesses are welcoming. We are so fortunate to have Saint Luke’s East Hospital in Lee’s Summit as the presenting sponsor.”

This year, the Summit Art Festival plans on 90 artists from around the country with acceptance letters sent to artists in New York to Las Vegas. “It’s a good mix of style from traditional to contemporary and every media you can expect including fiber art, wood, painters, photography, and jewelry.” Last year, the crowd was estimated at around 25,000 for the three-day event. “With an art festival, the joy is the ability to come in and talk to the artists. Patrons aren’t buying random pieces, but making contact with the artists and learning the story behind the piece. The ability to talk to the artists is a treat and artists who participate in festivals like the interaction.”

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Filmmaker Looks Toward First Full Length Feature

Filmmaker Nicholaus James

Filmmaker Nicholaus James

Nicholaus James has been methodical in building up to his film company. First, he had Romantic Reels, a videography company that films weddings. Then he started Yellobrick Studios. Yes, it’s homage to his Kansas home and the ability to dream and vision in creative ways for corporate clients. Now, he has Puma Pictures. This burgeoning film company under James’ watch has started a full length movie. However, he didn’t begin with a full length feature in mind.

“I had the concept for a short film, but then it grew some and wasn’t quite long enough for a feature,” James says. In the process to make a film, he decided on a crowdfunding concept and put up the idea on Indie Gogo. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to just ask for funds. “I created three shorts to demonstrate what I could do and to tease the movie. While the crowdfunding didn’t bring about as much money as I wanted, it was a great way to share what I can do and what the fine cast and crew can do too.”

Found Wandering Lost cinemascopeFound Wandering Lost is a cinematic drama that asks that follows the lives of two different men:  Ben and Trent. Set in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas, the audience follows the paths of Ben and Trent through their discovery of each other and themselves. Ben is described as a wandering nomad who relies on routine and repetition to find meaning and purpose in life. Trent, on the contrary, takes a more aggressive approach to shaping his life by taking risks that carry either huge rewards or costly consequences. Along the way, other characters enter the journey and the audience gets to decide who is bad and good and what outcomes occur from these decisions.

James understands how decisions can impact lives. Of course, he was 14 years old when he moved from California to the metropolitan area so that decision to move was a little outside of his realm. However, three years before, at the age of 11, James knew he had to be involved in film. “I first thought about being a storyteller/writer, then I discovered HBO First Looks and I was absolutely mesmerized by the lights, monitors, actors and more. In seeing a movie, I would look at the camera and that filter into a magical world and knew I wanted to be part of that. I think it was with James Cameron’s Terminator 2 and the spectacle that hooked me.”

Then his step-father made the decision to show a young James films by noteworthy filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. “I was probably 12 or 13 when I saw these films that were so much more. After all, cinema is the culmination of all the arts. I looked at costumes, sets, the action in the background … I listened to well-crafted dialogue.”

Initially James was interested in theater, but he found the skills he needed on his own. “The three companies I have all require that I have a camera to my eye and I am telling a story.” The story continues with Puma Pictures, a name based on the decision to honor his biological father, Guy Puma. “He got to read the script to Found Wandering Lost before he passed away. That’s important to me.”

As a California native, James spent time in the ocean, climbing mountains or visiting deserts. When he took his first trip through the Flint Hills, he couldn’t believe his eyes that he was still in Kansas. “It was a canvas similar to Sir David Lean’s view of the desert in Lawrence of Arabia. I knew that I had to make my first film in the Flint Hills.”

So the next decision came to make a “road film.” “In many ways, the idea for the film came from Parenthood, the 1989 film, where the grandmother tells Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen’s characters about the peaks and valleys on the rollercoaster. I wanted to look at the two types of lives … those that like the rollercoaster and those that like the merry-go-round.”

Found 2The process to make this film has been organic, James says. “So the path was first to make a short film and that conversation started in 2010. By 2012, I met actor and director Chris Bylsma and knew he had to play Trent. He then acted as a sort of casting director and found Jeffrey Staab to be Ben.” Soon after that, the rest of the cast materialized with Brian Paulette, Davis DeRock, Christie Noel Courville and Jennifer Seward-DeRock. “The crowdfunding effort was humbling as we all put our blood, sweat and soul into the experience. I put my skills and those of the cast and crew on display as we filmed those three scenes. These vignettes, I hoped would answer the reason to support my efforts. I didn’t want to have supporters and audiences make a leap of faith. I wanted to show the talent in town.”

While the crowdfunding efforts didn’t materialize the support James wanted, the desire to make the film is still strong. So in many ways, James is back in a sort of pre-production mode and promises the three vignettes will be added to the film, thus contributing to the organic process. Due to conflicts in schedules, filming won’t move forward until next spring, probably during the spring burning season in the Flint Hills. “It’s another organic step,” he says. “I suspect I will have the film edited and ready for the 2015 fall festival season.”

As for the future, James’ biggest dream is to see Found Wandering Lost play at South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival held in Austin. He also plans to enter the film in several film festivals around the area. “I know the film will be a big success when I get the filmmaking community to give me a nod of approval to this project.”

His personal goal is to have only the one plate spinning with the film division Puma Pictures. “That’s the 10-year plan. Right now, I know I am going back to commercial work and shorts. There’s a second feature bubbling inside, plus I enjoy the collaborative spirit around here. I want to make myself available to other filmmakers. Then of course, as my skills grow, I want to be one of those filmmakers known for keeping my roots. I see filmmakers who honor their home town, why not celebrate our city? It is up to us as filmmakers.”

James believes he has entered the Kansas City film community at the right time. “With the Film Commission reopening and the KC Film Connect group meeting, it just seems like all these groups are on track to help propel our art form on to that national stage. With all the excitement in the arts here, it’s pretty fertile ground.”

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Five Questions with Paul J. Schofer, Kauffman Center CEO

  1. What does it mean to move from CFO to CEO? That combination is an ideal skill set to have.

With so many performing arts institutions across the country in dire financial condition, it is critically important that we continue to ensure the Kauffman Center Paul Schofer Portrait Headshotoperates in a fiscally responsible manner by staying financially in the black and keeping an eye towards long-term financial sustainability.

However, I fully realize that the Center’s financial success to date is primarily due to the generosity of the Kansas City’s arts community — its patrons, donors and incredible arts organizations. In my new role as CEO, I will have significantly more face-to-face interaction with this remarkable community. I am having a lot of fun meeting with people who have a strong passion for the arts and want to ensure the performing arts are available for everyone in our community for generations to come.

  1. Is the key to happiness low overhead and 1,000 volunteers to successfully run the Kauffman Center?

Low overhead and 1,000 volunteers (we’ve now trained more than 1,700) are certainly a great starting point! But the other keys to happiness include strong financials; successful resident and community arts organizations; a passionate team of internal and contract professionals and volunteers; patrons that are not just happy, but are energized and uplifted by their experiences; and children that are inspired – with proud and beaming parents – as we saw so many times at our Future Stages Festival which featured over 500 young performers on our stages. Ultimately, our success involves a community fully engaged in the performing arts with financially strong and sustainable operations and a full spectrum of extraordinary and diverse performing arts experiences that are accessible to everyone in our community.

  1. In learning about the arts in Kansas City, what has piqued your interest so far?

The opportunity to honor and celebrate Kansas City’s impact on the past, present and future of the performing arts. Even early on in our community’s history, celebrated musicians, dancers and theatrical troupes came from all over the world to perform in Kansas City, at times side by side with young and aspiring artists with passions for jazz, classical and contemporary art forms. Today, we are seeing that energy again in the Crossroads Arts District. We can continue to draw international attention by honoring our past, hosting world class performances on stage and simultaneously supporting aspiring artists at events like the Kauffman Center’s Future Stages Festival or with programs such as The GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project (a partnership between Sprint Center, Kauffman Center and The GRAMMY Museum).

  1. Is there a performer or group that’s a personal favorite of yours that you’d like to have at the Kauffman Center?

I met dozens of proud parents at the Kauffman Center’s Future Stages Festival and we have had some incredible performances by youth as part of The GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project. I’ve seen hundreds of children’s faces mesmerized by dancers at the Nutcracker, fascinated by the sounds of the symphony and awestruck by powerful voices of the opera. Nothing could ever please me more than seeing one of these young inspired artists become a headliner at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in 5, 10 or 20 years.

  1. We know it’s never too late to try something new, do you want to dabble in the performing arts? Play an instrument? Learn to dance?

I categorically can’t sing. My wife and kids will readily tell you that I can’t dance… never could dance…. and will never be able to dance! If I were to ever pick up an instrument, it would definitely be the saxophone. From Charlie Parker to Bobby Watson to Dave Koz, I’ve always been a fan of the sax.

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