a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"
(Photo: John Puscheck at Wilson Lake, by EG Schempf.)
Peter von Ziegesar, “Is Art Possible in Kansas City?”
“Is Art Possible in Kansas City,” an essay by filmmaker, writer, journalist, and former Kansas Citian Peter von Ziegesar, was commissioned by Charlotte Street Foundation for “10,” its 10 year anniversary book, published in 2007. The complete essay, which considers what it means to be an artist in Kansas City, the specific conditions of this place, and Charlotte Street Foundation’s impact on this ecology, follows:
When I came to Kansas City in the mid- 1980s, I found already in place an ancient, pedigreed bohemian settlement, as old as anyone could remember and so layered, so rich in its rotting fertile thicknesses of mulch, its roots so networked and intertwined, that although as an art writer my job was to spot and classify the few shiny white mushrooms that popped up on the surface, I felt that if I lived a thousand years I could never penetrate the miles of invisible mycelium that connected its population underneath.1 Artists were clumped in several areas, including “Little Arkansas,” a strip of badly maintained rental houses on Baltimore at 41st Street; Westport; Columbus Park; Hyde Park; the West Bottoms; the Valentine District; and in the ramshackle Greek revival apartment buildings around the Nelson-Atkins Museum—wherever housing was cheap. Some were not artists at all, but kitsch culture aficionados, who drove around in old cars, collected vinyl records of Kansas City jazz and R&B, bought candy swirl bowling balls to line their garden paths, and attended polka parties in local churches at night. Others were part of Kansas City’s dignified and well entrenched drug culture, born in the old C&M (cocaine and morphine) parlors of Eighteenth and Vine, bolstered by the emerald waves of pot grown in the heartland by ordinary farmers desperate to make their mortgage payments.2 Others were outsider artists and autistic savants, such as Vince Roark, who congregated in the old Nelson Gallery coffee shop, drew shadow projections of multidimensional solids on bits of poster board, and boasted of close ties to the Kennedy family.
Donald Hoffman, The Kansas City Star’s art critic at the time, apparently believed that his job was to cover doings at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas City Art Institute, and, with the exception of an occasional suburban art show, little else. That left the field wide open for me, and having spent the previous decade in the East Village participating in an “underground” art milieu that had really almost gone out of control, I tore into Kansas City’s hairy underbelly with pencil and sometimes microphone in hand, covering abstract artists, folk artists, breakout artists, loft shows, cheesy horror film productions, cranks, forgotten savants such as Jesse Howard, gallery startups, street parades—anyone and anything that smacked of street smarts, took pleasure in its work, and was unapologetic about lifestyle.
There is nothing more swampy, thick, and Cretaceous than an August night in Kansas City; you can almost hear the leather wings of the pterosaurs scrape and flap in the thick, nourishing breeze. Of all of those sultry nights, one remains burned into my memory forever. Dwight Frizzell (an old friend of mine from Art Institute days), tall, lean, and hairy legs and all, in a torn wedding dress, was leading his jazz, reggae, tango, etc. band, the Black Crack Revue (BCR), down the center of Walnut Street, to the cheers of a ragged group of Kansas City troglodytes, while the band played its signature Jurassic version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing” to the rapid mariachi scratch gourd of locusts, overhead. The sky had turned a bruised eggplant purple, enormous white blossoms dripped from the catalpa trees; it was a moment of peace and affirmation that there never was going to be anything more rich and full and poignant as this moment. About the same time I wrote an essay about the artist Allan Winkler, about the “joy of small lives well lived,” and this is what I meant.
Although the night was memorable, it was not unusual. Nor was the insouciance. To my way of thinking, people like Dwight Frizzell owned this town. Unnoticed by city fathers—by the suburban businessmen who were busy ringing the city with golf courses and disposable housing—an annual deluge of Kansas City Art Institute graduates had been filling every crack in the ecosystem especially the almost deserted downtown, for decades: starting small businesses, restaurants, bars; taking jobs as contractors or plumbers by day and playing music or painting by night; preserving whole neighborhoods from the wrecking ball by buying buildings in areas no one seemed to want, restoring them cheaply, and filling them with artists. The live-music bars, boutiques, galleries, impromptu performance spaces, coffee shops, and restaurants of all descriptions—in short, everything that made the city diverse, freespirited, and worth living in—were either started by artists or supported by them.
Kansas City really was the kind of city where you’d want to raise your kids, and writing about its variegated art world kept me happy and interested for years. People were pleasant, rents were cheap, there was always some new decrepit part of town to explore, and the thrift shops were unpicked-over and full of bizarre, interesting stuff.
Still, I couldn’t help but notice that a look of doom settled periodically over everyone’s faces, as if they had suddenly noticed a giant black cloud of locusts looming overhead. Responding to some natural economic cycle, every few years the Kansas City gallery scene would somehow manage to burn itself down to its scorched roots and have to start all over again. There would be mass closings, great bewailing in the press, and when the smoke had cleared that year’s bumper crop of promising Art Institute grads would have split for Chicago, Minneapolis, or the Coasts. But unlike the western fields of big bluestem and Indian grass that ranchers annually torched, there seemed to be no biological benefit here.
Dealers faulted the Nelson for failing to raise the consciousness of collectors. Artists blamed the galleries for not showing local talent. Collectors blamed galleries for never coming up with anything interesting. For its part, from its vantage point on the highest elevation in the city from whence its curators could sometimes hear distant screams of pain and anger, the Nelson felt little desire to join the fracas; its first obligations remained to the general public and to the collection—pursuing and acquiring the best available artwork on the national or international market.
When I left town in 1993, the art scene that I had grown so fond of had experienced the throes of birth and rebirth so many times— always chained to the wheel of suffering, never arriving—and nothing I saw on my way out convinced me that anything was going to be different. The galleries would go on exhibiting insipid artworks gleaned from the Coasts; artists would rise in periodic rebellion, publish their manifestos, clear out a few old loft buildings, and fade into harried oblivion; while the true Kansas City I knew, the ancient bohemian enclave of peace, wisdom, and decadence, would hum along as before, a powerful machine, unremarked upon, its vast energies untapped.
Imagine my surprise when I returned in 2006 to find a city in transformation, one that The New York Times had taken to calling the “Midwest Soho,” full of selfconfident artists who had no intention of leaving town.3 What I saw helped to change my preconceived notions about what you can do to change anything (which before had been that basically you could do nothing).
Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Matthew 6:28
At the center of the Kansas City underground, at the heart of darkness and a long way up the river, was John Puscheck. John was a small, fat, red-faced man, who had graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute a few years ahead of me. John was so dyslexic that he painted his paintings in reverse on the back of Plexiglas; because of his disability, he held only one or two jobs in his life. Instead, he priced his paintings at whatever the rent was—let’s say $340. For more than two decades, Puscheck held court twenty-four hours a day in the back yard of the airplane bungalow he rented from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the 5400 block of Charlotte Street, an artist neighborhood. John seemed to be living on fumes, literally, simultaneously painting, telling stories, handing out beers, and cooking for whomever showed up. Famously, he could fry up fish for fifty people at a moment’s notice, using three frying pans at once. Chuck Haddix, a neighbor, who modeled his popular public radio program, “The Saturday Night Fish Fry,” after Puscheck’s impromptu gatherings, remembers the scene as “magical”: the smell of burning leaves, the joyful cries of young children,Puscheck’s tar-mellowed yawp, and the sound of a guitar tuning up on the porch—where Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the folksinger who influenced Dylan in the early years, once showed up to play.4 The house on Charlotte Street became known as the Charlotte Street Mission, and just about everyone of the underground showed up for a beer and a few salty parables from the Very Right Reverend himself.
David Hughes Jr., who later founded the Charlotte Street Foundation (CSF), met Puscheck in the mid-1980s. The view Puscheck and his “mission” gave Hughes into Kansas City’s demimonde fascinated him. As a businessman (he worked at American Century Investments at the time), Hughes saw artists expending a tremendous amount of energy, but with very little structure or reward to guide that energy—unless you counted a life for its own sake a reward. Furthermore, artists in Kansas City lacked a clear career path. The local art galleries showed very few Kansas City artists, and instead relied on imported artwork from either Coast. How long could one go on selling one’s work in Greek restaurants? Most serious artists packed up after a few years and left for New York, Chicago, or Minneapolis. Hughes foresaw benefits to the entire community if Kansas City’s smartest and active artists could be persuaded to stay in town.
After previewing his idea to John O’Brien of the Dolphin Gallery, Hughes invited a few of Kansas City’s contemporary art curators to his house to talk in more depth, shape the idea, and move it forward. That initial group included O’Brien; Deborah Emont Scott, a curator at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Craig Subler, who ran the art gallery at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; and Mark Spencer, at that time with Yellow Freight, now with Hallmark. This was perhaps the first time that Kansas City visual arts professionals had gotten together to discuss what the art scene lacked and how it could be made better. Hughes sprang his idea: to reward serious artists with unrestricted grants, money they could use to pay the rent, buy art supplies or, if they wanted, a surfboard, a car, or lap dances—whatever fed the creative beast.5
Unrestricted grants to individual artists were unusual at the time. Existing funding programs for artists at the Missouri Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts had recently dried up. Even before then, though, artists had been forced to fight their way through innumerable bureaucratic hoops to obtain the grants: write proposals, justify their expenses, and get an umbrella organization to sponsor them. Hughes’s notion was clean and simple—and a bit radical. Find deserving artists and give them money. Don’t ask them any questions. Let them do what they want with it. “I am impatient. My plan was not to wait around for committees to come to conclusions, but to start it right away, and let it morph into something else later if it needed to,” Hughes said.6 Thus in 1996, the Charlotte Street Fund (now Foundation) came into being, named to capture some the spirit of the Charlotte Street Mission, where Puscheck could still be found every day with a spatula in one hand and a cigarette in the other, handing out ribs and Boulevard beer to anyone who happened to drop by.
This simple act of trust, to give unrestricted grants to a number of creative people each year simply because the Foundation perceived what they were doing as good and necessary to the community, had a kind of snowball effect at a time when activity in the art scene was already picking up speed. Alice Thorson, The Kansas City Star’s current art writer, included the first Charlotte Street Awards in a timeline of events in what she called “Kansas City’s Art Boom.” They included, among other things, the opening of the Johnson County Community College Gallery of Art under Bruce Hartman; the reactivation of the One Percent for Art program; the installation of the Nelson Shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen and of the Bartle Hall Sky Stations by R. M.Fischer; the opening of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Crossroads Arts District reaching critical mass.7
In the past ten years, galleries, alternative spaces, and artist lofts have burgeoned. There has been a corresponding run-up in real estate prices in the places in which many artists live or work, especially the Crossroads Arts District. The most recent iteration of First Fridays—once a coordinated opening by Crossroads galleries desperate to see customers in the months after 9/11—has mushroomed into something of a street fair, with fire-eaters, outdoor musicians and street vendors. The spectacle attracts about ten thousand gawkers from the suburbs on a good night—though artists themselves have begun to shun the affair as a crass carnival. Finally, even the long-deserted downtown area has seen some street life since an offshoot of the Charlotte Street Foundation, the Urban Culture Project (UCP), started borrowing or leasing empty storefront and office space, and giving it to artists for studios, performances, and exhibitions. UCP also inaugurated Third Fridays of performances, open studios, and openings, as an alternative to First Fridays in the Crossroads.
Simply enumerating the changes that have occurred in the past decade does not begin to describe the essential transformation that has taken place in the Kansas City art community, which is primarily psychological. The Charlotte Street Foundation validates artists at important junctures in their careers. It gives them a professionally curated exhibition and a brochure written by a critic or guest curator. Kansas City artists who have labored for years, known only to their supportive circles of friends, ignored by local galleries and the newspaper alike, suddenly receive recognition of the quality that places them in a national perspective. Young artists a year or two out of art school, who are increasingly receiving the Award as the available stock of unrewarded mid-career artists is depleted, and as their work, stimulated by the sophistication of the art activity taking place around them, is chosen by the outside critics on the awards panels, look upon the Charlotte Street Award as an expected career step. Not only is it possible to make savvy, connected art in Kansas City, but there is a possibility that you will be rewarded for it. The effect of this approbation on the self-image and confidence of the overall art community cannot be overstated.
If one makes the leap from individual wellbeing to that of the body politic, it is perhaps only a slight exaggeration to look at CSF’s influence over the long-neglected artists of Kansas City simply as an example of good parenting. Heinz Kohut (1913–81), the Chicago psychoanalyst known as the father of the psychology of the self, outlined the ways that a neglectful parent can damage the self-esteem of his child—by ignoring him and ridiculing his achievements, for example. Such treatment over years leads to “empty depression,” low self-esteem, sensitivity to slights, and (one hesitates to say it, but one can understand this in the context of the artist in his studio) chronic masturbation.8 If one looks at Kansas City’s nascent art community as a child, then what else had Kansas City been doing—by spending millions on sports stadiums and nothing on art museums, by ridiculing public art (for example, the fight against the Nelson’s Shuttlecocks, led by one of The Kansas City Star’s lead editorial writers) and installing the worst sort of sentimental sculpture in its parks—but extremely bad parenting?9 In contrast, the Charlotte Street Foundation has nurtured its charges, tempered their natural grandiosity (without swatting them down) by helping them see their work in a national context, rewarded them for their first toddling steps towards proficiency, and above all, has paid attention.
The Foundation received unexpected validation in 2002 from a visit by public policy professor, urban consultant, and best-selling author Richard Florida.Florida’s message to smaller cities urges them to encourage marginal people such as artists and homosexuals to settle, so asto create an atmosphere that will attract creative types and high-tech businesses:
So how do gays and bohemians fit into my analysis? I am not saying that these people literally “cause” regions to grow. Rather, their presence in large numbers is an indicator of an underlying culture that’s conducive to creativity. Gays and artists (as well as immigrants …) are often regarded as being on the fringes of society. The places where they feel at home and thrive tend to have a culture of tolerance and open-mindedness. Gays and bohemians are leading indicators of a place that has a “creative ecosystem”—a regional habitat which is open to new people and ideas, where people easily network, connect; where bright ideas are not shot down or stifled, but are turned into new projects, new companies, and new growth. Regions and nations that have such an ecosystem—that can do the best job of tapping the diverse creative talents of the most people—gain a tremendous competitive advantage.10
It must have been puzzling for city fathers to suddenly learn that the very people they had been trying to keep out for years were the ones they were supposed to encourage to move in.
The mayor and city council continued to push for expensive “top down” solutions, such as KC Live!, a multimillion dollar “entertainment district” that includes an eighteen-thousand-seat arena, which as yet has no professional sports franchise to populate it. In contrast, the Charlotte Street Foundation has quietly encouraged organic growth, using the facilities already in place, borrowing vacant storefronts and offices for a shifting array of artist studios, galleries, and performance spaces, and throwing Third Fridays parties, openings, and performances. Branching into the Urban Culture Project, the Foundation went after two aims: to support the artists and arts community with non-commercial exhibition spaces and studios with artistdriven programming; and to expose developers and real estate powers to artistic sensibility, showing them that a real downtown street life could be achieved, as has happened in the Crossroads district. In general, UCP provides its benefits to less experienced artists than CSF has been able to reward, thus offering a graduated series of validations for the many young, eager artists who are interested in remaining in Kansas City.11
The artists I met in Kansas City over several visits this year—some of whom I’ve known for a long time and some I encountered for the first time—gleefully enroll in each other’s performance pieces, curate exhibitions of one another’s work, write reasoned critiques of one other in the pages of Review magazine, as well as economic-political analyses of the rapidly changing downtown urban landscape that contains their world. It is what artist and curator Hesse McGraw describes as “an untainted community disinterested in quantified hipness”: “The cool hunters never came to Kansas City,” he avers. “These ego-free children prefer making pyramids and playing pranks than looking good and getting laid. They make no gestures towards larger scenes … [their] specific, subtle, and personal sense of humor brac[es] against the new order of marketable monocultures.”12
While conventional art products—paintings,sculptures, prints, and drawings—are prized and exhibited, they alas do not sell in Kansas City, where the number of serious collectors has been estimated at twenty. Therefore the artists have inventively and without complaint spilled their energies into process, performance, and nonmaterial, multidisciplinary, collaborative art forms. All of this downtown antiprofessionalism and lifestyle-as-art and art-as-lifestyle jibes remarkably with what is going on in the art capital these days. New York art critic and gallery director Kathy Grayson remarked, “What distinguishes the best of what’s going on now from the rest is that unmistakable, un-fakable sincerity that runs underneath all of it. A fundamental difference exists between that which is held at a conceptual arms-length and a creation fused to the complexly intersecting spheres of intellect, intuition and experience that make up a lifestyle, not an art style.”13
This is not a cynical restating of the old song, “Ev’rythin’s up to date in Kansas City,” but simply to say that young artists in Kansas City share to a close degree the concerns and preoccupations of young artists in other cities, where the emphasis has been on authenticity and community. Swept by the digital currents of information, they appear to be part of a zeitgeist that is both borderless and universal, as the curators of the 2006 Whitney Biennial describe:
It immediately became apparent that the definition of what constitutes “American” is in dramatic flux. Artists, and curators, are moving around the world with an ever greater fluidity, often living or working between countries, traveling back and forth from New York, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, and Chicago to Istanbul, Thailand, Zurich, Berlin, Milan, and London. This fluidity has created a complicated network of communication and artistic exchange that refuses to be contained by geographical borders and that creates arcs which traverse vast distances.14
In other words, this is a good time to be a Kansas City artist. Probably at no other time in history has the regional artist had less reason to feel isolated or separated from the activity of the Coasts. While the Internet brings everything close and everyartist has his own Web site, cheap jet travelbrings everything even closer. If you moveto New York, you will find it populated withfriends from Westport and Waldo. When youcome back to Kansas City, you find that everyone you knew in Williamsburg has already moved here.
To see in a single array the artists includedin this catalogue is like going into the living room of a friend and encountering a good record collection. It’s surprisingly comprehensive; there are some interesting, even wildly creative additions, and few disturbing omissions. It makes no attempt to be all-inclusive, yet it is surprisingly so. You can get a fairly good picture of the individual lights that have illuminated the Kansas City art scene for the past ten years. Yet the vision is nowhere near uniform; one detects slight variations as the tastes and makeup of the selection panel changes from year to year. One year there might be a preponderance of graffiti and hip-hop art as if the curators had just uncovered the existence of urban culture.Talented mid-career artists were heavilyweighted in the early years: Tony Allard and Kristine Diekman, James Brinsfield, Russell Ferguson, Nate Fors, David Ford, Lester Goldman, to name a few. Another year might be the year for cool minimalism, or pop minimalism, or simply pop Pop.
The aboveground art scene is iconoclastic, humorous, politically engaged; its artists are not at all self conscious of being thought of as small-town or afraid to be thought of as regional—in fact, they are not and they have long since worked through that self-impression—and are instead proud of the traits that the incubator of Kansas City has brought them: their sly humor, raw energy and eclecticism, their flouting of careerism and its goals and formulas, and their celebration of a cooperative communal spirit.
Perhaps it is a danger of success that one finds oneself a few steps away from where one started. It is considered a matter of some irony in Kansas City, that when John Puscheck died in 2005, surrounded by friends, he had never received the award that commemorated his “mission.” But for a man like Puscheck, perhaps you could say that his life was its own best memorial. His memory is honored every year with an outré annual Evil Monkey barbecue, reviving the Evil Monkey shows that Puscheck started with Mike Randall and Mike Temple.
I watched a videotape recently sent to me by one of John Puscheck’s friends. It was an unsteady home movie taken in Puscheck’s backyard at his forty-seventh birthday party (1995). They were all there, the fragments of Kansas City’s old guard and underground, the pot-smoking lawyers, the artist who loved naïve and outsider art so much he became a naïve outsider, the drug dealer turned biblical figure. Children ran around underfoot and a reggae band wailed on the porch. It was nice to see so many familiar faces. Puscheck himself could be seen, focused and gentle, intently rubbing spices into the red flesh of an enormous flayed fish, then tying the fish to a piece of plywood and leaning it up to smoke and bubble against a fire. Fierce threads of friendship and community tied these citizens together—decades of doing business with each other, making art together, the whole gamut of having sex, making love, breaking friendships, and starting all over again—and let’s face it, they all liked to have a pretty good time.
Many critics have pondered the relationship of the underground to the mainstream in our culture. I see the old bohemian culture, with its amazing power to survive, as a kind of beaten-down mulch, from which the younger shoots must gather nourishment. It is perhaps the genius of the Charlotte Street Foundation that, as an aboveground organization, it has been able to tap into that rich subsoil. All things that grow in the Midwest are subject to extremes of weather, however, and David Hughes himself has commented that the art scene, despite its apparent health, could dry up and blow away in a season.15 Nevertheless, the work that has been discovered and the way that has been found have already been of indescribable benefit, as can be seen in these imaginative and fulsome pages.
1. During my tenure in Kansas City, which ended in 1993, I wrote arts commentary for The Kansas City Star, KCUR-FM, High Performance, Media Arts, American Ceramics, The New Art Examiner, The Journal of Art, New Letters, the literary quarterly, Kansas City Magazine, Borderline, Spiral, and several publications that I can’t remember or don’t exist any more.
2. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), marijuana is Missouri’s fourth largest cash crop after soybeans, corn, and hay. Seewww.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=4547&wtm_view=crop10.
3. Hope Glassberg, “Artists Feel the Squeeze in a Midwest SoHo,” The New York Times, November 29, 2005.
4. Chuck Haddix, interview with the author,October 2006.
5. Peregrine Honig told me that she spent most of the award money on lap dances. She was completely within her rights to do so, and no one from the Charlotte Street Foundation asked later to see a portfolio of her sketches of strippers. Interview with the author, September 2006.
6. David Hughes, interview with the author, June 2006.
7. Alice Thorson, “Destination: Art—Kansas City is Promoting Itself as a Happening Place,” The Kansas City Star, December 30, 2001.
8. Kohut believed that in every person the whole creative self could not emerge successfully without unrestricted parental approval. “If the parents are at peace with their own needs to shine … if, in other words the parents’ self-confidence is secure, then the proud exhibitionism of the budding self of their child will be responded to acceptingly. However grave the blows may be to which the child’s grandiosity is exposed by the realities of life, the proud smile of the parents will keep alive a bit of the original omnipotence, to be retained as the nucleus of self-confidence and inner security about one’s worth that sustain the healthy person through his life.” Heinz Kohut and Ernest S. Wolf, “The Disorders of the Self and Their Treatment: An Outline,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 59 (1978): 413–25.
9. In his “Shuttlecock Kitsch” opinion published in The Kansas City Star February 15, 1993, Yael T. Abouhalkah wrote, “The Nelson Gallery’s majestic front lawn does not need to be cluttered with silly pop-art. The absurd idea of placing 18-foot-tall sculptures of badminton shuttlecocks on the lawn ought to die peacefully. … People who think the Nelson should be a distinguished gallery, generally but not always for serious works of art, have the right idea. The shuttlecocks would be unnecessary baubles and distractions, at odds with the Nelson’s environment. Others, though, say they want to send a message to visitors that ‘art can be fun’ and that the Nelson is not just for stuffed shirts. … If the Nelson wants to shed that image (and maybe it doesn’t), how about something more plebeian? Giant bowling balls rolling down the slope toward rows of enormous pins. A mammoth bottle of beer nearby. …”
10. Richard Florida, “Kotkin’s Fallacies—Why Diversity Matters to Economic Growth,” www.creativeclass.org/baffler_response.shtml. Mike Vargo assisted with the article. © 2006/Richard Florida Creativity Group. Richard Florida is currently the Hirst Professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of The Rise of the Creative Class (Basic Books, 2002), Cities and the Creative Class (Routledge, 2005), and The Flight of the Creative Class (HarperBusiness, 2005). Florida’s appearance in Kansas City was co-sponsored by the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City, in conjunction with the KCADC’s annual luncheon.
11. Matt Wycoff, a young artist, confided to me that an artist might reasonably expect to take the following steps on his way to having a successful career in Kansas City: (1.) Proposal accepted for an Avenue of the Arts project—temporary public art displayed in downtown Kansas City. (2.) A show at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center—one of the early stalwart experimental galleries in the Crossroads. (3.) A Charlotte Street Award. (4.) This will lead to the Johnson County Community College and at least one othermajor collector purchasing works of art. (5.) Teach a class at the Kansas City Art Institute. “Suddenly you will find yourself in the upper tier of artists in Kansas City.” Matt Wycoff, interview with the author, June 2006.
12. Hesse McGraw, What’s the Matter with Kansas, exh. cat. (New York: Rare Gallery,2005). McGraw curated this group exhibition ofKansas City artists, reprising the title of a book by political writer Thomas Frank. Despite its defensive-sounding title, the show was assembled to convince New Yorkers that the work of Kansas City artists is of the same quality as that of artists practicing anywhere. McGraw was specifically referring to the subjects pictured in the photographs of Jaimie Warren, who documents her friends in bohemian culture in Kansas City.
13. Kathy Grayson, Live Through This: New York in the Year 2005, exh. cat., eds. Jeffrey Deitch and Kathy Grayson (New York, Deitch Projects), 75.
14. Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne, Preface and Acknowledgments, Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night, exh. cat. (New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2006), 18.
15. Hughes, interview.