The Arts in Kansas City Have a Friend in Mayor Quinton Lucas

“To Me, Arts and Culture are Essential”

KC Studio: In your opinion, how important are the arts in defining the image of Kansas City and our quality of life here?

Mayor Lucas: Art is what makes this community special. I think KC without the arts is like barbecue without the sauce. It is vital for us in every neighborhood that people know about culture, history, the future and how to dream. I think the arts, in all their forms, encapsulate that.

KC Studio: What is your favorite piece of public art in the city?

Mayor Lucas: The dangos by Jun Kaneko near Bartle Hall, on the south end. Those beautiful sculptures by Kaneko are absolutely outstanding. I have loved them from the day they went up there. I wish we had more.

KC Studio: What is your dream for 18th and Vine, and what steps will your administration take to realize it?

Mayor Lucas: You know, the Stevie Wonder song “Someday at Christmas” (laughter). I want someday at Christmas for 18th and Vine shops to be full of people walking around. We’ll have different entertainment venues there.

I think what we need to do is to build up the entertainment venues for the performing arts. More organically — it can’t just be city funded. What we really need is to allow more private development and more spaces. Some of that will require money, but more will be letting the private sector take over.

One of the biggest challenges is, too often, and I say this having been on the city council, you have to go through some political actors to get things done. Hopefully, we are past that, and we can now say that if you have an idea, we can help, but we are not here to tell you how to do it or what to do.

KC Studio: Do you envision the city mounting another big arts festival during your tenure, and what would you do differently from the last one?

Mayor Lucas: Everything.

I’d pay the people on time.

When you get elected to these positions, it’s real easy to say, “They pulled this off in New Orleans. So, I’ll just hire the person who did it there so they can do it the same here.”

What you don’t do is neglect to build it organically from the community. The problem with Open Spaces was that it was largely top down. Some donors thought it was a good idea, and the city decided that it would play the role of a very wealthy donor, basically, and just make it happen.

What you did not hear was how this was truly a collaboration with neighborhoods, or that local artists not only were thought about after the event was announced but were listened to first.

So, what I would say would be different in the future is that I would — and I hope that I have someone my staff that would — go and spend six months to a year listening to what the arts community wants. Not what art benefactors want, but what do the artists want, and see what we can do to try to build some scale. That’s what that is supposed to be about. It is not supposed to be about “Quinton Lucas wants this thing to happen.”

KC Studio: Do you see a role for the arts in steering youth away from gun violence and supporting the school system?

Mayor Lucas: Yes, I do. Last fall, I was at the funeral of a cousin that got shot and killed. (He was) 18 years old. He went to Paseo High School but dropped out after his junior year. He was really into the miming performance. Some of those performances were at his funeral.

For me, art allows somebody to get engaged in something, and it’s not just a diversion, but something that can become a passion. What if that young man — Tyler was his name — were to have someone to tell him to “keep doing this” or expand his interest in the arts. I think it would have made a world of difference for him and for many others.

To me, arts and culture are essential the same way that people talk about sports and getting a job. Frankly, it allows somebody to do something while keeping their street cred. We spend so much time telling someone to “be somebody,” but we are really telling them to “find a way to get out of this neighborhood.” We need to tell them: “You can be in this neighborhood, of this culture . . . but also be safe by engaging in an activity that is fruitful, like engagement in the arts.”

KC Studio: Do you think the art to be commissioned for the new airport under the One Percent for Art program will be an important marker of Kansas City’s cultural identity? And is the city prepared to provide the Municipal Art Commission with the support needed to administer the commissioning process?

Mayor Lucas: On the first part of the question, I would answer, “I hope so.” On the second, I’ll be way too honest. I don’t know yet. This community often finds itself in moments of “How committed do we want to be?” People hated the “Sky Stations” on Bartle Hall, but now they have become an important part of our community. People had interesting relationships with the Nelson-Atkins “Shuttlecocks,” but now they are an important part of our community. I would hope that we would take the same opportunity to be ambitious this time.

There is a commission. There will be a vote. It will be political. I just hope that, as we talk about politics, we say that the One Percent for Art program isn’t just about making the arts an afterthought at the end of a project. What it needs to be is: How can this be central, not just to our project, but to our region? Certainly, that’s the way I’m going to weigh it.

KC Studio: And what about the city providing the Municipal Art Commission with the support needed to administer the commissioning process?

Mayor Lucas: To quote Julius Caesar, “the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves.” The question for us is really this: Is the community willing to say that this is important and vital to us as a project? What I mean by that is, that in the same way we talk about how important that local workforce is, in the same way we talk about how important it is that we have the project done before the NFL draft, are we going to say, and are we going to give political cover to those who might say, “Yeah, I’m gonna hold up the project to make sure we are actually working on a One Percent for Art project that we can be proud of.” I think if we are willing to do that ourselves, then we will receive something we can be proud of. If we’re thinking of it as an afterthought, we may not.

KC Studio: What music is on rotation in your iPod (or MP3) player?

Mayor Lucas: Man, I’ve got some very, very, old stuff. It’s easier to run to. So, I have a Motown hits thing on my iPod and so that’s got the Four Tops. I’ve got some Diana Ross and all that. It’s good, real good. Marvin Gaye is in there (singing) “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”

KC Studio: Kansas City has a vibrant art scene with many organizations supporting the development of local artists. What part will your administration play in growing the local art scene and supporting our local artists?

Mayor Lucas: First of all, I am an arts enthusiast. I have built a collection over the years. I like to buy art from the Kansas City Artists Coalition. I’ve been going to the coalition’s auctions for the last 10 or 11 years. I got a big confusing Lincoln portrait that I love to stare at. It’s one of those pieces that tells you more than you would think, and it actually challenges the viewer. I’ve also got ceramics. I think: ‘I can’t just show up at the Nelson-Atkins and act like I’ve done something.’ I think (doing something) is supporting local artists. I think it’s supporting neighborhoods, and one thing I would be dedicated to is remembering what the Neighborhood Tourist and Development Fund is about. It’s about creating opportunities for every member of every neighborhood and community to have exposure to the arts and show others their arts and entertainment. Frankly, I’m going to make sure we always support that.

All my art is from local artists. One of my favorite pieces is a large pencil sketch drawn in 1990. It looks at the city from downtown south. I’ve got an abstract that hangs in my bedroom. It is an explosion of colors that I love looking at. In my living room, I have a wall-size abstract piece that is like a collage. I have a small statuette. All local artists.

I have large plants at home that interact with my art to create a real cool space.

KC Studio: There are many good places in KC for live music. What are some of your favorites?

Mayor Lucas: I like places that are more relaxing. I like the Phoenix. I used to hit the (Mutual Musicians) Foundation, but I can’t stay up late anymore. I went to this place the other day, up in the Northland right next to Screenland Armour. That, for example, is what I want for 18th and Vine. I went to a movie and was looking for a bite to eat, and there it was.

That is what I think the arts should be about. We need to create opportunities like that. Places where people can hear the music outside. That’s what makes it cool. We need more opportunities like that in Kansas City — opportunities to experience the moment.

KC Studio: Finally, KC is considered one of the premier stops in the nation for food. What are some of your favorite places to enjoy culinary art in Kansas City?

Mayor Lucas: I kind of find a place and go a lot. I got a PotPie over on Southwest Trafficway and Westport Road. Always good, interesting fare. Proving that culinary art can be so diverse. M&M bakery. Just go and get a sandwich. See what the vibe is there. As a Chiefs fan, I find the Arrowhead parking lot always has good food.

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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