Chances are that the woman had walked into the downtown Central Library for something a little more . . . um, library-ish. More bookish. But there was music in the air, the distinctive stylings of a local threesome jamming on centuries-old instruments, and she settled into a seat to listen in.
It was last September, approaching the end of the fourth season of Art in the Loop offerings in Kansas City. This was one of them, a noontime performance in the Library’s stately, marble-columned Kirk Hall.
The beguiled visitor approached Art in the Loop program director Ann Holliday afterward. “She apparently had no idea what the music was, but it reminded her of what her grandfather used to play. He was from Czechoslovakia or somewhere like that,” Holliday recalls.
“She’d suddenly had this experience she really didn’t anticipate, and to me that’s part of what we’re really about . . . giving people an opportunity to be, like, ‘Wow, look at this art and at life around me.’ And to have this moment they weren’t expecting.”
It’s the Library’s kind of moment, as well.
Libraries nationwide are moving well beyond their traditional role as book repositories, and few have pushed that envelope more than the Kansas City Public Library. Its evening events are nationally renowned, pulling in prominent authors and other speakers and increasingly airing the pressing issues of our times. The Central Library houses two formal art galleries. KCPL’s partnership with Art in the Loop, now in its second year, expands that embrace of civic and cultural engagement.
Its involvement with Art in the Loop actually dates to 2015, when the Library began hosting an annual kickoff event. It added a closing program in 2016 and became a full Art in the Loop partner — playing host to six art and musical performances — last year. They ranged from that eloquent Gerald Trimble and Trio Jambaroque session to the Monty Python-inspired clown walks of Beth Byrd-Lonski.
This summer’s Library offerings were to include such offerings as dance performances and a pick or picks of classical, jazz and hip-hop music, all tied to the Art in the Loop theme of “KC Plays.” Art in the Loop’s 2018 season runs through Sept. 30 and employs two other venues, the downtown streetcar and West Bluffs’ West Terrace Park.
“I really believe in everything Art in the Loop is doing. I think it’s unique. I think it’s innovative. I think it exposes a variety of people — all ages, all socioeconomic groups — who come in and out of the city to all kinds of wonderful, exciting, interesting art,” says Carrie Coogan, KCPL’s deputy director for public affairs and community engagement. “I wanted the Library to be a part of it.
“When I think of our library, our library system, we’re always trying new things. We have yoga on the rooftop. We bring in interesting local and national speakers. Doing an entire summer of a variety of art installations and performances, whether they’re inside the building or outside the building or attached to the streetcar, it’s just one more way of showing that the library — our library — is this wonderful, exciting, innovative place to be.”
That participation is deepened by the handful of artists and other Art in the Loop participants who use KCPL’s historical archives, the Missouri Valley Special Collections, for research and inspiration.
KCPL has forged additional partnerships with the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Kansas City Art Institute, parlaying them into separate series of yearlong exhibits in the Central Library. It also has joined the Crossroads Arts District and the West Bottoms in First Friday observances, holding family-friendly open houses every other month.
Billed as Art Starts at the Library, the two-hour open houses feature live music and children’s activities along with the gallery exhibits. Art in the Loop acts are included in June and August.
Art in the Loop’s Holliday lauds what she calls a mutually beneficial collaboration with KCPL. “I feel like our mission kind of overlaps,” she says.
“If we want to engage people who live, work and visit downtown with each other through artwork, what’s a better place to do that than the Library? We have good attendance. We have good diversity. At every lunchtime performance, at least one person would come up afterward and say, ‘I was coming here to drop off a book or check one out or use a computer. And when I walked by your performance, something about it really touched me and changed my day.’”