This past weekend, Kansas City’s ambitious “Open Spaces” art project closed after a run of nine weeks. The reviews are mixed. Some people who attended one or more of the exhibits thought it a grand success. Others were less enthralled.

The question few seem to be asking is the most basic one: what is the city of Kansas City—or any public entity for the matter—doing in the art business?

A second question that plays into the success or failure of this new biannual mixed media project is this: would not Kansas City’s investment pay more dividends if that money were invested, say, in the Kansas City Police Department?

The home base of Open Spaces was an exhibit in Swope Park called “The Village.” The program literature blithely tells us, “If you just want to get your bearings in Swope Park before setting out to experience the art firsthand, our partner architects Populous and HOK have designed an ingenious open-air environment for you to recharge while stimulating your senses.”

The fundamental problem that no art project can overcome is that few residents of greater Kansas City want to get their bearings anywhere near Swope Park. Throughout much of the literature, and in the pronouncements of Kansas City Mayor Sly James, there is talk about the program “bridging” the gap between one imagined set of citizens and another.

In reality, what will bridge that gap is a genuine sense of peace and security throughout the city. Without that, the mayor and the organizers are kidding themselves.

Leading the Open Spaces project were the Kansas City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services and its hired gun, “Curator” Dan Cameron.

A line item accounting of costs that was sent to Tony’s Kansas City shows $250,000 budgeted for the curator position. Additional administrative costs are budgeted at $610,000. If these figures are correct, that is a lot of money.

Private money underwrote some of the project costs, but one suspects that the inherent costs involved in managing the “spaces” involved were absorbed by the city.

Another question for another day is just who the various performing artists and visitors imagined their target audience to be.

They knew whom they could not offend, but if they were anything like the curators of the notorious flag exhibit at KU’s Spencer Library, that list of groups did not include the ordinary taxpayer.

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