Arts task force unveils strategy to raise Kansas City’s cultural profile

Kansas City can claim a vibrant arts community these days, thanks to the efforts of generous philanthropists and grassroots organizers. Now it’s time for City Hall to set a long-range, comprehensive strategy to continue growth and make sure people understand how vital the arts are.

That, essentially, is the message of a new draft “arts convergence” report prepared by the Mayor’s Task Force on the Arts, a volunteer panel announced by Mayor Sly James in February. Some details were unveiled in a news conference Monday at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza branch.

Mike Burke, who leads the task force, said one goal was to determine the role of municipal government in relation to the arts.

“We sense that we are in a very, very special time in Kansas City,” Burke said. “The level of interest, commitment, funding for the arts in Kansas City, the buzz nationally, the reputation we are getting as the arts center in the middle of the country, is truly heartening. That’s why it’s particularly timely that we have a much more strategic plan for … city government and what we do with this.”

Among the report’s recommendations: increasing arts education in schools, doing a better job of informing Kansas City residents about arts availability, developing the arts as an economic-growth tool, beefing up the city’s 1 percent for art program, perhaps raising the amount to 2 percent, and expanding the scope of the Municipal Art Commission.

Other ideas included developing vacant housing for “homesteading” artists, creating a “signature festival” to showcase arts in the region and establishing a new City Office of Creative Services to coordinate arts activities and implement strategies.

Individuals in the audience offered feedback, most of it positive. R. Crosby Kemper III, the director of the Kansas City Public Library, cautioned that too much government interference can have a negative impact on artistic growth.

“Doing too much that is bureaucratic, that is city-controlled, or too much planning defeats the whole purpose of the exuberance and spontaneity that the arts in Kansas City really has experienced over the last few years,” Kemper said.

The full report can be found at