We can now check off one of the city’s top priorities in an effort to boost City Hall’s involvement in the arts.
Kansas City officials this week announced the hiring of Megan Crigger as director of creative services. She will serve as the city point person to coordinate programs, facilitate relationships among organizations and communities, and spark inventive approaches to arts education and involvement across the area.
Crigger has served in a similar capacity in recent years for the city of Austin, Texas. She will start the new job in January.
Her hiring has sparked considerable enthusiasm in our local arts quarters.
“First,” says Lisa Cordes, director of Artist INC. in Kansas City, “she loves art and artists — she’s smart. I think she understands what city government can do to affect the operating environment for the arts and what that can do for the larger community. Plus, she’s just a sweetheart of a human — practical, funny, hardworking.”
Well, that sounds promising.
Just recently, Crigger’s office administered the Artist INC. program in Austin, under which 25 local artists gained training in entrepreneurship and business skills.
“Megan was instrumental in making that happen,” Cordes said.
Crigger was one of about 100 applicants who surfaced in a national search. I talked with her this week, and she seems eager to get going. Her husband, Paul Crigger, hails from Kansas City, so it’s kind of a homecoming, she said.
Her patter certainly coincides with the local conversation about leveraging Kansas City’s image as a “creative crossroads” and using the arts at every level to help spur the region’s economic vitality.
“While every city in the country is talking about using the arts as a driver,” Crigger said, “every city has unique players.”
That means, for example, instead of trying to replicate what’s been done elsewhere, the real task is to identify the creative forces and institutions and needs of Kansas City and how to bring them together to work on mutual goals.
A focus on arts education, for example, was certainly one of the main interests expressed in the so-called “arts convergence” report submitted by a mayoral task force last year.
What that looks like in terms of providing more access to the arts to disadvantaged students has yet to be specified. But Crigger has experience, for example, generating and collaborating on education efforts that bridged the Kennedy Center in Washington and Austin area school districts.
Such programs aim to engage and retain students through “quality arts learning” in school curricula, she said. Teaching children has an obvious effect on their quality of life. But understanding how that translates into a student’s future value in the local work force is also important, she added, as is the creation of future arts audiences.
Crigger also has worked on public art activities in Austin, the kind of effort that Kansas City has generally done well with under the percent-for-art program.
Kansas City’s varied arts community ranges from lone-wolf painters to hard-working and underpaid musicians to well-established institutions that put on and present globe-traveling performers and exhibits. Crigger’s job will involve identifying how city government can help foster “an entirely new way of engaging our residents and visitors with the arts,” as her new boss, City Manager Troy Schulte, put it in a statement.
Said Paul Schofer, CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts: “It’s less about sparking change and more about pressing down on the accelerator and finding out how the public sector can work more effectively with an already strong consortium of arts organizations.”
It certainly will be fun to watch as Crigger attempts to make waves and spark creative progress come the new year.