This summer has brought the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City an unusual opportunity.
With the timing of the results from two major research projects, the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV (AEP IV) and the Local Arts Index (LAI) results, we have a complex and impressive overview of the arts ecology in Kansas City, one that’s never been seen before.
So, we’ve decided to host our first press conference in years. The event will include not just the highlights of the AEP IV figures, but also some of the key findings and takeaways from our Local Arts Index reports, all at the same time. This is without a doubt a big challenge, when you consider there’s so much information to cover.
The Kansas City metropolitan area sprawls over two states, five counties, and multiple cities, townships, and municipalities—I’ve heard that there are 117 different political jurisdictions here. We have five different LAI reports, one for each of the counties in our service area. That’s over 750 pages of detailed charts, graphs, and copy!
Then there’s also a regional report that combines all of the separate data into one unified look at the whole community, which also has some fascinating elements that are noteworthy. It’s humbling to realize that we can barely skim the surface of the information during a single event.
But the sheer volume of data now available is part of what drove the decision to take this approach. The two reports taken together provide the most complete and finely detailed study of the Kansas City arts community ever created. Breaking the data down into smaller segments would be easier, but it’s vital to get all of this information into the public sphere sooner rather than later. We’re in the beginning stages of regional community cultural planning, and waiting until the fall to release a second major study would slow our timetable for this considerably.
The July 19 event at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will be just the beginning of a long string of community meetings, where we will explore more in depth some of the nuances and differences identified between the various locales. We’ll focus primarily on the core messages of AEP IV, about the size of the arts sector and the number of jobs and dollars that it brings to the community. But we’ll also delve into the basic inventories that were created for our research for the LAI. We’ve used geo-coded mapping software to create easily understood maps that demonstrate where arts resources are located geographically, which has been a very effective way to draw attention to some interesting patterns here.
Jackson County, MO, has the highest number of arts nonprofits of any of the five counties in the region, but most of them are clustered into a narrow band of land that runs north-south within a few miles east of the state line with Kansas. This means they are in close proximity to many of the residents of Johnson County, just to the west. This geography is important to understanding the relative rates of arts participation among the respective counties.
The high rates seen in Johnson County, which are some of the highest in the nation, are only made possible by the close proximity of an abundance of strong arts and cultural assets right next door, along the western corridor of Jackson County. Without these resources being so readily available, it’s hard to imagine how such high rates of participation could exist in Johnson County.
It’s also worth noting that the participation rates in Platte and Clay counties are about the same as for Jackson County, even though some of their residents have to travel much farther to participate in some kinds of arts and culture experiences. All of this becomes much easier to explain when you use mapping software to illustrate these concepts in dramatic fashion.
We’ll be working with our friends at Kansas City Area Development Council to develop the graphics and visuals for the press conference. They were one of our leading partners in the development of the campaign to promote Kansas City as America’s Creative Crossroads, and it’s great to be involved on another project with them.
We hope that people will take away from the event the realization that the residents of all the multiple localities in the Kansas City metropolitan region already rely on each other for shared assets and audiences. We want people to see that a regional community cultural plan is the next logical step in building a stronger, more prosperous, and vibrant Kansas City for the 21st Century.