Inside, shiny new “shuttlecarts” designed by Kansas City’s own Peregrine Honig transport visitors between far-flung galleries. The impossibly silent, eco-friendly Birdcage and Sweet Charity project a circus-meets-European royalty vibe.
In the center of town, sun bounces off huge silver shells housing Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a steel-and-glass architectural marvel opened last year.
This show-stopper contrasts with the Crossroads arts district’s handsome old brick warehouses now invigorated with lofts, cafes and galleries . At Sherry Leedy Contemporary, a seductive cobalt-blue ceramic gown glows between amusing creatures by local sculptors.
Outside, another hometown artist, Scribe, has turned walls into graphic novels exploding with otherworldly animals, proving KC’s graffiti-friendly reputation. The critters range from sweet to sinister; the monster showdown scenes have me alternating between “wow!” and “whoa!”
Navigate on foot or bike and you’ll pass some of the nearly 200 fountains that earned KC the moniker “Rome of the Midwest.” The city’s humane society built the first ones in the early 1900s for horses. Now the fountains serve as public art, with subjects from such unlikely Midwest inhabitants as mermaids and penguins to a red 2,155-pound granite sphere that spins on a slip of water. A touch changes its motion.
On the Missouri River’s south bank, I bike through Riverfront Park, then west on Riverfront Heritage Trail. A freight-train roars by just before I cross the Kansas River on an old bridge turned hike-bike crossing. The pathway’s dressed up with gates in the shape of giant iron penny-farthing velocipedes and poles topped by plate glass-steel-neon sculptures by STRETCH. This city clearly supports its local artists.
Some artworks tell heritage stories. Beneath the iconic Liberty Memorial tower, entry into the National World War I Museum takes you across a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each representing 1,000 fallen WWI soldiers.
In the industrial West Bottoms area, a group of welded-scrap sculptures by another resident, Ed Hogan, honor the scrapped-together families formed by slaves fleeing to the free state of Kansas. A few blocks away, a statue depicts Lewis and Clark, their Native American guide, African-American servant and furry dog pushing westward on the Santa Fe Trail.
A huge fiberglass Hereford bull standing atop a sky-high pedestal reveals a side of Kansas City’s heritage as well as character: Its enchanting quirks of art come in all styles and sizes.
Robin Soslow can be reached at email@example.com