Yes, the Arts Scene is on the Ropes, But It Won’t Be a Total Knockout

Fall Brings a Handful of Live Music Offerings and Online Efforts Galore

In an overture, you hear themes and harmonic threads, little hints leading into the drama and suspense of the main event. Consider these last six months the overture.

In July, the Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Harriman-Jewell Series cancelled their Kauffman Center performances until January 2021. In the weeks that followed, many organizations similarly pushed back their planned 2020 programs, including the Friends of Chamber Music and Kansas City Chorale.

Though these organizations made the safe and responsible decision for their audiences and performers, this was the second big blow to Kansas City’s performing art scene, following March’s citywide shutdown. It felt like a sucker punch to the arts community, pummeled all these long weeks by risk and fear and uncertainty.

On top of that, the CARES Act unemployment boost expired in July. Some arts organizations are laying off staff. Inevitably, some organizations will close. Performing artists are retooling old resumes to fit into corporate molds.

Yes, the arts scene is on the ropes, but it won’t be a total knockout.

“Overture,” an opening or introduction, shares the same root word with aperture, meaning hole or open space. If you look at it from a different angle, the current situation is not one of complete devastation, a pit of despair, but rather an opportunity, a space of possibility. Versatile, nimble, and innovative artists will emerge from this time with new and refined skills, previously unimaginable opportunities and fresh and excited audiences, bonded in a time of crisis.

The arts scene will look different six, 12, 18 months from now, and, perhaps, so much the better. Traditionally, our arts “season” takes us over the winter months, when the natural world lays fallow, dormant, storing energy and shedding dead weight. In these times of risk and stress, it’s OK to not push to create right now.

What if, instead of seeing this as lost time, we consider a forward vision, to view this season as an opening, not a dead spot.

Like the rest of the country, classical music and dance must contend with its heritage: elitist, colonizing, racist, misogynistic and mired in a vision of an unattainable past.

With forced dormancy, it is a moment for artists and especially organizations to deeply examine their values, their place in the community, and how their art will contribute to a more racially just world.

A common cliché is that art can transform, but now it’s time to transform our art.

As we’ve seen over the past months, there are many ways to perform and enjoy music, safe ways, ways to connect with each other, to put some joy back in life and share in togetherness.

With touring unsafe, performances have turned hyper-local. We’ve seen shows at parks, gardens, parking lots, farmers markets and newly contrived outdoor venues; driveways and drive-ins; on porches, out windows, and from the rooftops. Fortunately, the weather in September and October is usually beautiful in Kansas City, so these options avail themselves for a few months longer.

Concerts to Come

There are a few anticipated concerts still on the docket as of mid-July.

Back in June, Opus 76 string quartet took the opportunity to “break the silence,” as they considered it, with one of the first indoor/in-person classical music performances as soon as allowed, modeling strict and clear social distancing guidelines for themselves and their audience. If all goes to plan, in September they’ll continue their Kansas City Beethoven String Quartet Cycle with concerts each Saturday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, finishing with a performance Sept. 26 at Johnson County Community College’s Carlsen Center. JCCC has a plan for safe and socially distanced seating, too, and the concert will also be streamed online, www.opus76.org.

Likewise, the Carlsen Center’s presentation of New Dance Partners will be online. As of press time, conversations with choreographers and dance companies were still ongoing, but they hope to feature a retrospective from past seasons in September, with the 2020 new works premiering online later in the season, www.jccc.edu.

Park University’s International Center for Music will host their annual Stanislav & Friends performance as a filmed concert at the Boulevard Drive-In big screen on September 17. The same concert will be available virtually between September 25 and 27, www.icm.park.edu.

Though the details are still in the works, newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble plans to record their concerts in September and December to share online.

We’ll see more artists relying on digital content, or hybrid setups, with live streams available for those who cannot or will not attend an in-person event. New and archival performance videos, documentaries, podcasts, album releases and online classes all contribute to a fulfilling online arts experience, supported through Venmo, Paypal, Patreon and other means, as we continue to navigate these dual worlds. Following and supporting these endeavors goes a long way to supporting a healthy arts scene in the long run.

There’s really no way to tell what events will happen or to conjecture what new ideas may take shape. We’ve heard the themes of our times, and in the next movement we’ll see their development, as the Kansas City arts scene, though battle-scarred, emerges anew.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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