Saturday, August 12, 2006
Let's face it. Kansas isn't the most culturally "cool" state in the nation.
Sure, there's the whole Wizard of Oz bit, and yeah, the state was once home to mega-celebs Don Johnson and Kirstie Alley. But apart from those cultural contributions, the state just sort of blends into the rest of the Midwest.
Luckily for Kansas University students flying in from all parts of the nation, Lawrence defies Kansas's cultural curse with a thriving film, music and arts scene. And while the town may not stack up next to Soho or Silver Lake, Lawrence's hotspots offer something for students to write home about.
Here's a gathering of some of the places in town sure to soothe your cultural cravings:
The Natural History Museum, Dyche Hall
1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
If you dig woolly mammoths, beehives and seeing what you'd look like as a monkey, the Natural History Museum on the KU campus is the place for you.
The museum, which is more than 100 years old, houses a myriad of collections for every taste. As you walk in, you'll see a gigantic mosasaur floating above your head. The monstrous fossil is one of dozens in the museum. Most are located on the third floor, which also includes a tar pit exhibit and dinosaur bones from most major eras of the geological time scale.
The museum also boasts a bee tree, where you can observe the inhabitants making honey; a 180-degree panorama with an abundance of taxidermic treasures from the animal kingdom; and a controversial exhibit on evolution. And yes, that's where you'll need to go to see what you look like as an ape.
The Spencer Museum of Art
If variety is the spice of life, the Spencer Museum of Art has to be the spiciest little museum you'll ever come across.
With nearly 26,000 pieces of art ranging from medieval European to 20th-century Chinese, the Spencer has something for everyone. Even if you don't know anything about art, you'll surely enjoy a stroll through one of the museum's seven galleries. There are Japanese block prints, wavy Impressionist pieces and all sorts of sculptures to "ooh" and "aah" over.
This fall, the Spencer is revamping its modern art exhibit and paying tribute to its own collection of masterpieces by showcasing poetry inspired by the museum's collection. In the spring, keep an eye out for a traveling exhibit that features urban art from Senegal.
Located in one of the most historic buildings in town, Liberty Hall was a theater more than 100 years ago. Today, it's still a theater, but it's also an art house, video rental store and a great place to catch live music.
If you're into more under-the-radar art house flicks, you'll probably want to see every one of them here, if just for the atmosphere. Liberty Hall also features the work of local filmmakers. There's the "big theater" in Liberty Hall's luxe auditorium, complete with a red velvet curtain. The "little theater" boasts a starry sky and intimate atmosphere. On a side note, you can wet your whistle with a glass of beer at the movie concession stand.
Also, all sorts of bands play gigs at Liberty Hall. Acts like Belle & Sebastian, Joan Baez and Iggy Pop have taken the stage in years past. On your way out of the shows, don't forget to browse through Liberty Hall Video, where you can delight in the best collection of VHS cult classics in town.
Lawrence Arts Center
For students majoring in economics or mathematics, creative outlets are few and far between. Luckily, the Lawrence Arts Center is here to unleash your inner artist.
The LAC offers classes in ceramics, photography, printmaking, painting, creative writing and more. Classes range in price from free to $150 and up for multiple-week programs. If you'd rather look at art than create it, you can wander over there to look through their collection of junior high and high school art. Just don't let your inner artist get discouraged by how awesomely creative it is.
Olive Gallery and Art Supply
15 E. Eighth St.
Now that you've enrolled in those painting classes, you might need paint. And brushes, canvases and a place to show your masterpiece once it's complete.
Look no further than Olive Gallery and Art Supply. The shop, with its green walls and sunny windows, sells all sorts of artsy trinkets and supplies. The locally made jewelry is always a good bet, as are the handcrafted bags and journals made of kitschy paperback books. At the Olive, there are paints, oils and sketchbooks for artists of every type.
Even if you aren't looking to buy anything, a quick look through the constantly changing wall art is the perfect break from Mass. Street shopping.
The Lied Center
1600 Stewart Drive
Located just a hop, skip and a jump from Daisy Hill, the Lied Center is Kansas University's major arts outlet.
Everyone from dance troupes to orchestras to seriously cool rock bands play there. Past performers include Beck, Arlo Guthrie, Ravi Shankar, The Flaming Lips ... the list goes on. This October, don't miss the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company. The Lied Center recruits acts from around the world in an effort to expand the horizons of KU students who drop in. Think of it this way - if KU was Disney World, then the Lied Center would be Epcot. That would make Fraser Hall Cinderella's Castle and the Hill Splash Mountain. Got it?
1530 Naismith Drive
Every college student has that one friend - the one who lives, breathes and sleeps at Murphy Hall. But you don't have to share a struggling artist's lifestyle to enjoy the art they churn out. At the University Theatre facilities in Murphy Hall, you can catch plays, concerts and sometimes art exhibits practically every weekend. And if you're actually one of those people who lives for art, you can express it without annoying your roommates in one of the numerous practice rooms at Murphy.
KU Art and Design Gallery
1467 Jayhawk Blvd.
Some say artists do their best work in their early 20s. If that's true, then it'd be wise to pay a visit to the Art and Design Gallery on campus. The exhibitions, which change weekly, feature student, faculty and visiting artists' work. It's free to enter, too, which makes the gallery even more appealing. Every December, the gallery stages its annual ceramics event, where you can purchase the work of ceramics students (bowls, coffee mugs, sculptures) for reasonable prices. On nicer days, take a stroll around the Art & Design Building to see the outdoor sculptures crafted by students in metals and welding.