Destination Kansas City

The heritage of Kansas Citians is to define themselves by the landscapes they create, not by the ones they inherit.

Culture & the Arts

In many ways, the status of metropolitan Kansas City’s culture and art is symbolized by the potentially outstanding, but still in process, Metropolitan Performing Arts Center.

Center supporters are focused on raising the final $50 million of their $300 million fund drive.

Yet the underlying story is that the effort continues, and judging by Kansas City area history, it will succeed. The current location—the original location—is the commanding hill south of Bartle Hall that will provide a world-class setting for the design, a stunning series of glass arches.

A somewhat similar episode surrounded the nearly completed expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. In 1997, the Nelson launched a $200 million capital campaign to support an extraordinary campus enhancement project as well as provide permanent endowments for enhanced education and outreach initiatives. The enhancement project involves a 165,000-square-foot expansion designed by internationally acclaimed architect Steven Holl. Unlike the Performing Arts Center, where location and cost are issues, the Nelson expansion has stirred some discussion because of its design, glass cubes that flank the more traditional museum. Although the final results have served to curtail some of the rancor, especially when viewed at night, the episode is another example of the area’s sometimes love-hate relationship with its art and culture.

Whether it’s giant shuttlecocks on the Nelson lawn, modern art “hair curlers” atop of Bartle Hall or imaginative floor patterns at Kansas City International Airport, Kansas City loves its art, but also loves to critique it. Even the city’s miles of boulevards and fountains (the latter reportedly second only to the those of Rome), come in for occasional criticism.

But whether you appreciate efforts at public art such as Barney Allis Plaza or loath some of the corporate displays, there is one point that stands out: KC is second to few comparably sized communities in its efforts to create a cultured and elegant environment. Perhaps because the seemingly endless Great Plains, huge rivers and an often-overwhelming natural backdrop surround them, Kansas Citians have historically worked hard and effectively to cultivate the arts and culture.

Coming with Kansas City’s multi-billion-dollar construction surge, the area’s arts and culture have been heralded as a renaissance. Indeed, the Nelson and Performing Arts efforts are equal in size to any current campaigns in the country.

Nor are the efforts limited to one or two projects. Across the street from the Nelson is the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Nearby, the Henry Moore Sculpture Garden leads to the beautifully restored Brush Creek where virtually all of the new buildings set new standards for  design. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Discovery Center, the Ewing and Muriel McBrien Kauffman Memorial Gardens and of course the Country Club Plaza are only some of the other examples.

In the performing arts, Kansas City lists the Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, Kansas City Chorale, Kansas City Camerata and the Friends of Chamber Music. Theater here includes the Lyric Opera, Folly Theater, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, New Theatre, Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College, Unicorn Theatre, Quality Hill Playhouse and American Heartland Theatre.

Nor is KC the only representative in this scenario. Nearby Topeka and Lawrence, Ks., especially offer outstanding arts and cultural activities.