Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is the Kauffman Center Predatory?

I was flabbergasted when I read the 20th item of a survey conducted on behalf of The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
20. The following is a list of performers that potentially fit within the programming vision of the Kauffman Center. Please rate your interest in attending a performance by each performer: BB King, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Demetri Martin, Ricky Gervais, Tracy Morgan, Bill Maher, Seu Jorge, The Peking Acrobats, Mumford & Sons, Ben Folds, The Flaming Lips, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, Janelle Monae, FELA! On Broadway, Stomp, Pat Metheny
Save Seu Jorge, every musical act on the list has performed at a Kansas City-area venue at least once in the past 24 months. Crossroads, Liberty Hall, the Midland Theater, the Record Bar, Sandstone, Sprint Center and the Uptown Theater served as recent hosts to these artists. The Kauffman Center, it would seem, intends to compete with existing Kansas City music venues and promoters. That's not merely disappointing- it's predatory.

I had assumed, perhaps naively, that in addition to giving the Kansas City Symphony, the Lyric Opera and the Kansas City Ballet a stylish new home, the new spaces (Muriel Kauffman Theatre- 1,800 seats and Helzberg Hall- 1,600 seats) would fill an artistic void in our community. The official line sold me:
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts will have a dramatic and transformative impact on Kansas City, changing both the city’s skyline as well as the experience of artists and audiences throughout our region.
Unless he's accompanied by the Symphony, the only "transformative" element of catching a Willie Nelson concert at the Kauffman Center promises to be the price of my ticket. Partisans of the Kauffman Center will undoubtedly reference its superior acoustics. I'm sure the new rooms will sound magnificent, but near-perfect sound is often achieved at most of the venues listed above. (The Folly Theater is also wonderful.)

Rather than booking touring acts that regularly perform in Kansas City, I'd hoped that the Kauffman Center would attract important artists that might otherwise not visit our town. Here's a set of suggestions:
Laurie Anderson, Antony & the Johnsons, Jorge Ben, Ornette Coleman, Nick Cave, Brian Eno, Cesaria Evora, Jan Garbarek, Gilberto Gil, Egberto Gismonti, Philip Glass, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Daniel Lanois, the Last Poets, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Mariza, Brad Mehldau, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Arvo Part, Steve Reich, the Residents, Terry Riley, Sonny Rollins, Oumou Sangare, Maria Schneider, Jimmy Scott, Gil Scott-Heron, Patti Smith, Henry Threadgill, Tinariwen, Caetano Veloso, Kenny Wheeler, Marva Whitney and Cassandra Wilson
I would like to think that high-minded supporters of classical music would appreciatively throw their financial backing behind most of these artists.

Am I reading too much into an innocuous blog post? I hope so.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)


Bob Asher said...

Great post and definitely a valid concern. I thought the place would be more "highbrow". I sure would like to keep up with how this goes.

Tater said...

I believe you are reading it correctly Bill. We are blessed with an abundance of great Venues and cursed with a lack of patrons and promoters.

bigsteveno said...

If you have a hand in getting Tinariwen or Caetano Veloso to perform in KC, I will salute you, sir.

Gary said...

Your list is pretty tasty.

Happy In Bag said...

I genuinely love Willie Nelson and I've seen him perform at least a dozen times.

It seems to me, however, that the Kauffman Center really should be more "highbrow."

The Record Bar and/or the Uptown Theater are very unlikely to book someone like Caetano Veloso or Laurie Anderson. But if presented by selective curators at the Kauffman and properly promoted, concerts of that ilk could actually make money.

bigsteveno said...

Didn't Laurie Anderson perform at the Lied Center a couple of years ago?

Happy In Bag said...

Yes- September 2008. And Kronos Quartet played at Lied Center this year.

There will inevitable conflicts between Kauffman and other venues (the Harriman-Jewell, Jammin' at the Gem and the Folly Theater's jazz series come to mind in my scenario) but I'd rather see them fight for the exceptions rather than for the rules.

Rick in PV said...

I, too, thought of it as the symphony and ballet hall until now, but I suppose the Kauffman folks will program much like the Lied and Carlsen centers. Let's hope they grow the pie and get some of the jazzers on your list. That seems appropriate for KC's best concert hall.

bgo said...

Jordi Savall!

Darrell said...

Bill - you may not be overreacting, but I don't think that "predatory" would be the way I would see this situation. If a quality venue is being built, it's only natural that the proprietors would want to present quality entertainment.

If an artist has performed at a particular venue for a particular promoter in the past, it doesn't make them the property or indentured servant of that promoter or venue. A show should happen on the best stage it can be presented from.

The business of promoting music in Kansas City has pretty much been a predatory one for all parties involved as long as I can remember. Tales of conflict between Cowtown Productions and New West/Contemporary back in the 70's were something to behold when they were happening. As far as I can see, not much has changed since.

Gary said...

The Gem is getting Dave Holland early next year; he's one of the current jazzbos that repeatedly draws my interest.

Happy In Bag said...

All of your assertions are correct, Darrell. Even so, I'd much rather see the Kauffman Center fill an artistic void than duplicate existing efforts.

Willie Nelson will perform in KC every twelve months with or without the Kauffman Center's involvement.

Someone like Keith Jarrett, however, might only come to KC at the behest of the Kauffman Center. Wouldn't it be something to have the pianist play a jazz set and a classical concert on consecutive nights? The Kauffman Center could make that happen.

Happy In Bag said...

Look what I did.