Did you know that both Missouri and Kansas have a metropolitan area called Kansas City? Well, I didn’t realize that until three years ago. Before then, the Wizard of Oz was my only visual reference of Kansas, so when I looked around on my drive from the airport, I expected to see flat plains, large rolls of hay and an austere, dull landscape – maybe even a random pair of red shoes and a scarecrow. But nah, it wasn’t even close.
Known for its popular barbecue joints, chic rehabbed districts, growing number of microbreweries, World War 1 Museum, and contributions to the evolution of jazz, Kansas City, Missouri, is trendier and filled with more outlets for arts and culture than you’d think. In fact, in 2012 it was named one of America’s top cities for hipsters by Travel + Leisure.
Venues for art and culture
If you’re into the budding street art scene, head over to 17th and 18th Streets near Locust and Cherry to see wall murals that are big, colorful and bold. Freelance artist Jason Harrington is credited with starting the movement to spruce up the buildings in the area, but paintings are done by people from all over the city. The art changes regularly, so each trip there is likely to unveil new murals.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Named in honor of a founder and editor of the Kansas City Evening Star, William Rockhill Nelson, and Mary McAfee Atkins, the Nelson-Atkins Museum houses close to 40,000 works of art from all over the world. In addition, outside there is also a sculpture garden that showcases an amazing collection of 35+ pieces by many of the 20th century’s finest artists. Installations include monumental bronze works by Henry Moore and the Instaworthy shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Admission is free, but you pay for parking.
American Jazz Museum
Are there any jazz lovers here? After a day of browsing what I considered to be one of the coolest places in Kansas City, I discovered that the 18th and Vine District – not just New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago – was also the base for many pioneering jazz greats who performed at nightclubs that fueled a creative and vibrant music scene in the 30s and 40s. Yes, maestros like Charlie Parker, Big Joe Turner, Jay McShann, Count Basie, and a ton of other jazz icons added their flava to the town’s musical history in a time when separatism was still the order of the day.
If possible, plan your visit late in the day on a Friday afternoon and stay for the Indigo Hour at the onsite jazz club, Blue Room. It features soul-stirring music from local R&B and Neo-Soul musicians from 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm, with no cover charge.
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
For a foray into the performing arts, check their calendar of events and schedule a visit to the impressive Kauffman Center. It’s both a cultural and architectural icon in the city, and it attracts a wide variety of entertainers and performances from around the world. Shows range from ballet and contemporary dance, to Broadway plays, music concerts, opera, comedy shows, and more.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
The Kemper Museum features modern and contemporary works by artists who are well-established, mid-way in their journey, and newbies on the up and up. Staying true to its mission of enriching lives through the display of art in a free and welcoming environment, it also offers access to special exhibitions, installations, workshops and lectures. If you get hungry while browsing the venue, no need to worry. Just saunter into their elegant snack bar, Café Sebastienne, where art, culture and cuisine combine to provide you with a multisensory experience.
And that’s my list! All my favortite places to find art and culture in Kansas City, Missouri, at your fingertips.
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