Masterminds 2009

Four years in a row, four Masterminds.

Once again, we’re presenting four of the city’s aesthetic adventurers with $1,000 each — no strings attached — just for doing what they do.

Each year, we’ve asked our readers to nominate artists, innovators and entrepreneurs who are changing the city’s cultural landscape. This isn’t a popularity contest or a lifetime achievement award; instead, we want to recognize individuals or groups whose contributions are influencing the city’s cultural and creative landscape.

We back up our appreciation with cash because we know that these people often do their work with little recognition — and less financial reward. A thousand bucks, we figure, is a small investment in keeping the city interesting.

We’ll hand out the checks at our fourth-annual Artopia party — a night of fashion, music, food and all-around creative energy — on Saturday, April 4, at the Screenland (1656 Washington). Until then, you can read about this year’s Masterminds in this Artopia pullout section. The party that night starts at 7; tickets cost $25 at the door, $20 if you get them sooner by calling us at 816-561-6061.

VISUAL ARTS:
ANNE AUSTIN PEARCE

Anne Austin Pearce is quietly industrious. But unlike many people who have more than one job and multiple passions, she doesn’t talk about how busy she is. Pearce just prefers to do the work. And what good work it is.

Pearce is a working artist, an art professor, a mentor to more than a dozen independent-studies pupils and, since 2004, director of the Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University. She’s also on the board of Review magazine. But she would be embarrassed to read here how much time she spends on these things and how much work she gets done. She would just as soon mention all the folks at Rockhurst with whom she works — people, she says, who make her job easier. That’s the way she is. She would rather deflect attention from herself and onto the artists she works with in the gallery (where she organizes five exhibitions each academic year), her students and her fellow artists in the Kansas City community.

For her pithy exhibitions, which have made Rockhurst’s gallery interesting and have drawn attention to the university, Pearce has curated works by local as well as national artists, often at the same time, to spark discussion. Her own works have appeared in exhibitions around the country and abroad.

A Lawrence native, Pearce has been in Kansas City for more than 12 years. She spent a couple of years in Texas after school, but Texas is another story and too many years ago. Pearce is focused on the present and the future and how she can collaborate with other exceptional artists, serve her students and grow in her own work.

And she has plans for her art. Her next project is a series of double portraits. She would like to pick about 40 people — some she knows, some strangers — and make portraits of what she calls “interior and exterior selves.” This kind of project, which she expects will take her two to three years, feeds into one of Pearce’s primary interests.

“I love people and asking them questions, and then seeing how that translates into a portrait,” she says. Her work now suggests the intuitive essence of people and places. In these new portraits, she says, “I’d be more specific, photograph objects people like, or I’d use someone’s shadow as a starting point and go from there.

” Pearce is a prodigious mapper of her interactions. For instance, in her work she has charted the dynamics of a conversation between herself and another person, suggesting the topography of a relationship and how it rises and falls. Her hybrid works combine multiple abstract ideas about her subjects and her relationships with them.

For Pearce, the new project is an experiment, a riskier way of working. And yet it will allow her to engage emotionally and intellectually with her subjects. That collaborative part of working, whether in the gallery with the exhibited artists or as part of her teaching projects, is what she thrives on and what makes all of her work essential to Kansas City’s visual and intellectual landscape.

— Dana Self

PERFORMING ARTS:

RON MEGEE

Pick any year from the previous dozen, and Ron Megee could have been that year’s Mastermind. From his days as a gifted improv comic through the long-lived fantasy that was his Late Night Theatre to his current career directing for the Coterie At Night series, Megee has always managed to create extravagant theater from limited means.

Just as impressive, in 2009 — the year the performer-director-writer-designer officially takes the Mastermind honor — we’ve been treated to his starring turns in La Cage Aux Folles and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, two shows that demonstrate how even an actor with a résumé as thick as Megee’s still has a lot he can discover.

Sister Mary stretched me pretty far,” Megee says. “Dressed as a nun, all I had was my face! I had to learn to be reserved, how to rely on an eye gesture instead of kicking my legs apart and doing a pratfall.

”Learning reserve is the gift of Jeff Church, the Coterie Theatre’s artistic director and Megee’s frequent collaborator. “He’s one of my best friends,” Megee says, “and he inspires me and pushes me forward. He put me in The Laramie Project” — the decidedly uncomic story of Matthew Shepard — “and then La Cage and Sister Mary.”

Besides these extraordinary performances, the Megee-Church partnership has also yielded Coterie At Night, which features plays that are aimed at teenage audiences. “That crowd is there, and nobody’s giving credit to them,” Megee says. “We try to reach them, and we pick stories that don’t dumb down to the audience. Jeff and the Coterie do that, too — they talk up to their audience.”

So far, Coterie At Night has been a success. Night of the Living Dead has done well two Halloweens in a row, and The Breakfast Club — currently running Monday nights at the Westport Coffee House — is enjoying frequent sellouts.

Crafting creative, exciting, honest shows for teenagers? Giving them a place that’s theirs after dark? Maybe even inspiring in these young audiences the same love of the arts that stirs in him? This is what makes a Mastermind: Some day, some of those kids whom Megee reaches will be staging shows of their own.

Megee being Megee, he’ll keep us busy with shows until then. A taste of his upcoming projects: Mall of the Dead, a Megee-penned sequel to the Coterie At Night hit Night of the Living Dead, which he promises will involve zombies actually taking over Crown Center; an adaptation of The Rose at La Esquina, featuring Cody Wyoming’s live band and starring Spencer Brown in the Bette Midler role; and a wacky-neighbor role in the New Theatre farce Run for Your Wife. Perhaps best of all, now that the debt on Late Night Theatre has almost been paid off, Megee admits to the possibility of a Late Night reunion. If it happens, that motley crew will sally forth under a new name: Royal Crown Theatre Troupe, which is tres KC.

With luck, they might even take on a couple of Megee’s own scripts in progress, including the promising Helen of Troy, Pennsylvania. But whether that comes to pass, there’s one certainty: Megee will always be creating shows, just as he’ll always be making others’ shows better.

— Alan Scherstuhl

FASHION/DESIGN:

CARMAN STALKER

This is a big weekend for Carman Stalker.

On Thursday, the 34-year-old with a splash of valentine red in her hair hosts a style showcase and market. On Friday, she opens the doors to a new home for WearHaus, her fashion-events company. On Saturday, WearHaus presents a fashion show at Artopia.

The new bi-level WearHaus studio at 1800 Central provides Stalker with a professional home base. She’ll have an office upstairs, and local designers will have studio and shop space on the lower level. Even without a storefront — people will have to buzz in at the building’s entrance — Stalker hopes for busy First Fridays, when she plans to have fashion-themed art exhibits. Then, throughout the rest of every month, WearHaus will host business and creative workshops.

By the end of the two-year lease, Stalker hopes to buy a building big enough to provide private studios for other designers and artists. “I like to be surrounded by independent, creative people,” she says.

If the past is any indication, the woman who has devoted nearly five years to invigorating Kansas City’s fashion scene will achieve her dream.

Stalker is good at getting what she wants. Example: The time she convinced a Chicago company to take her on as an event planner, even though the company wasn’t hiring. She says, “I told them, ‘Just meet with me.’ ”

The KC native moved to Chicago after earning a communication studies degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and working for a year at a local PR firm. She says she always wanted to move somewhere but always knew she’d be back. She went from Chicago to San Diego before returning to Kansas City in 2004.

As she gradually got reacquainted with her hometown, Stalker once again got persuasive, cold-calling local fashion mavens with her pitch for a monthly showcase, where they could network with one another and connect with the public. Within months, the WearHaus First Thursday became a regular event.

And it’s still going. Currently taking place at Mint, the event combines cocktails, shopping and primping. Each month, Stalker handpicks five or six designers to display their work. Hairstylists and nail technicians set up, too. Patrons, who are admitted free, mingle and shop while enjoying cheap drinks. (Stalker keeps the event free for designers, too.)

She always knew the concept would work.

Back when she was “slinging sludge” at a San Diego coffee shop, she began envisioning her own line of purses. So her mother, on a visit to California, took along the sewing machine. “That’s where I actually started making stuff,” Stalker says.

She wound up making more than accessories in San Diego. By founding WearHaus with a group of like-minded souls, she helped build a scene. The first fashion show that she helped promote in San Diego attracted 1,000 guests and hundreds of pounds of clothing donations for charity.

Although it’s difficult to draw crowds that big in Kansas City, Stalker has established herself as a force in local fashion. “People are starting to recognize the name,” she says.

— Crystal K. Wiebe

ALL-AROUND CREATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENT:

PAT ALEXANDER

Pat Alexander believes in the underdog. That’s why he still loves Kansas City, still lives here (in Merriam, not far from where he grew up in Overland Park). It’s why he didn’t mind leaving the Kansas City Art Institute after one semester to make a living as a waiter (and then a cook) to support the downtown gallery he opened in 1997, Locus Solus. “We were showcasing international art, indie art, graffiti, DJs, live bands, performance art,” he says. “That was when I knew I wanted to stay in KC to make art. This is a scene not for spectators but for involvement.”

Alexander has only involved himself more. Over the past two years, as the arts and events coordinator of the YWCA of Greater Kansas City (at 1017 North Sixth Street in Kansas City, Kansas), the 36-year-old has trained his focus on artists, filmmakers and guests whose voices murmur below the popular surface.

Low to the ground as they are, underdogs are finders. Alexander’s own art emphasizes collage and video assemblage, and he collects records (his wheels-of-steel alter ego around town: DJ Fat Sal). So it’s no surprise that he’s a natural curator. In the bright, high-walled but intimate gallery space at the YWCA (and throughout the building), Alexander has hung paintings and placed sculpture by a handful of artists whom he can say he discovered.

At the heart of Alexander’s work is the YWCA’s mission: “eliminating racism, empowering women.” For last fall’s Colorblind Film Series (six documentaries that screened at the YWCA’s Black Box Theatre at the height of the presidential race), he booked political and sometimes heartbreaking work by women filmmakers. Later this month, the YWCA (with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault and the Latino Writers Collective) will put on the second-annual “Speaking Out,” an anti-violence spoken-word event.

Reaching out to the people whose work drives these events — and finding them in the first place — would be job enough. But Alexander, with the KCK Arts Network, also has embarked on a quest to secure exhibition space for art in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. The resulting Second Friday Art Walks have expanded quickly and have tapped into a layer of local talent that, at its best, refuses to accept second place behind the Crossroads-centered First Fridays.

When it comes to his own art, he mostly makes it these days after his wife and their toddler have gone to bed. When Alexander accepts his Masterminds award, in fact, he will have just returned from exhibiting his work in a solo show at the Los Angeles gallery Echo Curio. And he will have wandered that city looking for old records, especially on the Fania, King, Blue Note, Studio One and Curtom labels.

Alexander has an eye for art, but he also has something like X-ray vision when it comes to spotting influence and intent. Last summer, after seeing smart, very different works by KCAI students Vanessa Freund and Ankur Desai on the school’s campus, he booked them together for an edgy, often lovely exhibition. When he called first one and then the other to set up the show, he discovered that they were best friends. Another curator might have shrugged off the coincidence as Midwestern quaintness or been reminded that, in the cynical world of art, friendships are fragile and fleeting. But Alexander is no cynic. And if more trend-conscious or money-minded gallery types aren’t inclined to be charmed by studio-forged friendship, well, we should all be so Midwestern.

— Scott Wilson

Categories: News