Kansas City – Jazz, BBQ and Beyond

Thanks to Andrew Zender, Director of Communications at the American Jazz Museum, for this guest post.

18th & Vine, Kansas City.  Photo credit: Diallo French

Born in America, jazz is our nation’s only indigenous art form and one of our greatest treasures.  Kansas City is one of the important incubators of jazz, and within its borders is one of the greatest crossroads of American music and culture: 18th & Vine.

From the swinging clubs and the all-night jam sessions to the exciting Negro Leagues baseball games, 18th & Vine was buzzing with a unique force, a scene ripe with riffs, built upon jumpin’ jazz blended with blues, Bird’s blossoming bebop – and Kansas City’s signature swing.

However, there were many other equally important aspects of life in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District – people and places that were woven into the social fabric that made 18th & Vine and a legendary spot forever immortalized in song and in the memories of folks who worked, lived and played here, some of whose stories are still to be told – until now.

Recognizing a need for the recording and preservation of dozens of untold oral histories that chronicle an incredibly important period of American life, the American Jazz Museum, one of the cultural anchors of the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District, has launched a new initiative aimed at capturing theses stories in a series entitled Stories from the Vine.

Featuring compelling narratives of life at 18th & Vine during its golden age from community members, local scholars/historians and other special guests, Stories from the Vine is designed to reveal new insights, provide a public forum and record testimonies documenting the rich legacy of the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District.

Using the District as a backdrop, Stories from the Vine will explore a variety of topics ranging from music and sports to business and politics, highlighting the role of 18th & Vine in Kansas City as an incredible hub of culture, commerce and entertainment. 

The program kicked off in February 2009 with three sessions exploring Black History Month, and will continue in March focusing on Women’s History Month and Women in Jazz. April sessions will be centered on the nationwide celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month.  Community members are invited to attend the free sessions and encouraged to share their own memories, which will be professionally audio/video recorded for compilation and future public exhibition. 

The Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District’s legacy is held up by two separate but deeply intertwined pillars – jazz and baseball – but there are many more layers to be uncovered in order to reveal a complete history.  The accounts of the local community are integral to nurturing a historical record that primarily remains carried on through oral tradition. 

The knowledge and appreciation gained from Stories from the Vine are invaluable in establishing a comprehensive, engaging and fully accessible permanent record of Kansas City as well as American musical and cultural history.

(More information on this program is available online at americanjazzmuseum.org or by calling the American Jazz Museum at 816-474-8463).



In Plane View at Kansas Cosmosphere

Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis

The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, our Smithsonian Affiliate in Hutchinson, Kansas, served as the perfect backdrop for the opening stop of the national tour of In Plane View/Abstractions of Flight, a traveling exhibit from the National Air and Space Museum, featuring the remarkable photographs of Smithsonian photographer, Carolyn Russo. As a guest attendee on January 30, I found myself in awe of the creativity that surrounded me.  The Cosmosphere is a tribute to the educational creativity of Patricia Brooks Carey, who in 1962 started a small planetarium on the grounds of the Kansas State Fair, in what was described to me as “an old chicken coop.”  The chicken coop became the Cosmosphere in 1980, and has since grown into the second largest collection of US space artifacts in the world, and the largest collection of Soviet space artifacts outside of Moscow.  More than 125 objects on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum help tell the story, among them the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft and Apollo 13 command module.  

Russo’s creativity comes from an unmatched gift for seeing designs and patterns in airplanes and spacecraft and for translating them into alluring and thought-provoking photographic images.  In Plane View consists of 56 large-format photographs that remind us that machines of flight are more than hunks of riveted metal attached to large engines, and flown only by the fearless.  They are, through Russo’s artistry, artifacts imbued with mystical geometries, strange symmetry, sensuous curves, and bold colorations.  What Amelia Earhart called “the aesthetic appeal of flying” comes through in unusual and unexpected bursts in Russo’s photographs.  Chris Orwell, director of the Cosmosphere, and his staff did a terrific job of mounting the exhibition and hosting the opening reception.  The photographs were hung with  exceptional care, and stood out wonderfully under the newly installed lighting system.  With a soft harp playing in the background, guests including Alan Shepherd’s daughter, Laura Churchley, enjoyed conversing with Russo, who also signed copies of the book that accompanies the exhibit.  

Nearby, I couldn’t help but notice a lone exhibit case housing a battered old star-making device, recently recovered from a local school that turned out to be the original projector from the first planetarium shows at the “old chicken coop.”  Though a bit rusty and worn, it too spoke of creative impulses – the kind that start at the edges of our universe and reach deep down into the curiosity within each of us.   Carolyn, the Cosmosphere, and the chicken coop brought us together that night in a memorable and inspiring way.  Isn’t that what museums are supposed to do?  

Smithsonian Affiliates will continue to enjoy In Plane View/Abstractions of Flight when it visits The Air Zoo (Kalamazoo, MI), Frontiers of Flight (Dallas, TX), The Works:  Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology (Newark, OH), College Park Aviation Museum (College Park, MD), Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences (Peoria, IL), and Challenger Space Center (Peoria, AZ).  I hope you’ll have a chance to soar with it. 

Cupcake love at American Art

Portraits of Obama and Lincoln, in cupcakes

Our friends at the American Art Museum celebrated Valentine’s Day by inviting cupcake artist Zilly Rosen to create “A New Birth of Freedom,” a double portrait of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama made from more than 5,600 cupcakes. As you can see, each cupcake played a vital role as one “pixel” in the sugary work of art.

I was part of the lucky crowd that got to help “de-install” the work by eating the cupcakes. When the artist’s assistants started moving the “pixels” from portrait to plate to pass them out to the crowd, three floors of onlookers cheered those cupcakes. My husband commented, “that may have been the first work of art I’ve ever eaten.” Me too.

Read more about the event & see more pictures on SAAM’s blog and website.

what’s the most unusual event you’ve ever done at YOUR museum?!

Jen -about to eat a cupcake:     🙂

Jennifer about to eat (cup) cake 




Jewish Museum “Steels” Spotlight

 Thanks to Ilana Blumenthal, Public Relations Associate at NMAJH for this guest blog post.    

NMAJH staff.jpg

With the sun in our eyes, frostbite nearly setting in, and huge grins on our faces, the staff and board members of the National Museum of American Jewish History watched as the final 31-foot steel beam was placed on the northwest corner of the 121-foot and six-inch high, 100,000-square-foot, five story new Museum building. This traditional steel workers “topping off” ceremony took place on a 20-degree day on January 21, completing a significant milestone for the building being constructed on Independence Mall in Philadelphia that will serve as a cornerstone of the modern-day Jewish community.

Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects of New York, the new Museum will be in the heart of historic Philadelphia and will join Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and other landmarks at the site of America’s birth. The new Museum will open in 2010.

Prior to being hoisted with banners from the Museum, Ironworkers Local Union 401, and INTECH Construction Inc., the Museum’s contractor, ironworkers, staff, board, and INTECH employees signed their names on the beam as a sign of pride, accomplishment, and ownership. Atop the beam sits an American flag and evergreen tree (not to be confused with a Christmas tree), traditional symbols of the ironworkers’ceremony.

With the steel structure finished, the next steps for the building will be pouring its concrete floors and the construction of the north and west walls. The west wall facing Independence Mall will be a glass prism, expressing the accessibility of the museum and the openness of America, as well as the perennial fragility of democracy. The north wall will be constructed of terra cotta, expressing the strength of Jewish survival and the protective shelter of American freedom.

“With this phase of the construction complete, and as the Museum takes shape on Independence Mall, I think it becomes clear that there could not be a more fitting place for a museum that will explore the promise and challenges of liberty through the lens of the American Jewish experience,” said Gwen Goodman, the NMAJH’s Executive Director/CEO.

The new National Museum of American Jewish History will be the first and only major museum dedicated to chronicling the American Jewish experience. It will explore the challenges of identity and assimilation they faced and celebrate the contributions they have made to every facet of American life. The Museum is dedicated to telling the still unfolding story of Jews in America – who embraced freedom with its choices and challenges as they shaped, and were shaped by, our nation. The Museum envisions its new home as a place that welcomes all people, inviting them to discover what they have in common with the Jewish experience in America, and to explore the features that make this history distinctive.

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 high steel NMAJH.jpg


American Indian launches its “4th Museum”

Penobscot dollsThis week, the National Museum of the American Indian launched a new site for searching its collections. This new resource includes over 5000 objects from its 800,000-plus collection, and will continue to grow.  Eventually, it will be one of the largest Native American collections online. You can visit this site at www.AmericanIndian.si.edu/searchcollections. The launch is a milestone in the museum’s “Fourth Museum” project to bring the collections to those who may not have the opportunity to visit the museum’s three buildings in New York City, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.  According to museum director Kevin Gover, “As the museum on the National Mall approaches its fifth anniversary, our promise to reach out to tribal communities, schools, libraries, museums… throughout the world is being realized.  Though we have a long way to go before completing this project, I am pleased to offer the first phase of our fourth museum–our museum without walls.”