african-american artists in kansas city: a student perspective

Recently, I wrote an essay for Temporary Art Review examining the unique struggles and challenges associated with being an African-American visual artist in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.

One group that I wanted to emphasize was emerging artists. As my deadline loomed near, I became aware of the Black Artist Culture and Community (BACC) group at Kansas City Art Institute and reached out to its President, Krystal Jolicoeur. Although I wasn’t able to include Ms. Jolicoeur’s statements in the essay due to time restrictions, I was impressed by her thoughtful and informative responses and wanted to share them here.

Adrianne Russell: While women make up the majority of art students in universities and colleges, exhibitions, museum collections and gallery holdings are dominated by male artists. Do you feel it’s especially challenging for African-American female artists to establish themselves?

Krystal Jolicoeur: The art world has essentially always been dominated by the male artist. This was predominantly due to gender roles and societal standards. In lieu of the “feminist” movement in the late sixties, the art world today is still dominated by the male. Paralleled, African-American and/or colored artists for an even greater period of time were barred or relegated by institutions within the art world. I believe it is certainly challenging for one who is both female and African-American to establish themselves in the art world.

Modernity has brought the playing field for one to potentially establish themselves as an African-American artist to somewhat of a level position. Yet, the problem becomes that their work must now be measured in relation to their gender and race. Although this may or may not be what they choose to concentrate upon as artists, it becomes the central focus upon representing their work in galleries.

“As a black artist, the expectation of what you should be doing is always programmed for you regardless. There is a tendency to try to cubbyhole you that exists across the board in the art world,” remarks Lorna Simpson. Regardless of such standards, African-American female artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Kara Walker, Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold and Lorna Simpson (to name a few) have been prime examples that although the path may be daunting the destination can be met.

AR: African-American artists seem to suffer from a lower profile in the Kansas City region. Do you find that Kansas City is supportive of a diverse pool of artists? What, if anything, should be done to foster a more inclusive artistic community, particularly at the University level?

KJ: As a non-native artist to the Kansas City area (being raised in Miami, Florida) I have found that Kansas City is surprisingly supportive to a large span and variety of new and upcoming artist. The art scene in Kansas City is certainly open to artist of all races and genres of conceptual thinking. At the University level, being one in which who attends a private art institution the arts are certainly all-inclusive, yet surprisingly outside and neighboring communities have certainly fostered an environment in which the art becomes all-inclusive on a community level as well.

AR: How long has BACC been in existence? What is the group’s mission?

KJ: Founded in August of 2010, the Black Artist Culture and Community have been in existence for the last two years. Black Artist Culture and Community is an organization that utilizes artistic talent to encourage cultural diversity at the Kansas City Art Institute. This is accomplished through student leadership, mentor-ship programs, community service, and campus activities. BACC recognizes that African-American students are a minority on the KCAI campus, thus we seek to foster a sense of community among all students of color. BACC serves as a liaison between students and administration, giving African-American students a voice on the issues that are most pressing to them as well as serving as a resource to make sure the social, cultural, and educational needs of these students are met.

AR: What kinds of events/activities does BACC put on? Is there an emphasis on involvement from the wider Kansas City community?

KJ: In past years the BACC has hosted several artist lectures open to KCAI students as well as the community ranging from the first African-American graduate of the Kansas City art institute Mr. Leonard Pryor, to the likes of award-winning illustrator Shane Evans. The BACC has partnered with the arts program at De LaSalle Charter High School to serve as mentors as well as on the KCAI campus to students in the Connect for Success program. From collaborative mural events open to the community on the notion of “what is black” to gallery exhibitions at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center, the BACC has been an active organization, striving to build connections with students of all races on campus as well as in the community.

Thanks to everyone for their valuable input on my essay! I’d love to hear your thoughts on Kansas City African-American artists in the comments.


kansas city museums roll out the all-star red carpet

Major League Baseball’s 2012 All-Star Game has descended upon Kansas City and the festivities officially kick off today. Considering the last time this game was played in my hometown I was but a mere fetus, this is a big deal.

Kansas City has a long and impressive baseball history and I’m proud of my family’s place in it. I attended my first (and only) All-Star game in 1986 in Houston, Texas. My father, Frank White, Jr., was second baseman for the Kansas City Royals and making his fifth and final All-Star game appearance.

That game has special meaning to me not only because the Royals were defending World Champions but also because my father pinch-hit for Lou Whitaker in the seventh inning and turned an 0-2 pitch into a home run, effectively clinching victory for the American League.

What, you didn’t know I was a baseball nerd too? 😉

All-Star Summer is Kansas City’s opportunity to show the world that while it’s known for fountains, jazz and BBQ, there are so many amazing things that make it a great place to call home, including a diverse array of museums, some of which have sports-themed events and exhibitions marking the occasion:

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

  • “They Were All Stars” (through August 31, 2012), an exhibition honoring Hispanic and African-American Negro Leagues players who transitioned to Major League Baseball and were selected as All-Stars. Other All-Star events include a town hall-style meet and greet with some of the players featured in the exhibition on July 8 from Noon – 1:30 p.m. and a discussion and book signing on July 7 at Noon with author Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

National World War I Museum

  • “World War I All-Stars: Sports & the Inter-Allied Games” (through December 31, 2012) focuses on the little-known competitive sporting event held in 1919 following the end of World War I in an effort to unify Allied soldiers. American baseball players and other famous athletes who were World War I veterans are also featured.

Kansas City Museum

  • The city’s history museum is offering Kansas City baseball history trolley tours on July 7 & 9. Departing from Union Station, the tours feature stories about well-known players who made their homes and living in Kansas City and visits to sites of historic baseball significance.

Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

  • Considering the 2012 All-Star Game is being played in Kauffman Stadium, located at the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex, it makes sense that the Library & Museum offers “Presidential Pitch: Harry Truman and Baseball” (through July 15), an exhibition that features baseball-related artifacts and documents from the Truman Administration. For a closer examination, check out archivist Randy Sowell’s presentation, “Truman and Baseball: A Presidential Pastime” on July 7 from 11:00 a.m. – Noon.

Visitors: If you want to know where to go and what to do during your stay or have trouble deciphering whether you’re in Kansas or Missouri, tweet your questions with the #KC hashtag so the kind folks at the Social Media Command Center can help you out.

kansas city museum style guide

True or false? Museums are stoic, boring, monoliths full of objects someone with an advanced degree has deemed priceless, musty, old houses crammed to the rafters with some dead rich guy’s stuff or so-called historic places where fatigued volunteers endlessly drone on about how the founding mothers made their own butter.

Luckily, that is entirely untrue, particularly in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area where you can experience an astonishing array of museums of all subjects and sizes.

Researchers far more brilliant than me have spent untold hours determining what type of visitor enjoys a particular type of museum. Usually those studies focus on attributes like whether folks want to be their own guide, use interactive doo-dads or have someone tell them what they’re looking at. It is my belief that what type of museum you choose to visit can have as much to do with your personality as the methods in which you experience it.   So for your future museum-visiting pleasure, I have compiled a list of local treasure repositories guaranteed to please any disposition.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but it hopefully offers a jumping-off point as you begin exploring the diverse and fascinating museums in and around Kansas City.

the art historian

Anyone who fancies themselves an art aficionado should head to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.  Located a stone’s throw away from the Country Club Plaza and celebrating its 75th birthday, this museum has a vast collection that spans the breadth of humanity’s artistic achievements.  Practice your museum pose (hands clasped behind your back, head nodding contemplatively) while you explore the Steven Holl-designed Bloch Building, check out the newly-reinstalled Egyptian, Greek and Roman galleries or stroll through the Kansas City Sculpture Park [Note:  Please refrain from trying to impress your friends with falsified art facts as you never know who may be listening.   Seriously–don’t be that guy.] And definitely make time to indulge your Italian-villa fantasies while noshing on Rozzelle Court Restaurant’s delectable desserts. 

the tim burton fan

If your tastes lean toward the surreal, unique and slightly macabre, make your way to nearby St. Joseph, Missouri and visit the Glore Psychiatric Museum, a site that details the history of the facility originally known as “State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.”  Its namesake founder, George Glore, spent 41 years working in the Missouri mental health system and started the museum in the hopes of eradicating the negative image often associated with mental health patients.  Items include a bed sheet used by a patient to communicate via embroidery, barbaric “tranquilizer” chairs,  the contents of a patient’s stomach who compulsively swallowed items such as buttons and safety pins and examples of the hospital’s groundbreaking therapy programs. 

the history channel addict

Those who are fascinated by military history will find themselves at home in the National World War I Museum, located at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City Missouri’s Penn Valley Park.  To enter the museum you cross a glass bridge over a field of 9,000 poppies, each flower symbolizing the death of 1,000 soldiers (nine million died before the war ended.)  It has the distinction of being the only museum in the United States dedicated to that period in history as told by the people who experienced it.  Life-sized trench replicas, war propaganda, weapons and oral histories come together brilliantly in one of Kansas City’s most cherished landmarks.

the b-bopper


Jazz heads need to hoof it down to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri’s 18th & Vine District.  Even if you’re not a jazz fan (warning: you may soon find yourself downloading scads of it from iTunes), this distinctly American musical art form whose influences can be seen in blues, b-bop, gospel and rhythmic pop, is thought by many to be the soundtrack of the United States’ collective history.  You can view musical instruments, photographs and, of course, listen to some of the maestros of jazz such as Charlie “Bird” Parker in one of the neighborhoods where the distinctive Kansas City Jazz sound was formed.  The exhibition “Atlantic Diaspora: The Musical and Social Influences of Africans in Mexico and the United States” is a must-see (ending September 30, 2010).  Don’t forget the nearby Blue Room jazz club containing artifacts from the jazz era and featuring national and local jazz acts as well as spoken-word performances (finger-snaps expected and appreciated.)