Kansas City, KS
Open Spaces was a cultural festival and public art exhibition commissioned by the City of Kansas City, Missouri. A performance festival focused on Swope Park was interwoven with a city-wide visual arts exhibition. Mayor Sly James inaugurated Open Spaces in August 2018, with 41 contemporary art projects at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Nerman Museum, 21C Museum Hotel, and a dozen other exhibition spaces. By the end of October 2018, more than 51 unique performances, including music, theater, dance and spoken word, had been produced at a dozen additional venues, from the 8000-seat open-air Starlight Theater to Birdie’s, a lingerie boutique with a capacity of 20 spectators. Artistic Director Dan Cameron was responsible for all artistic content, including programming performances and weekly public salons, along with the graphic look and feel, published program, and gala opening event.
Both the visual and performing arts part of Open Spaces fused an invited group of nationally and internationally prominent artists with several dozen artists and groups selected from hundreds of publicly submitted proposals. A large open-air visitors’ pavilion in Swope Park served as the hub for Open Spaces live, offering musical concerts, poetry slams, dance and circus performances, artisanal market, food trucks and overlapping children’s activities. From the first day of Open Spaces until the final day, several dozen performances of music, dance, theater, circus and spoken word were presented to the Kansas City public, nearly all for free, along with weekly panel discussions at Hotel 21c.
For nine weeks, the visual and performing arts came together in near-perfect synchronicity in Kansas City, with a continual stream of out of town visitors discovering the city’s cultural highlights for the first time, and lifelong residents encountering tucked-away corners of their home town they’d never seen before, or experienced with a fresh perspective. Passersby remarked frequently on chance encounters with works of art, some during their commute to or from work, others while shopping or taking a stroll. While it lasted Open Spaces Kansas City demonstrated that a diverse, midsized U.S. city can provide the ideal platforms for the half-exhibition/half-performance festival that is considered the gold standard of cultural programming for a general public, whether it takes place in Spoleto, Italy or New Orleans, Louisiana.