For those who find the arts a source of sanctuary, experiencing them in an actual sanctuary can be doubly enriching.
And that’s what’s on offer at Westport Presbyterian Church, home to the Westport Center for the Arts. Founded in 2006, the Center regularly presents concerts, theatrical events and art shows featuring leading artists in the region, including guitarist Beau Bledsoe, organist Jan Kraybill and the Doug Talley Quartet.
Built in 1835, the church burned to the ground twice, first in 1903, and again in December 2011. Dedicated on June 26, 2016, the newly rebuilt church, designed and built by BNIM Architects and Al Huber, general contractor, features a dramatically vaulted sanctuary space featuring warm woods, extensive light-sharing windows and stylishly framed stained glass.
Westport Presbyterian Church has a long history of civic and social involvement. During World War II, it sponsored a Japanese student, despite widespread anti-Japanese sentiment. It adopted a Vietnamese family in 1975, and is known for assisting the aged, offering childcare, and managing Meals on Wheels, among other programs. Cultural outreach includes an annual Passover Seder and Native American celebration weekends.
But the church has also stood out for its very strong music and arts component. In 1927, it installed a Reuter pipe organ and held a dedication recital featuring an organist from Notre Dame, Paris. For the church’s 150th anniversary in 1985, a Kimball grand piano was added. In 1990, Charles Bruffy, director of the KC Chorale and the church choir’s tenor soloist, became choir director, a post he held for four and a half years. In 2008, the church presented the area premiere of American composer Alice Parker’s “A Sermon From the Mountain,” a song and spoken word tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
It has produced two CDs of African-American spirituals by tenor Robert Hughes.
At one point, the Kansas City Ballet had its offices and studio in the building, and over the years various dance groups have rented space there. The church held a Sunday school class titled “A Spectrum of the Arts.”
The Center’s signature Brown Bag Series originated in 1994, soon after Rev. Scott Myers became pastor at the church, when Marian Thomas, the organist, suggested a noon-time series for the community and for the children of Willow Woods Child Development Center. Rev. Myers supported the idea to make excellent musical performances available free at the church; the series is now in its 25th season. Thomas directed it for 21 years, then handed the reins to well-known area vocalist and musician Lyra Pherigo, who continues presenting both seasoned artists and those who are newcomers to the Kansas City music scene.
In 2005, Rev. Myers traveled to arts centers throughout the U.S. and Europe on a sabbatical grant to study “Arts and Spirituality.” The following year, the Westport Center for the Arts was formed.
WCA’s programming has included dance groups, a film series, live theatrical readings of both new and classic pieces, art shows and even virtual tours of great art museums. Upcoming theatrical offerings include an April 5-6 production of “Weavings,” by Diane Yeahquo Reyner, a Native American (Kiowa) playwright from Haskell Indian Nations University. June 14-15 brings “Flo,” a one-woman play about legendary local feminist African-American attorney, Florence Kennedy, written by the University of Nebraska’s Peggy Jones. Next, also by Peggy Jones, is “The Journey,” about Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, from Topeka.
For more information, wcakc.org.