Important moments big and small dotted the cultural landscape of Kansas City in 2016.
Take the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, for example.
“The Temptation of St. Anthony,” an oil-on-wood panel previously assigned to the workshop of Hieronymus Bosch, in February was authenticated as having been painted by Bosch himself by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project.
The news was, in the political parlance of the day, huge.
“Scholarship and scientific research established without a doubt it was from the hand of the master,” said Nelson director Julián Zugazagoitia. “It’s like rediscovering a piece you didn’t know you had.”
At the same time, the Nelson made what may have been the smallest change that had an impact on museum visitors.
“You’re going to laugh,” Zugazagoitia said. “I am very proud that we put a table outside the museum shop. It has expanded how many people buy books. That was very little, but it had a great impact.”
That would be no surprise to Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books. She says 2016 was the year the printed book rebounded.
“E-books are so soft right now,” she said. “Do people read them for travel or change the size of the type or something like that? Yes. But the book is back. Big time.”
Jennings brought in a slew of celebrity authors this year, from “Breaking Bad” actor-turned-author Bryan Cranston (“He was just delightful,” Jennings said) to Fox News host Megyn Kelly (“So gracious”).
A big one got away, however. Jennings said she had the opportunity to bring in Bruce Springsteen to sign copies of his biography, “Born to Run.”
“They wanted us to do the event in the middle of the day at the store,” she said. “We felt like logistically that was not going to be a good experience for our customers. We were sad about it, but we decided to decline.”
Pop music helped bring a huge crowd to “Bravo KC!,” the Kauffman Center’s fifth anniversary spectacular in September.
“We went in thinking it would be nice if 2,000 to 2,500 people showed up,” said Kauffman Center president and CEO Paul Schofer. “We lost track after 10,000.”
Schofer said he was thinking about the year’s programming recently and was impressed at how the community responded to such diverse acts. The center started the 2016-17 performance year in July with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Then just a few weeks ago, the hip-hop/classical duo Black Violin performed at Kauffman. Both shows — and many others — sold out.
“For Black Violin, there was a sold-out evening performance and a sold-out matinee with 1,600 kids in there,” he said. “I’m betting dozens if not hundreds of parents after that show heard their kids say, ‘I want to take violin lessons.’ ”
The Symphony set records for both attendance and ticket revenue, with ticket purchasers from all 50 states and six foreign countries, said executive director Frank Byrne.
“Year 1 in the Kauffman Center was obviously a moment of great excitement,” Byrne said. “To have sustained that and to have broken even those records is a considerable accomplishment.”
The Ballet followed up its 2015 debut of an all-new “The Nutcracker” with a first-time full-length production of “Swan Lake” in February.
“This was a huge undertaking and required a full, spectacularly cohesive corps de ballet of 24 swans,” said artistic director Devon Carney. “It also required very strong leading female dancers in the famous dual role of Odette/Odile and the leading male role of Prince Siegfried. All of these challenges were met head on with confidence and aplomb.”
The Lyric Opera welcomed its inaugural class of resident artists, assembled a production of “The Marriage of Figaro” with three other companies around the country and began “Explorations,” a series of intimate works in eclectic spaces.
“I am particularly proud of our Schubert/Beatles program, which was an inspirational program for all who could join us,” said Lyric CEO and general director Deborah Sandler.
Meanwhile, Stephane Scupham, film manager for Visit KC, is thrilled that the City Council passed the KCMO Film Development Program this year by a unanimous vote.
“When I do go to other cities like Los Angeles and New York, I’m always asked, ‘What are your incentives?’ ” she said. “Before, I would have to say, ‘We don’t have any active incentives right now’ or ‘I have some soft incentives, let’s talk about those.’ But now I can say, ‘We do have something. Let’s talk about that.’ It positions Kansas City in league with other cities that have something to offer.”
Scupham helped lure several productions to town, from the independent film “All Creatures Here Below,” starring KC native David Dastmalchian and Tipton, Mo., native David Koechner, to the MTV series “Unlocking the Truth.”
“Since January 1, I’ve assisted more than 200 projects, and that exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I set a goal for myself of 175, and the count right now is 230. Producers start looking for homes when they come work here. That’s happened more than once. It’s so awesome.”
Kansas City Repertory Theatre artistic director Eric Rosen had a personal success in seeing his own play, the intimate “Lot’s Wife,” staged by the Rep.
But the Rep’s biggest event of 2016 was its production of “Evita,” with an all-Latino cast. The show was a smash, Rosen said.
“It made it incredibly fun to be in the theater with an audience that looked ever more like Kansas City,” he said.
Nationally, theater took center stage with “Hamilton,” which proved to be not only a huge pop culture phenomenon but also the spark of a larger political conversation when the cast addressed Vice President-elect Mike Pence after a performance in November. Rosen said “Hamilton” was a highlight in an otherwise dark year.
“I think there’s some optimism that the theater will become more relevant in 2017,” he said. “People will want to come together more and be around people who are not exactly like them. I think that’s the promise of the theater: To get a bunch of different people in a room to hear the same story. There’s something very comforting and something very American about that.”