The new year brings a lot to look forward to: The Kansas City Museum embarks on Stage II of its ambitious restoration, the opening of Kansas City International Airport provides a chance to view an array of new public art commissions, and later in the year comes the opening of the Rabbit HOle, the unique immersive children’s literature museum created by Reading Reptile founders Pete Cowdin and Debbie Pettid.
Even before the Kansas City Museum’s completion of Stage II, which will include the addition of a Skyspace by James Turrell and artist-assisted re-envisionings of the JewelHouse and Carriage House, there is much to enjoy now in Corinthian Hall, the former home of lumber magnate and civic leader Robert Long, and the focus of the museum’s Stage I restoration.
Commissioned artworks from Kansas City ceramic artist Linda Lighton’s intricate chandelier to Kiki Serna’s beautifully installed mixed-media work addressing the theme of immigration enhance the renovated rooms of the mansion, many of which are now serving as gallery spaces for exhibits offering multiple perspectives on the city’s history and residents.
The museum is like a prism, splintering Kansas City’s history into all the hues of the rainbow. Spread over three floors, exhibits on topics ranging from the museum’s Donald Piper Medical Museum collection of implements and artifacts to a history of El Torreon and the Cowtown Ballroom add color and vibrancy to our understanding of the city’s past through more than 400 artifacts and images.
The museum’s executive director, Anna Marie Tutera, has done a standout job of presenting a history that acknowledges, in some cases for the first time, the accomplishments and contributions through the years of diverse residents, as seen in multiple exhibits. They include the engaging “Our City, Our Stories,” presenting the personal stories of 21 Kansas Citians from racially, ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds. Something to look forward to in 2023 is the opening of the “Elixir” soda fountain, offering food and beverages on the lower level of Corinthian Hall. Elixir joins such visitor amenities as the museum shop and a billiard room.
Like the Kansas City Museum, the new KCI will serve as a showcase for Kansas City’s artistic talent, with 19 of the 28 commissioned works created by artists who live here or have ties to the city. James Martin, Kansas City’s public art administrator, has spearheaded the $5.65 million one percent for art project since its inception; the installation phase is being overseen by the aviation department’s new arts program coordinator, Mark Spencer. Spencer is a figure well-known to the arts community from his previous positions as director of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph, and director of the Hallmark Art Collection, among other posts. Spencer is also an artist, with an intimate understanding of all that is involved in getting a piece from conception and execution to public view.
Of all the cultural institutions to take shape in the past three decades, the new Rabbit HOle museum of children’s literature, set to open in fall 2023 following the completion of the final phase of its $15 million capital campaign this winter, may represent the greatest feat of imagination and intellect on behalf of children. Conceived and constructed by artists in consultation with leading children’s book authors, the self-billed Explor-a-storium will bring favorite children’s books to life through immersive exhibits enabling visitors to walk through their favorite stories and interact with their favorite characters, in addition to presenting a full roster of programs and events.
Seven years in the making and dedicated to “build(ing) on the power of books to facilitate empathy and critical thinking,” the Rabbit HOle has already achieved a national reach, with a national advisory council of leading authors and illustrators and endorsements from “virtually every major publisher in the industry.” With plans for “award-winning authors and illustrators from around the world (to) visit The Rabbit hOle as collaborators, presenters, and mentors,” it is poised to become a major gathering place for the field and a big draw for out-of-town visitors as well as area residents.