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.)