Kansas City Seeks to Up Its Art Cred, Tapping Dan Cameron to Launch a Midwestern Biennial in 2018

The first edition of the Kansas City event will feature new work by Nari Ward, Nick Cave, and other big names.

Swope Park in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Open Spaces Kansas City.
Swope Park in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Open Spaces Kansas City.

A new biennial in Kansas City is the latest addition to the increasingly packed international art calendar. Curator Dan Cameron is launching Open Spaces 2018: A Kansas City Arts Experience, a new contemporary and performing arts event that will take over the Midwestern city for two months starting in August.

The project is a co-production of the city government and local philanthropists. “The idea is to create a signature cultural event for Kansas City,” Cameron told artnet News. In addition to attracting an international audience, he hopes that the exhibition will encourage young, ambitious artists to stay in Kansas City, rather than decamping for bigger art hubs.

Cameron plans to involve a number of Kansas City artists, but the initial list of participants is an internationally known bunch: Alexandre ArrecheaNick CaveEbony G. PattersonJoyce J. ScottJennifer Steinkamp, and Nari Ward will all create new work for the occassion. It’s too early for details, as the artists are only just making their first visits to the city, but Cameron promised “quite a variety of projects.”

Cameron is no stranger to ambitious, city-engulfing initiatives. He founded Prospect New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to boost the city’s artists and local economy (though the event struggled to stay out of debt at certain points).

Cameron got involved in Open Spaces after a visit to the city a couple of years ago, when he was put in touch with local philanthropist Scott Francis, who was looking to launch a large-scale international art exhibition there. Coincidentally, the city had also approached Cameron about its own plans to create an event to promote local art and culture, a priority of the city’s mayor, Sly James.

The Starlight Theater in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Open Spaces Kansas City.

The Starlight Theater in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Open Spaces Kansas City.

“The two sides didn’t really know much about what the other was doing, so I was the connecting point,” said Cameron. “It’s a way of taking a private initiative to bring international art to Kansas City and a public initiative to revitalize public spaces and raise the profile of the Kansas City art scene in general, and combining them.”

The event, which is also led by Kansas City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services, has a multi-million dollar budget and is funded by the city as well as local philanthropists. The arts organization Kansas City Creates will coordinate the project’s finances to keep expenditures in line and ensure revenue.

“I firmly believe that Open Spaces can bring together the people of Kansas City and the surrounding region in a way that can put our city on the map as an arts and culture center,” Mayor James said in a statement.

Swope Park in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Open Spaces Kansas City.

Swope Park in Kansas City. Photo courtesy of Open Spaces Kansas City.

Open Spaces emerges alongside another high-profile Midwest art event—the FRONT Triennial—due to launch this summer in Cleveland, Ohio. What will set Open Spaces apart, according to Cameron, is its embrace of both visual and performing art. Few major biennial events, he notes, consider “visual and performing art as equal practices.”

Open Spaces will be centered in Swope Park, which will host outdoor sculptures; performances will take place at the nearby Starlight Theatre, a 1951 outdoor theater that seats 8,000.

The city’s museums and cultural institutions are also getting involved, with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the Kansas City Art Institute, and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art all hosting at least one project for Open Spaces. Additional satellite events and programming will be held at alternative spaces across the city.

“Kansas City is one of the most beautiful cities in the US in terms of its layout and design,” said Cameron, citing the wide boulevards that wrap around scenic areas. “It’s very unusual for American cities of this size to be this beautiful. For me, that’s very inspiring.”

Open Spaces 2018: A Kansas City Arts Experience will take place August 25–October 28, 2018.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect that the event is co-led by Kansas City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services, not Missouri’s Office of Culture and Creative Services.

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