In May, the Kansas City Symphony returned to live performances in Helzberg Hall in advance of a 2021/2022 season of in-person concerts at full capacity with no mask requirements. In June, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opened a no-holds-barred show of Kansas City African American artists. The Blue Room reopened. The Lyric Opera, KCRep, Kansas City Melting Pot and other local theaters released their fall schedules. So did the Harriman–Jewell Series, Friends of Chamber Music, Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and JCCC’s Midwest Trust Center, including a September performance of New Dance Partners.
Things are beginning to feel “normal.”
Despite the disruption, the pandemic saw a big uptick in free outdoor and online performances aimed at viewers throughout the city. The “Black Lives Matter” street murals brought increased attention to the work of Kansas City’s Black artists, as did “Jazz and the Black Aesthetic” at the American Jazz Museum, and “There are Black people in the future,” a collaborative window installation at Goethe Pop Up Kansas City.
If the momentum is maintained, those positives will make for a richer and more inclusive post-pandemic art world.
The past year also saw some major changes — and losses. In August, JoAnne Northrup takes the helm at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art following the December 2020 departure of founding executive director and chief curator, Bruce Hartman. The art world mourns the loss of two extraordinary woman philanthropists: Estelle Sosland and Barbara Marshall, who enriched the culture of Kansas City with their notable contributions to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas City Art Institute and The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. Recent months also saw the passing of Kansas City artists Sid Garrison, Robert Fletcher and Russell Easterwood, who are remembered in this issue by writer Elisabeth Kirsch.
It promises to be a summer of renewed activity, with exhibits and performances at the Charlotte Street Foundation’s magnificent new headquarters at 3333 Wyoming, which opened in June following a year’s delay from the pandemic. Starlight is back up and running, but alas, no Heart of America Shakespeare Festival this year. The Blackbox in West Bottoms is filling its calendar, and Kemper Museum was finally able to open its long-planned Rafael Lozano-Hemmer show, which should be tops on the list for those seeking an immersive art experience. The visual arts community is also looking forward to the announcement of artists selected from the third call for art for the new Kansas City International Airport single terminal project. It is limited to artists who live in the Kansas City metro area — or ones with ties to Kansas City.
And this summer, art lovers can take trips again. The Pulitzer Arts Foundation has a destination exhibit with its presentation of “Chloë Bass: Wayfinding”, an outdoor installation of evocative sculptures inspired by public signage. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., also has a new outdoor attraction: a 20 x 20 x 20-foot living greenhouse by Rashid Johnson (whom readers may remember from his 2017 show at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art), in the museum’s North Forest.