Fail better. The arts in Kansas City had a pretty phenomenal year, some huge achievements, some huge, disastrously phenomenal events, but a big impact and plenty of challenges to meet in 2018. We can’t overcome the deaths of people important to us, like Michelle Boisseau, but how fortunate for those who knew them and how we can still learn from them and have their influence resonate in the community, and world, for years to come.
I happily engaged in a panel for KCUR’s Central Standard to discuss some important events of 2017 in the arts, with host Gina Kaufmann, KCUR arts reporter/editor CJ Janovy, poet and educator Glenn North, poet and writer and artist and actor Jose Faus, discussing the death and legacy of Michelle Boisseau, the distinction of Kansas City as a UNESCO “Creative City,” a shout out to the new endeavor by trombonist Marcus Lewis of Brass & Boujee (on my list to see in 2018), the exhibit “Magnetic Fields” at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyric Opera of Kansa City’s “Everest,” KKFI Collaborations Live!, artists Calvin Arsenia, Summerfest, and more, with a brief mention of the financial disaster of the KC Jazz and Heritage Festival (artistically, it must be said, the art form was well represented).
I don’t typically write up year end reviews, but I was happy to have the opportunity to reflect on the year, even if I didn’t bring up, perhaps, the biggest change in the arts for me.
No more reviewing.
This was a complicated topic, something I described to someone as “a weird story on a small scale.” In August, The Kansas City Star decided to stop covering classical music and dance, for the most part. They still run the occasional story, and the weekly Sunday column of 600 words or so, plugging three or so concerts with an events calendar, but reporting on events for the public record as they happened, “reviewing” if you will, isn’t something they do anymore. It is the natural course of events, really, coming at the time when they were selling their historic building, continuing the reduction and redistribution of long time staff and desperately trying to stay relevant in the changing digital landscape. Like most major publications, they have reduced arts coverage steadily over the past decade, starting when the decision was made to delete the position of full time classical music and dance journalist. Other full time positions have also been guillotined, and no longer covering the arts in a critical way is not a surprise. Of course, they aren’t the only ones undergoing change.
I contacted some other organizations to see about reviewing for them, but no one I spoke with was interested in reviews. No one. And they have the metrics to back it up. Reviews aren’t read as widely as other pieces, especially when they aren’t meatily cruel, which is fun to read for the lay person, but not so much is reasoned, respectful, descriptive and critical words, which, even if I didn’t hit the mark every time, at least was my goal when writing.
It was a hard pill to swallow. I loved having the opportunity to see a wide variety of performances and performance styles, to investigate art forms I never studied in school, to learn weekly, to challenge what I thought about what I thought I knew. It was humbling and difficult and time consuming and an incredible learning experience I never thought, when I started putting up little write-ups on my little blog, that I would devote myself to that sort of writing for years.
But spending more time with my kids made it far less hard, getting more sleep made it far less hard, being less stressed made it far less hard, and the fact that everyone I spoke to was interested in working with me for other projects, other than reviewing, not to say anything of having more time to pursue my personal writing goals. So, ok, really.
Whether or not the arts are reported on in this town, actually reported, not just what the artists hope and intend will happen (what you read about in advance pieces), the artists themselves will continue to create. And, since it’s the 21st century, they don’t have to rely on the written record to document or share their work, what with recording devices available on everyone’s phones and social media available to disseminate it. And while there are fewer opportunities for critical discourse, I luckily still have the opportunity to write about them, which I enjoy to no end and hope and intend to do for awhile yet.
Looking back over an excellent year, I had a laundry list of about 20 or so favorite events. Interestingly, most of them were solo moments, surprising moments, when one person spoke intimately to a close group of hundreds, in no particular order.
- José Cortéz Fernandez, singing a gypsy song of grief following the Barcelona attack, with Ensemble Iberica’s show “Roma.”
- Calvin Arsenia at KKFI Collaborations Live
- Jeff Black at KKFI Collaborations Live
- Michael Kirkendoll performing Erik Satie’s Vexations for 11 hours at the Kemper Museum, embedded in Rashid Johnson’s Hail We Now Sing Joy.
- Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan performing Giovanni Sollima’s Lamentatio as encore to his performance with the Kansas City Symphony.
- Botero Ensemble’s “Morena” show at the 1900 Building.
- Janet Cardiff’s 40 Voice Motet at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I visited three times.
- The Summerfest performance of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio.
- Kansas City Baroque Consortium’s summer series “Between Summer and Light.”
- Kansas City Symphony performing Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem.”
- Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Pirates of Penzance and Everest.
- MTH and PLBB An Evening with George Gershwin.
- Bach Aria Soloists “Don Quixote”
- Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile “Bach Trios”
- Coterie Theatre “We Are In A Play” (we are big Mo Willems fans)
- “Lefty & Crabbe” at The Living Room
- New Dance Partners
- KCRep’s “Between the Lines”
- Inaugural Trombone Christmas at Union Station (that was memorable)
Notable: Kenny Broberg, graduate student at Park University, winning silver at the Van Cliburn Competition, and the excellent work continually produced by the Irritable Hedgehog label.
And, while we’re at it, some must-sees in 2018:
- Brass & Boujee, as mentioned before.
- Lyric Opera As One
- Contemporary Music Festival, May’s first Friday
- Quince Contemporary Vocal Quartet
- KCBallet New Moves, and the 60th Anniversary Dance Festival
- Bach Aria Soloists “Night of Tango”
- Bernstein events with the Kansas City Symphony
- Open Spaces Festival
- …and many more.