America: Now and Here · Barbara Kruger

By Alice Thorson, April 30, 2011
The Kansas City Star

You know Kansas City has arrived as a cultural destination when New Yorkers seek it out as a venue. In recent years, the KC audience has become accustomed to big, multimedia, multidisciplinary events, largely through the Charlotte Street Foundation’s Urban Culture Project, which regularly presents showings that mix poetry, dance, music, performance, film and visual arts.

On Friday, much of this local activity and many of its best-known practitioners will be folded into a multi-million-dollar national project spearheaded by NY artist Eric Fischl, a star of the 1980s art boom, and launching in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District.

It’s called America: Now and Here, and its mission is to “open up a dialogue about America through the arts.”

Fischl conceived the project — a traveling show of works by national painters, playwrights, poets, composers and musicians joined by their counterparts from the cities it will visit — “as a way to foster a new civic relationship with the arts.”

“We’re not about art, we’re about positioning art for new and necessary kinds of dialogue about America,” said the project’s director, Dorothy Dunn, in a phone interview from New York. “The time is right to examine precisely who it is we are, what we believe in, what our values are,” Fischl says in an introductory video on the project’s website. With America: Now and Here, he says, “We’re taking that out on the road with the intention of having that work that’s in the show begin the conversation.”

America: Now and Here will not be fully realized until 2012, when it will include a half-dozen “mobile truck galleries” that will open up to form a big exhibit and event space in each city it visits.

The visual arts exhibit features 106 works by 26 Kansas City artists and 52 national artists, Dunn said.

But the total number of artists involved in the project, which includes poetry, plays, music and film, is much greater than that. America: Now and Here organizers enlisted prominent members of the Kansas City theater, film, literary and music communities to select artists from their genres who will play alongside productions by national artists.

The project will cross the state line in the form of a Barbara Kruger truck, printed with the New York artist’s signature super graphic, which will circulate to the Nelson, City Market, area shopping malls and University of Kansas. It also will make a stop May 11-12 at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College.

“It’s a fabulous-looking thing,” Nerman Museum director Bruce Hartman says. “We’re going to park it right in front of the museum in the lane where the buses park, and people can look down on it from the museum’s big oculus.”

Hartman was not surprised that America: Now and Here chose Kansas City as its launch site. “Our city has attained a national reputation for its commitment to contemporary art and artists,” he said. “The debut of America: Now and Here in Kansas City is a testament to the vitality — and importance — of our arts community.”