Everything is up to date in Kansas City—and hotter too

In the context of all that is happening up to date is an understatement. Why you ask? There are many reasons. There are many intersections. The Rogers and Hammerstein song “Kansas City” from the musical Oklahoma remains one of their most memorable, featuring the lyrics “Ev’rythin’s up to date in Kansas City. They’ve gone about as fur as they c’n go.”

It is more than serendipitous that one of the hottest tickets in Kansas City is the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s Carousel by Rogers into the center of the action? Make the Conservatory up to date? Yes.

March Madness recently made KC a center of basketball again. (It is too bad that the run ended early for all of our teams.) And speaking of sports, the Kansas City Chiefs believe art is hot. Soon art will compliment sport at Arrowhead Stadium. The Hunt family is creating a serious art installation curated with the same intensity with which players are scouted. Local artist, John Raux, has once more facilitated a successful Middle of the Map Fest, focusing attention on Kansas City art, business, community and innovation. Kansas City is being “fibered” first. Google fiber is being launched, and we will never be the same. Even Austin will follow KC as the second city to recieve the infrastructure. KC is hot.

The Port Authority just announced an urban farming partnership with BrightFarms Inc. of New York, NY. Kansas City will soon launch the next steps of the most progressive green solutions in the world by way of the Overflow Control Plan. The Marlborough neighborhood watershed project will weave together green infrastructure, community development and economic revitalization and be the model for all other cities to follow. Later this fall the new Henry W Bloch School of Management will open, increasing the capacity for business model innovation in our community and leading us forward toward the Chamber of Commerce’s “Big 5” goal of making Kansas City “America’s Most Entrepreneurial City.” On other fronts — art, science, innovation, business and community fronts — The Big 5 is making strides as well.

A lot has happened since Rogers and Hammerstein’s song put Kansas City on the map as a happening place. What is happening in Kansas City today is hot and getting hotter. It makes one wonder: what would their song be if they wrote it today?

Steve Jobs often referred to intersections when describing Apple's success. He often quoted Edwin Land, creator of the Polaroid Camera, when he said that a true business should be “the intersection of art and science.” Jobs evolved Land's idea so that Apple was at the intersection of arts, technology and business. Mr. Jobs, his company and its products defined hot. Kansas City is at a similar intersection, or, as KCADC has branded us, the Creative Crossroads. Kansas City is hot and getting hotter.

We must understand the past in order to invent the future. Teng-Kee Tan, dean of the UMKC Henry W Bloch School of Management, refers to this as continuity and innovation. I agree with him. Kansas City has a rich legacy of being at the crossroads. The Hannibal Bridge marked the beginning of our being at important intersections because of its bravado. It represented civic, business and engineering leadership that sprung Kansas City ahead of St. Joseph in the race for the first rail crossing. We won. The rest is history now. But back then it was the future. It reminds us that we are currently designing our future —the thing we will one day look back upon as our past. Will it make us proud?

Our forefathers (and mothers) found themselves in the entrepreneurial hotbed that resulted when rail, river, wagon and cattle drives from the Southwest intersected. Businesses were founded and fortunes were made. Lives were made better for many and more challenging for others. Just then, the City Beautiful movement arrived through the hands of George Kessler. Kessler’s genius was a vision of beautiful parks and boulevards intersecting with natural systems and the ecologies of our environs. A bourgeoning hunger for art and culture was fed with the founding of the Kansas City Art Institute. The desire for legacy propelled philanthropy beyond the scale of a single city, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art being its most visible landmark. This renaissance of arts and culture, and vision for stewardship, was all happening in what had been a wild-west cow town a few years earlier.

Let’s face it, our forefathers were visionary, passionate and hard-working. These are still core attributes of our city today. We are once again at the crossroads of the powerful forces of opportunity and good. Innovation and entrepreneurism permeates our landscape of business, art and science. We will not let this unique crossroads opportunity slip away; we are harvesting the produce and planting new ideas.

A few weeks ago Matt Baldwin and his Baldwin Men’s Shop was named one of the four best new menswear designers by Gentlemen’s Quarterly. This is not the first time that Baldwin and his clothing line have scored national attention. He has built a deserved reputation for the best fitting and most expensive jeans among a following of press, noteworthy customers (including Hollywood types), leading musicians and CEOs. He has created a brand and business that is sought out by those who buy an entire wardrobe and those who save for a single pair. Baldwin is at that intersection. By combining art (style and fashion), science (human physiology) and good business, Matt is consistently delivering innovative clothing that is putting him, his company and Kansas City on the map of hot places.

As individuals, we Kansas Citians value the arts. National surveys place Kansas City among the elite when it comes to supporting and attending arts events. When we are ahead we shine and relish the glory for a few minutes — and then get back to work. This is exactly what is going on at the Nelson-Atkins. Even with all of the accolades about the collection, the Bloch Building being named one of TIME magazine’s ten best buildings in the world and world-class exhibits and collections, the Trustees, director Julian Zugazagoitia, his staff and the volunteers are constantly hard at work to make the museum and Kansas City a leading world-class center for art.

Mayor Sly James recognized that Kansas City — as a city government —was not living up to its own art community. The local government was not doing all that it should to ensure that arts are supported and celebrated at the level consistent with that demonstrated by city residents.

Boldly, he asked local Kanas Citian, Mike Burke, to take art to the next level as part of his Bistate Innovations Team. His decision might be considered counter intuitive. After all, we are a city barely recovering from the past years of economic stress, yet new economic obligations are on the table. It is an understandable observation if you don’t see what the mayor sees. His vision includes a city that is more vibrant, more economically viable, more beautiful, more livable and a much more attractive place for visitors because of its art and its art economy. Of course he recognizes that at nearly $300 Million in annual revenues, art is big business in Kansas City. Bold, yes, but also very practical and smart.

A few months ago, the University of Kansas Cancer Center achieved national status. Under the leadership of Dr. Roy Jensen, they achieved National Cancer Institute designation. The act of treating and curing cancer touches all of us sometime in our lives — and is big business. It is also, once again, the merger of art and science.

Local food is hot. The Port Authority’s partnership with with BrightFarms will soon mean that more than two acres of hydroponic farming will soon occupy the riverfront, growing up to 1 million pounds of local produce per year. Farming is growing in Kansas City. What has not made headlines are the immeasurable nutrition and farming initiatives underway across the City. Urban farming and healthy eating is pervasive. Restaurateur, Anton Kotar, is determined to serve his children and patrons healthy options. Anton’s Tap Room is a bar, restaurant, butcher shop and farm. Located in downtown, this innovative establishment is distinguishing itself by raising tilapia and growing vegetables on site for the restaurant. Efficiency and ingenuity prevail. His kitchen uses a lot of energy; however, little is wasted. Energy-recovery systems harvest heat from the ovens, refrigeration equipment and other systems to keep the tilapia growing and heat the building. Anton is just one of many farmers who are redefining Kansas City culinary arts through applied science and entrepreneurship.

The middle is in the lead. Middle of the Map Forum, part of Middle of the Map Fest, is in its third year and is elevating Kansas City as a place of energy and thought leadership. John Raux and his Middle of the Map Forum are redefining Kansas City and the urban core. What’s next for Kansas City?

Forty years ago, UMKC established a new medical school on Hospital Hill. This followed what other universities had done time and time again in placing medical and health science schools near hospitals and near learning and practical experience opportunities. Dr. Dimond, founding dean of the school, did not follow every tradition. He created UMKC School of Medicine as a six-year program that accepts students during their first year in college. When the new school was proposed in a location next door to Truman Medical Center – Hospital Hill, was that idea questioned? Probably not! Giving students proximity to the medical world was a proven concept, and UMKC School of Medicine is one more successful example. All you have to do is look at Hospital Hill today. UMKC is flourishing; Children’s Mercy Hospital is unparalleled in the care it provides to children from across the map. Truman Medical Center is evolving what it means to be an urban hospital by innovating whole-patient care including incorporating art programs. Good decisions breed great results.

Julia Irene Kauffman didn’t intend just to establish a world-class performing arts center when she set out to build the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts to honor her late mother. Her vision was bigger; it was about changing the landscape and artscape of Kansas City. She, Lou Smith (former Kauffman Foundation CEO) and others toured the United States and Europe researching how investments in the performing arts had catalyzed even more investment and renewed vitality in their respective communities. They observed educational elements operating alongside professional performance venues. The original master plan for the Kauffman Center included arts education venues along 17th Street. In the end, the garage filled that space, but the vision — and opportunity — remains alive and well. It was a hot idea then, and it is hotter today.

Let’s keep turning up the heat. Let’s give UMKC Conservatory Students a chance to be near the action in the urban core. Chancellor Leo Morton and Conservatory Dean, Peter Witte, are convinced that this is the right decision for the students and the school. Why don’t we trust their judgment and enthusiastically back the idea of growing UMKC’s presence in Kansas City, thereby growing opportunities for students to be closer to the action and giving each student a chance to experience the highest level of performing arts every day by simply walking across the street. Morton and Witte take their academic and administrative responsibilities seriously. They have not entered into this discussion without much consideration, heavily weighing of each of the issues. The students are excited, the faculty is supportive, and the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is completely behind the idea.

Imagine 600 students and 100 faculty members becoming a part of downtown. We need only look at Lincoln Center to see the power of connecting education and professional performance. We have that opportunity. It is up to us.

The performing arts renaissance continues to unfold in Kansas City. It is magnetic. The urban core is hot. The Symphony, Ballet, The Rep and Opera are the big acts, but there are many more that play a role in shaping Kansas City’s image. The Jazz District continues to renew Kansas City’s jazz heritage and strengthen its future. Knucklehead’s is a national music destination. Grinders and other sites attract national and local acts that draw a broad audience. Let’s keep the momentum alive. Performing Arts education is the only missing element in our lively equation.

The case has been made for moving the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance downtown. It is time to stand up for UMKC. It is time to lend unconditional support for Chancellor Morton and Dean Witte and the Conservatory and keep things up to date.

In the meantime, I am saving up to buy a pair of those Baldwin jeans. What could be better than art, science and business revealed in blue denim. I will do my part to keep Kansas City up to date.