Heeter and McClanahan Discover the KC Fringe Festival

When older white guys from the suburbs sit down and talk about how to improve “our” city, prepare to observe an exercise in ignorance and self-absorption. This morning’s Star delivers a heaping pile of both when the Star’s Tom McClanahan gushes about the great idea that “seems to have bubbled up by itself” and was voiced by Mission Hills resident Jim Heeter – a Kansas City arts festival.

By the end of the column, McClanahan shows the extent of his knowledge of the arts community by suggesting that “all the Kansas City Arts Festival needs is an energetic coordinator”, and he nominates none other than Mission Hills resident Jim Heeter.

Now, to be clear, the idea is not a bad one. In fact, it’s a great one. In fact, it IS one – as in, we already have the Kansas City Fringe Festival, which has been growing in size and artistic impact for 7 years right here in Kansas City. This year, it will stretch over two weekends in July, and projections are that it will draw thousands into our city to attend plays, fashion shows, gallery openings, poetry readings, and performances of all types in dozens of venues.

Let’s also be clear that the Fringe Festival could use some help to become the huge civic event that McClanahan and Heeter have in mind. If people like McClanahan would get on board and use his influence to direct attention and dollars to the Fringe Festival, it could be much bigger and much better publicized. (It should be noted that the Star’s InkKC does publicize the Fringe, as do the excellent writers on the Star’s A&E page.) If GKC Chamber of Commerce ED Jim Heeter used his substantial pull in the business community to direct sponsorship dollars to the Fringe Festival, it could expand its scope both in length and in number of performances.

It’s more than mildly frustrating to see people like McClanahan and Heeter use their over-sized soapboxes to propose ideas that are already struggling to thrive. So much more could be accomplished if people with money and power would investigate the real world before announcing their board-room suburban solutions. (The same board-room suburban myopia dooms many “great ideas” about urban core crime and education.)

Whatever frustration arises from that myopia, though, it is tempered by pleasure in the fact that people like McClanahan and Heeter are realizing that there is real civic value in the arts community of Kansas City. If they follow up their day-dreaming with research and resources, even more good things might start happening.

As an aside, guess how much money the government of Jim Heeter’s Mission Hills directs to supporting regional art festivals . . .

(By way of full disclosure, I serve as a volunteer on the board of the KC Fringe Festival, though this post represents my own thoughts only, and has not been reviewed or discussed by anyone connected to the organization.)

4 Responses to “Heeter and McClanahan Discover the KC Fringe Festival”

  1. Average Jane says:

    Not to mention the huge, traveling art extravaganza, America: Now and Here, which is starting its national tour in Kansas City as of May 6th.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t Heeter run for KCMO mayor at one point?

    Is Cheryl Kimmi still involved in Fringefest?

  3. gonemild says:

    Yes and yes.

  4. Dave says:

    It’s interesting to see “let’s help the arts” talk. Let’s hope they back those words with real hours and dollars.

    Edinburg Fringe Festival grew from a group of artists who were snubbed by the city’s arts nobility. Not long thereafter, the festival that was on the fringe of the city overshadowed the festival that snubbed them. Since then it has grown to over 200 other cities worldwide, 19 of which are here in USA and one of the best right here in our town.

    In fact, Fringe circuit of traveling artisans begins here in KC! Last year, there was a troop of youngins from Minneapolis that performed a musical at the Living Room in the Crossroads. They had such infectious enthusiasm as they advertised themselves by serenading people exiting Unicorn Theater from seeing Kyle Hatley’s sold out play in Fringe Fest. For me, it was like see the youthful passion of the artists singing Rent in NYC.

    My wife and I have found KC’s Fringe Festival to be the very best compilation of arts. Last summer had hundreds of performances (3 to 5 performances from 120+ groups!) in HUGE variety of dance, theater, music, visual art, fashion, spoken word…

    For 5 years I attended this wonderful festival, and new it was time to put my hours and dollars where my mouth is, and started volunteering couple of years ago.

    “Energetic coordinator” needed?
    Wow. Obviously these gentlemen haven’t met Cheryl.
    If that’s what they seek, and if they’re serious beyond just words, then their search is over.

    These gentlemen, fest volunteers, civic promoters, new Mayor declaring the importance of the arts, fest attendees… >>> KCFringe.org.
    You’ll discover a new favored highlight in your summer.

    Each and every year, my wife and I share this festival with new guests. Each and every year, those guests say things like “I didn’t know that this was right in my backyard!” or “I wish my town had one of these.”

    It’s a gem, and people are discovering why they need to get tix early. Whether it’s for one of the artists or arts companies that have reached the point of being able to sell out venues, or artists that are 2-3 years away from reaching that kind of word-of-mouth, if this festival doesn’t put a smile on your face…


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