Editor’s Letter, September/October 2016

KC Studio editor Alice Thorson, photo by Mark Berndt.

“Art is a way to connect people,” says Jazz Museum Executive Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner in an interview in the current issue. Kositany-Buckner’s remarks are part of our lead story, “Setting the Agenda,” exploring the plans and ideas of eight luminaries who have assumed new or expanded roles at area arts organizations.

Kositany-Buckner’s observation of art’s power to connect strikes an especially important note at a time of fractious election rhetoric and a divided electorate.

The arts offer an antidote, and all of our interviewees seem determined to find ways to use the arts not just to enrich people’s lives, but to bring people together, with the arts serving as a kind of laboratory for strategies that might find application in the larger society.

“Art gets interesting,” says Amy Kligman, new executive/artistic director of the Charlotte Street Foundation, “when people who don’t normally share thoughts and space get together.”

Kligman’s plan to mix things up is part of a concerted move by KC’s arts organizations to broaden audiences and make their programs and exhibits accessible to all. “It’s a museum’s responsibility to make the most esoteric objects accessible to all kinds of audiences,” says Catherine Futter, recently named director of curatorial affairs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

A striking similarity to emerge from our “Setting the Agenda” interviewees is how important their early experiences were in influencing their move to the arts. Kansas City Art Institute President Tony Jones was smitten when he first encountered Impressionism at the age of 12. The Kansas City Ballet’s new ballet master, Parrish Maynard, took his first dance classes at age nine to help improve his diving, but soon found himself hooked on the art form. Kansas City Symphony Assistant Conductor Jason Seber made his conducting debut at a school concert when he was in eighth grade. After that, he never wanted to do anything else.

Early exposure to arts is key to setting a life course, and not just for those who choose the arts. According to Harlan Brownlee, executive director of Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, “The children and young people who participate in the (Ailey) program ultimately learn life skills that will serve them their entire lives and help them to make smart life choices.”

Funding is critical if arts organizations are to fulfill their mission. “It’s a crime,” says Bruce W. Davis, president and CEO of ArtsKC, of the decision by the state of Kansas to defund the arts, a topic also raised by Susan Schmelzer in her column on arts policy.

On the Missouri side, a number of Kansas City’s arts organizations begin the fall arts season with big grants and gifts, including a $2.7 million donation to the Kansas City Symphony from David Beals Charitable Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee, to endow the symphony’s assistant conductor position. The Charlotte Street Foundation received its first National Endowment for the Arts grant ever: a $15,000 award to support its Curatorial Residency Program. And talk about the power of connection — the Mid-America Arts Alliance was awarded a $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for “Creativity Connects: National Demonstration Projects,” which seeks to help artists connect with the business and public sectors.

On the funding front, KC Studio also received some good news. In early summer, the Lighton Fund renewed our grant for online visual arts reviews — and increased it, with the stipulation that the additional funds be used to raise reviewer fees! In addition, an anonymous donor agreed to fund regular theater reviews by seasoned critic Robert Trussell, who has also joined the magazine as a contributing writer.

Trussell’s inaugural contribution to the print magazine is an opinionated overview of the 2016-17 season. With the September/October issue we also launch a new regular column on classical music, “Concert to Come,” by Libby Hanssen, offering an in-depth look at a noteworthy upcoming performance. The KC arts scene is bursting with news — new performance spaces, a museum renovation, an important painting acquisition, a phenomenal gift of artists’ books — and the talent — pianists, playwrights, dancers, performers, filmmakers — doesn’t stop.

CategoriesKC Studio
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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