Editor’s Letter, March/April 2023

KC Studio editor Alice Thorson, photo by Mark Berndt.

Writers are the lifeblood of “KC Studio,” not just for the articles they contribute, but for the ideas they propose. They also serve as eyes and ears on the ground of Kansas City’s vibrant cultural scene, discovering new talent and lesser-known ventures worthy of a deeper look.

In recent months we have been happy to welcome several new young voices to our pages, including Emily Spradling, Carmen Fanning, Alexej Savreux and Ashley Lindeman, as well as established author Pete Dulin. We are also pleased to have experienced reviewers Vivian Kane and Victor Wishna contributing online reviews of theater in the wake of Robert Trussell’s decision to confine his contributions to print.

These new voices join our longtime roster of veteran former “Kansas City Star” critics and freelancers, along with many other accomplished writers we have added over the years, whose background and achievements are chronicled on the Contributors Page in every issue. Their combined knowledge and expertise have established “KC Studio” as the authoritative source for all things cultural in KC.

In the March/April issue we are pleased to announce the launch of two new series, “The Art of Blackness,” by artist and contributing writer Harold Smith, and “In praise of,” by award-winning Kansas City writer Andrew Johnson.

Smith’s idea for “The Art of Blackness” has its roots in his Black hair braiding story in our July/August 2019 Artist Pages, and his realization of how much African American art and expression is rooted in both the arts of Africa and the experience of slavery.

In the case of braiding, he notes, “In ancient Africa, styles and patterns of braids were used to indicate social status,” while “during slavery, maps leading to freedom were often braided into the hair.”

In the current issue, Smith explores the history and development of gospel music in Kansas City, celebrating the icons of the art form and tracing its roots in Africa and ties to slavery. In future issues he will examine the arts of soul food, Black preaching, Black fashion and the two step, a Black dance form very popular in Kansas City.

“KC Studio” contributing writer Calvin Wilson pronounced Andrew Johnson’s second book, “The Thread,” “enthralling” when he reviewed it on our November/December 2022 issue. “Johnson reclaims prose and poetry as means to connect with the experience of being human,” Wilson concluded. “And in these times dominated by misinformation, confusion and rage, that’s no small thing.”

With the launch of “In praise of,” “KC Studio” readers will be able to regularly peruse the personal essays that Johnson describes as “an affirmation of humanity in response to daily encounters and experiences.” Following his inaugural essay in praise of sweeping, the author will traverse topics ranging from owls to okra. Each essay will be accompanied by an original drawing by award-winning Kansas City artist Ruben Castillo, winner of a 2023 Charlotte Street Visual Artist Award, along with Sun Young Park and Sean Nash.

We fell in love with Castillo’s work five years ago, when he contributed a series of ink wash drawings and etchings of ordinary domestic objects — including a tender image of his and his partners’ pillows — to our November/December 2018 Artist Pages. He was our first choice when we decided to approach an artist about doing an accompanying illustration for Johnson’s new column; you can see his visual response to Johnson’s first essay on page 51.

The March/April issue went to press as Kansas City celebrated the Chiefs’ victory at the Super Bowl and the lead up to Valentine’s Day, which the American Jazz Museum celebrated with a Feb. 11 performance of love songs and animated repartee by singer/songwriter Eric Roberson at the Gem Theater, where, to much laughter, he playfully scolded latecomers and called out couples who weren’t showing enough Valentine spirit. Boasting some of the best concert seating in the area, the place was packed to the rafters, evidence that the grip of the pandemic is finally loosening. Roberson appeared as part of the museum’s Jammin’ at the Gem concert series, which will present Artemis March 18 and SF Jazz Collective April 1.

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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