Seven girls, grade school age, giggle and dance their way out from under their mothers’ arms as soon as the streetcar doors open.
Hundreds of pink streamers catch their attention, and they rush toward the tent behind the Union Station stop.
Soon they’re standing on their tip-toes, dipping their hands and arms into a large tub filled with thousands of brightly colored and scented polymer orbs. Traces of jelly stick to their skin as they turn to their mothers and shout, “Look!” while they continue their chorus of laughter and high-pitched screams of glee.
“The kids don’t need to be convinced — they just jump in,” says Shelby Burchett, a Kansas City-based artist. “That’s what I want to cue people to do. To look up from their phones, from their daily commutes, and to engage like a kid.”
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Burchett’s one-day display, titled “Don’t Wait, Get Lost,” is one of 14 works chosen for this year’s Art in the Loop Project. The project brings local artists and musicians into public spaces, including the Kansas City Central Library, City Market Park and the streetcar and its stops.
This year’s theme is “Cue!”
“An art piece has the potential to cue us as viewers, to cue us to different forms of thinking, to cue us into new ways of looking,” says Jessica Borusky, who curated the show. Nearly 50 artists and 100 musicians competed for spots.
Last year’s installations focused on connection. The newly opened streetcar linked neighborhoods and people over 2.2 miles of Main Street.
This year’s theme takes that a step further, says Ann Holliday, Art in the Loop’s program director. “Downtown has been transforming all around us. Can we cue the visitor, the audience, to notice all these changes to downtown and kind of (cue) people through the artwork to see these fundamental changes?”
None of the installations is what Borusky calls “plop art,” or pieces randomly scattered about the city without a deeper layer of meaning.
For example, a rider stands at the Power & Light southbound stop, and dozens of twisted faces stare back. Bright yellow and red graffiti-style lines transform the plain glass shelter into a collective portrait.
Each face is individual — one smiles gently as another frowns with an eye patch. But each head is connected, flowing seamlessly into one another.
“You wait for the streetcar and continue to look at these faces, and these new qualities, new interrelationships between the things emerge,” Borusky says of JT Daniels’ piece “Wait Here.” “It asks us to reimagine or cues us to rethink our everyday exchanges with one another in a collective or communal form.”
The rider climbs into the streetcar; one rider, standing next to dozens of other riders — both individual and part of something larger. It’s that moment in the streetcar — alone and surrounded — that performance artist Jon Johnson wants to expose in his presentation, “Cue!,” set for Aug. 9.
As passengers board the streetcar at Union Station, four performers will follow close behind. Every ring of the bell, beep of the horn or announcement over the loudspeaker will cue his performers into action. Slowly, their individual movements will form “one braid of movement.”
“On a symbolic level, whether we are red or blue or Muslim or Christian, we all have to work together eventually,” Johnson says. “Everyone runs for the door if they’re late; everyone pushes the button to get out. These are all cues that represent our common existence and humanity.”
“Cue!” started accepting submissions in January, and while the team asked artists to steer away from overt political statements, Holliday says the nation’s division seeped into the artists’ work.
But Johnson says the real magic of his performance and for Art in the Loop as a whole is the thrilling moment when a person finds the unexpected.
On a day trip with his kids to Union Station, Robert Nicholas of Kearney and his three young children stumble upon Burchett’s temporary installation.
His children’s tiny hands grab fistfuls of the squishy orbs and watch them slowly slip through their fingers.
“We try to go to the Nelson, but they want to touch everything at the Nelson, whereas this, it’s perfect for their age to touch it, feel it and experience it firsthand,” says Nicholas, his eye carefully following their every movement. “Art is so important for their development — it’s good for everyone’s.”
Jacob Gedetsis: 816-234-4416, @jacobgedetsis
Art in the Loop Project
The Art in the Loop Project displays 14 art installations and pop-up events as well as a diverse music series through the summer along the streetcar line, and at the Kansas City Central Library and City Market Park. For more information go to artintheloop.com.