2011 spotlight: The Lawrence arts community


K.T. Walsh displays her John Brown sign during a protest against the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission. Gov. Sam Brownback announced at the beginning of the year that the commission would be cut as part of a cost-saving endeavor. In May Brownback vetoed the commission’s budget, effectively defunding arts programs in Kansas.


Theatre Lawrence will break ground this week on a new theater and performance space. The new theater, seen in this rendering, features double the seating capacity and adds classrooms and improved parking for patrons.


Eminem headlined the first day of Kanrocksas, a new music festival that featured both national and local musicians and was held at the Kansas Speedway.


Jacki Becker, center, and the rest of Eleven Productions celebrated their 10th anniversary with 11.11.11, a one-day local music showcase, conveniently held on Nov. 11.


Final Fridays celebrated its first anniversary in August.

The arts in Kansas were certainly in the spotlight in 2011, but the story at the center of that attention wasn’t one any local artist was likely to praise.

That elephant aside, copious amounts of art were made in Lawrence this year. And there were encouraging signs in our arts community, with one long-standing group finding enough donations for a new home, an arts showcase celebrating its anniversary and a longtime awards entity showcasing the power of women.

Kansas Arts Commission’s elimination

On Jan. 13, Gov. Sam Brownback announced that as part of an effort to reduce the state budget, he’d be making cuts to the Kansas Arts Commission, which funds arts and arts organizations around the state through a series of grants. Moreover, the commission would become a privately funded nonprofit “in response to the current demands on the state general fund,” Brownback’s budget stated.

In May, Brownback vetoed the KAC’s $689,000 budget, making Kansas the only state to defund the arts. Because of that defunding, the state then lost an additional $1.2 million in federal matching dollars. Then, in October, the KAC was told not to even bother trying to meet an extended deadline set up to help Kansas earn funds from the National Endowment for the Arts for the next fiscal year.

Theatre Lawrence secures a future home

The community theater group raised the $6.2 million needed to build a new home in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

The organization will move from the building it has outgrown at 1501 N.H. to a 300-seat theater — double the current size — plus classrooms for the group’s several workshops and educational programs.

“Earthwork” opens in Lawrence

Though shot around town in 2008 and screened in at the Lawrence Arts Center in 2010, the Stan Herd biopic “Earthwork” didn’t play repeat engagements here until June, when the film made its way to Liberty Hall. Starring John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone,” “Marcy Mary May Marlene”) as the Lawrence-bread artist, “Earthwork” was written, directed and produced by Kansas University alum Chris Ordal. The story follows Herd, who, in 1994 put it all on the line to produce a piece of landscape art in New York. The film received rave reviews from Roger Ebert, “The Kansas City Star” and our own Eric Melin.

Phoenix Awards’ women’s sweep

For the first time in the 16-year history of the Phoenix Awards, the awards were swept by all women. The awards, which celebrate contributions to the Lawrence arts community, recognized Toni Brou (visual arts), Sally K. Davis (arts advocate), Kate Dinneen (exceptional artistic achievement), Rose Lawson (volunteer in the arts) and Susan Ralston (educator in the arts).

Kanrocksas and Farm Aid

It was a year of huge summer festivals, when Lawrence music fans were caught with two great choices of budget-blowing concert fun: Kanrocksas and Farm Aid. One, a brand-new event, the other a tried-and-true showcase, both were in August and both made their Kansas debuts.

For a first-time festival, Kanrocksas pulled out all the stops at the Kansas Speedway, bringing in Eminem, The Black Keys, The Flaming Lips, Ween, Kid Cudi, OK Go and musicians from both Lawrence and Kansas City.

The following week, Willie Nelson and his Farm Aid crew were across the way at LiveStrong Sporting Park. Among the performers were Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Jason Mraz and Jakob Dylan.


Local music had a festival all its own on 11.11.11, when coordinated shows went on that night at the Granada, Bottleneck, Jackpot, Taproom, Replay and Love Garden. More than 40 local performers hit the stage in Eleven Productions’ event that celebrated the company’s 10th anniversary.

First anniversary of Final Fridays

In August, Lawrence’s monthly arts walk, Final Fridays, celebrated its first anniversary. The walk showcases local artists through an array of more than 30 galleries, pop-up art spaces, restaurant showings and other events.

Ben Ahlvers, the exhibit director of the Lawrence Arts Center, had been most certainly impressed by the talent at the audience the event (which is supported by the center) was attracting, saying, “There have been gallery walks in the past in Lawrence, but I don’t think to the extent that Final Fridays has reached. The quality and variety of artists participating is a testament to what a creative-rich town we live in.”


Jan Rolls 5 years, 9 months ago

If you read the K.C. Star's editorial on December 22nd you will see that the great sam the sham admitted that his idea for an arts council failed. Surprised that his admission was not carried by this paper. He also admitted that his recently departed srs secretary did not know what he was doing. Maybe he will put the arts back where itr was and leave it alone.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.