Masterminds 2010: This year’s creative geniuses

Meet Our Masterminds: Winners of the 2010 Awards

Once again, The Pitch presents some of this city’s aesthetic adventurers with $1,000 each — no strings attached — just for doing what they do.

Each year, we ask 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 financial reward. A thousand bucks, we figure, is a small investment toward keeping the city interesting.

We’ll hand out the checks at our annual Artopia party — a night of fashion, music, food and all-around creative energy — on Saturday, April 3, 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, or $20 if you get them sooner by calling us at 816-561-6061.


Mastermind: Art
Barry Anderson

The camera tracks forward slowly through trees and foliage. To the sounds of crackling twigs and a deep whoosh, faces appear in the branches: cartoon animals, smiling children. After 80 seconds, the video loops seamlessly to the beginning, creating a hypnotic illusion of infinity. It’s called “Treebeasties,” and when Barry Anderson made it — in 2007, when he was a few years shy of 40 — the video artist knew that it was an important moment for him. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a piece that was such a watershed,” he says. “I started showing it to people, and they really responded to it.”

“Treebeasties” turned out to be a midcareer game changer, and his already striking, singular work has become even more refined since then. These days, he works in a nearly 1,000-foot space (provided with his residency at Review Studios), manipulating layers of digital video clips with a program called Adobe After Effects, essentially the Photoshop of video production. Then he builds the physical installations that he uses to exhibit the finished work. “At a certain level, I am a gearhead and a geek,” he says.

That mechanical inclination shows in the craftsmanship of his video imagery as well as the installations themselves. The geekiness, too, is on display in the pop-cultural references that his work evokes. “This piece is called ‘Tannhauser Gate,'”he says, indicating twin screens displaying a sensual dance of rounded feminine shapes, a study of succumbing to gravity — and defying it. The title comes from Blade Runner.

“People come to the video expecting narrative,” Anderson says. “I don’t like the idea of narrative.” Instead, he strives for painterly movement and imagery, but there’s no story arc in his statements. “If you think about it, arcs are pretty artificial constructs,” he says. He prefers movement in space, loops of time, infinity.

Assembling the collages of haunting ambient sound that accompany his video pieces inspired Anderson to create a series of audio-only works. That means covering part of a gallery’s wall space with 16-channel speakers to broadcast sonic washes that fundamentally alter the surrounding space. “It’s non-narrative, the same thing I do with the video pieces,” he says.

Anderson has exhibited his work in New York, Dallas, Chicago and other major cultural hubs, but his life is in Kansas City. “I love New York and L.A., but I know how hard it is to make work there and actually sustain your art. Where else would I live? This is such a vibrant place, one of the best art scenes in the country — great artists, museums, galleries, curators. And I really enjoy teaching.” Anderson has taught courses in motion graphics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for eight years. “I teach mostly design students, so I basically teach them to put design techniques into motion.”

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While showing a recent work — “Totem (1),” in which a torrent of little Anderson blobs (heads and faces culled from ads) shoots endlessly from the ground in a scene spanning three flat screens — he looks to the future. “I intend to do a couple more in this vein,” he says. “Somebody asked me about the possibility of doing this with 50-inch plasmas. That works out to, like, 13 feet tall.” He flashes a quick expression of muted excitement at the prospect.

— By Chris Packham


Mastermind: Performance
Heidi Van

When she puts on the nose, Heidi Van is free.

“Clowns make the rules,” Van says. “They have the authority to change those rules. They can die. They can come back. They can look out at the audience and say, ‘You know what? I’m an all-caps CLOWN!'”

Van makes rules, too. The pixie-ish native of Kansas City, Kansas, is as comfortable farcing it up for the New Theatre’s dinnertime crowds as she is gliding through dark, experimental, movement-based clown extravaganzas like The Coppelia Project.

In the latter show and other shows like it, Van and her Hybrid-theater cohorts have achieved, through clowning, a casual profundity — work that seems simple yet cuts deep.

An actress, director, teacher of incarcerated juveniles, and manager of the Fishtank theater at 17th Street and Wyandotte, Van buys the freedom to clown through labor that’s mundane (sweeping the Fishtank, painting its walls), instructional (guiding artists interested in a Fishtank show through the process of writing proposals and estimating budgets) and managerial (gathering the team to nurse an idea into a fully realized performance). The effort is also altruistic: By keeping the Fishtank alive, she gives Kansas City a space where the unlikely flourishes — where other performers are free to put on the nose, too.

Still in its first year, the teensy theater has hosted local and national performers putting on work old and new. It has given us Lisa Cordes’ series of living-news performances in which motley casts declaim the writings of Sarah Palin or Carrie Prejean. It has mounted one-woman shows from out of town as well as locally cast plays that otherwise wouldn’t have been staged here. It has put on a citywide show-and-tell, and it has dared improvised comedy every Saturday and themed celebrations of new performance art on First Fridays. (At one show inspired by Union Station’s Warhol exhibit, Van dressed as Warhol-shooter Valerie Solanas.) We’ve seen workshops, rehearsals and Peter Lawless composing and performing music in the windows.

Those shop windows overlooking Wyandotte Street give the space its name as well as its greatest inspiration. Fishtank founder Corrie Van Ausdal even hatched an environmental-theater breakthrough when she staged Dial ‘M’ for Murder entirely behind the storefront’s glass. The Hybrid theater collective followed up this past fall with clown love story. Written by the group, it was a tender and riotous tale of a street-sweeping clown (Matt Weiss) who falls for a comically buxom baker (Van, padded à la Dolly Parton) whom he sees each day in a sweet-shop window. For most of the show, Weiss was outside looking in, just like the audience members, who sat in folding chairs out on Wyandotte.

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An original show, sharply written and performed, that actually spilled out into our city itself? That’s why we call Van a Mastermind.

— By Alan Scherstuhl


Mastermind: Literary
The Latino Writers Collective

The woman standing at the podium at the Kansas City downtown library is famous in certain circles. Demetria Martinez’s fiction has won national awards, and, in the 1980s, she stood trial on conspiracy charges against the U.S. government for smuggling Salvadoran refugees into the country. (She escaped a 25-year sentence due to to the First Amendment: She was a religion reporter covering the Sanctuary movement.) At the moment, however, she’s talking about makeup for women with “olive skin,” describing hues of foundation and eye shadow like the colors in a Navajo sand painting.

Around 60 people have shown up for her reading. Thanks to the Latino Writers Collective, more diverse writers are coming to Kansas City. When it began five years ago, the group hosted a single reading; this year, it’s up to five. (Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running, reads at the Plaza library April 29.)

“We went to a lot of readings — at the Writers Place, the Rockhurst poetry series — and there wasn’t really any representation of Latinos,” says José Faus, one of the collective’s founders and its current president. “We wanted to bring someone like Sandra Cisneros, but we kind of laughed because, with someone of her reputation, we didn’t think we could pull it off. But she came.”

Even more important than bringing those voices to Kansas City: growing them right here.

Every other Wednesday night, members of the collective meet at the Writers Place to work on their own stories, essays and poems, delivering the sometimes painful feedback that helps all writers improve their craft. The collective started with five people; now there are 30, with two books to their credit: 2008’s Primera Página: Poetry From the Latino Heartland and last year’s Cuentos Del Centro: Stories From the Latino Heartland.

That subtitle — From the Latino Heartland — is key. “It’s not necessarily about the Midwest itself but our reactions to finding ourselves in the Midwest,” Faus says of Primera Página.

Faus is from Colombia; other members are from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador, Mexico and elsewhere.

Xanath Caraza joined the collective because she was drawn to that diversity of Latino voices. “Sometimes people think there’s just one kind of Latino, but there are so many layers, which makes Latino culture so rich and so attractive.”

There’s a sense of urgency about their work. Last year, the group incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and members drew up a five-year strategic plan. Besides sending their writers to more workshops and conferences around the country, putting on more readings and promoting their own writing, they want to create programs for schools and see their books used in college classes.

“We read in all of the area colleges around here,” Faus says. “I’ll be going to Salina to do a reading in April. I think we’re willing to go just about anywhere to read.”

“We’re getting excellent response from national writers now,” Caraza adds. “They want to come and see what we’re doing.”

Plenty of us here can already see what they’re doing: making Kansas City a world-class place.

— By C.J. Janovy


Mastermind: Design
Dan Padavic and Tad Carpenter of Vahalla Studios

When John Mayer played the Sprint Center last month, his obligatory shout-out of crowd appreciation should have included a nod to a Crossroads print shop.

Tucked behind a Southwest Boulevard rock bar, Vahalla Studios is part factory, part gallery, part office space. Inside, good music blares, friendly dogs play, and a pair of old friends create modern rock memorabilia. Stacked pastel letters form the word “Wilco.” A feminine eye, heavy with mascara, cries an orange tear filled with details about an old Regina Spektor gig at the Uptown Theater. Words and characters combine for My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, the Decemberists — and Mayer, for whom Vahalla recently designed a whole series of tour posters.

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Friends since their teens, Dan Padavic (right) and Tad Carpenter (now 30 and 29, respectively) began making posters together in 2005, printing overnight in the back of an auto-mechanic shop. “We started small, and it just kind of snowballed,” Padavic says. The company’s name is a corruption of the Old Norse “Valhalla,” a destination, or hall, for dead soldiers. Padavic has always liked the word; both men think it’s smoother without the extra l.

Early on, MySpace Secret Shows tapped Vahalla for work, adding to the studio’s list of high-profile clients. Landing the 3,800-square-foot warehouse space at 2111 Washington has allowed Padavic and Carpenter to centralize and showcase their operation, which includes three employees, and letterpress and silkscreen capabilities. And though it’s best known for rock posters, Vahalla’s expanding product line includes buttons, mugs, paper goods and clothing.

As a design instructor for the University of Kansas, Carpenter regularly brings students to his shop for hands-on experience. “Between Dan and I — from a design standpoint to a production standpoint — we do everything in-house,” he says.

Internationally connected, the Vahalla guys respect their local roots and the low cost of living near their native Shawnee, Kansas. They also truly believe in the potential of Kansas City’s artistic community. Carpenter, who independently has done illustration and design for such companies as Target and Hallmark, provided the official artwork for the recent Kansas City Design Week, which highlighted the work of local artists. “The people we know here are doing stuff,” Padavic says.

Vahalla’s gallery room opened to the public for the first time this past October. Padavic and Carpenter want to use the space to expose Kansas City to more local and national screen-printing talent. “The nice thing about screen-printed art is that it’s affordable,” Padavic says. “You can buy a screen-printed poster for $25, as opposed to $9,000 for a painting.”

Vahalla sells its printed goods all over the world, through the Internet and at festivals in such cities as Chicago, Seattle and Berlin. The busy season begins with driving a U-Haul full of their creations to South By Southwest. A week before the Austin event, Padavic pointed to a stack of 500 rock posters destined for the legendary music festival’s Flatstock exhibition. On this day, he wore a steel-gray work shirt embroidered with the name “Jim.” The shirt resembled a mechanic’s uniform except for the tentacles of a sea creature reaching around his rib cage.

It could have been a metaphor for Vahalla Studios, a business operated by two workmanlike artists with fantastic vision.

— By Crystal K. Wiebe

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