Artists to Watch in Kansas City

Artist to Watch focuses on the accomplishments and upcoming projects of KC artists from a range of fields, from poets to painters, dancers to musicians.

By KC Studio

Photos by Jim Barcus, first published in KC Studio Magazine by the Arts Engagement Foundation of Kansas City

Lewis J. Morrow (2019) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Lewis J. Morrow

Actor/playwright Lewis J. Morrow was named Director of New Play Development at KC MeltingPot Theatre in March 2019. Audiences have seen him in a range of productions in recent years, including Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning “Sweat” at the Unicorn, August Wilson’s surrealistic epic “Gem of the Ocean” at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and the autobiographical “2121” by KC MeltingPot co-founder Harvey Williams. His plays have been produced locally (“Ain’t No Such Thing as Midnight Black” at MeltingPot and “Elephant” by Rising Tide Productions at The Living Room) and at workshops and festivals across the country.

Joseph T. Newton (2019) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Joseph T. Newton

After a lifetime of making art, Joseph T. Newtown has had an especially busy schedule of showing his work. In late 2018, Newton participated in an exhibition featuring members of Kansas City’s African American Artists Collective at Tomahawk Ridge Community Center in Overland Park. Two of his large, boldly hued paintings were featured in “What’s Going On” at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. Newton also participated in the African American Artists Collective residency at the Charlotte Street Foundation’s Capsule space. In March 2018, the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center opened a solo exhibit of Newton’s abstractions and Egypt-inspired work.

James "SugEasy" Singleton (2019) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

James "SugEasy" Singleton

Winner of the 2018-19 Rocket Grant from the Charlotte Street Foundation and 2018 Inspiration Grant from ArtsKC, Kansas City artist James “SugEasy” Singleton has gained a reputation for his advocacy and performance of hip-hop. In 2018, Singleton presented a “Retro Rock Hip-Hop Culture Jam” in downtown Kansas City and with his crew, Souls of Sole, offered a vibrant performance in Swope Park as part of Open Spaces.

Kelly Birch (2018) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Kelly Birch

Kelly Birch, mezzo-soprano, is a resident artist with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. She has performed in the Lyric’s production of “Madama Butterfly” and multiple roles in the Explorations Series “High Fidelity Opera.”

Baldemar Rivas (2018) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Baldemar Rivas

A 2016 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, Baldemar Rivas is a rising star in the world of comics. In 2018, he finished his part of “Wall of Respect,” a mural for InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park and the Jewish Community Center.

Juniper Tangpuz (2018) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Juniper Tangpuz

For the past decade, Juniper Tangpuz has been redefining indoor and outdoor spaces around the world with his dynamic, imaginative sculptures. Tangpuz has installed 18 multi-work exhibits in regional, national and internally venues. In the Kansas City area, his work has been shown at the Spencer Museum of Art, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art and H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute. He’s also been the recipient of several grants, and in 2017 was the first artist in residence at Oak Park Mall.

Katie Karel (2018) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Katie Karel

In May 2018, Kansas City audiences saw Katie Karel in the Kansas City Actors Theatre production of David Hare’s award-winning play “Skylight.” Earlier that year, Karel commanded the Unicorn stage in the one-woman play “Chesapeake,” in which she portrayed various characters, including a dog. Karel followed “Chesapeake” with “The Wit of Cole Porter and Noel Coward” at Quality Hill Playhouse. As a mezzo-soprano, she is in high demand for musical theater and has triumphed in “Evita,” “Always . . . Patsy Cline,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Hairspray.”

Jillian Youngbird (2018) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Jillian Youngbird

Jillian Youngbird’s comical sculptures of animal people, made from cardboard and covered in cut-up paint samples, have been on display in Kansas City and as far away as Alaska. Youngbird’s “Toklat Bear was the centerpiece of her solo exhibition “The Unknown Traveler and the Toklat Bear” at the Kansas City Artists Coalition in 2017. This exhibition followed Youngbird’s 2015 “A Bear in Kansas City” project for Art in the Loop.

Christine Grossman (2018) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Christine Grossman

Christine Grossman is principal violinist for the Kansas City Symphony. In 2010, she performed the Byronesque-hero role in Hector Berlioz’ “Harold in Italy.” In 2014 she channeled Freddie Mercury in an arrangement of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” for orchestra and solo viola during a Classics Uncorked concert. She serves on the Leadership Council for KCUR’s Generation Listen KC. Beyond classical music, Grossman has also performed with the Barclay Martin Ensemble.

Julia Haile (November 2017) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Julia Haile

Julia Haile is taking Kansas City by storm. She has performed with well-known singer-songwriter Barclay Martin at the Folly Theater and regularly performs with guitarist Tim Braun in HiLux, which includes Nick Howell on trumpet and keyboard, Peter Liebert on bass and Kian Byrna (also of The Elders) on drums. She has played at venues throughout the city, including: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Ca Va, Corvino Supper Club, Stockyard Brewing Company, Minibar, and Greenwood Social Hall.

Kenny Broberg (2017) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Kenny Broberg

Kenny Broberg, a graduate of Park University’s International Center for Music, won the silver medal in the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, one of the most prestigious competitions in the world. Broberg is a seasoned performer, having won international competitions at Hastings (England) and Dallas, placed in competitions in Seattle, Sydney and New Orleans, and performed with orchestras all over the world, as well as in solo and chamber recitals.

Fernando Achucarro (2017) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Fernando Achucarro

Fernando Achucarro is a self-taught artist and musician. Achucarro, whose main instrument is the Peruvian box (a percussive instrument), plays regularly with Beau Bledsoe and his flamenco ensemble at La Bodega in Leawood and other venues. His distinctive drawings found a venue with the Slap and Tickle Gallery before it closed, and since then he has had two exhibits at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center.

Vanessa Thomas (2017) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Vanessa Thomas

Lawrence-based singer Vanessa Thomas works as a vocal coach, accompanist, church music director and single mom to her four children, all while regularly performing nationally with Grammy Award-winning maestro Doc Severinson. Vocally, she is known for her seamless four-octave range and her unusual musical versatility. Thomas sang a “show-stopping walk-on” role in the world premiere of the Kirke Mechem opera “John Brown” with the Kansas City Lyric Opera in 2008 and has sung the national anthem at several SportingKC matches. On June 8, 2017, she and Severinson, along with the Kansas City Symphony, graced the stage at Helzberg Hall with a concert celebrating Doc’s 90th birthday.

Rasheedat "Ras" Badejo (2017) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Rasheedat "Ras" Badejo

 In July 2016 at the KC Fringe Festival, Rasheedat “Ras” Badejo starred in her own one-woman show, “Young Black Victorian,” at Fishtank Theatre. Later that year, Badejo played three different roles in “The Nine Who Dared: Courage in Little Rock” at the Coterie Theatre. She also appeared in Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon” at Unicorn Theatre, earing high praise from KC Studio theater critic Robert Trussell.

Calvin Arsenia (November 2016) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Calvin Arsenia

Following his performance at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and 2017 album “Catastrophe,” the KC-based singer, musician and composer Calvin Arsenia has gained recognition for his memorable sound. In addition to singing, Arsenia plays the harp, guitar, piano, banjo and ukulele. He has performed at the Plaza Art Fair, the Folk Alliance, The Living Room Theatre, Philips Hotel, as Hermes in J. Ashley Miller’s “Echosis” techno opera in the East Bottoms and with “Silver: A Noir Ballet” by Evan Lovelace at Union Station in 2016.

Liz Pearse (2016) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Liz Pearse

Vocalist Liz Pearse has eagerly engaged in the music scene in Kansas City as a talented soprano and a new music specialist. She has served on the board for newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and has performed locally with newEar, KcEMA, Classical Revoultion KC and in the chorus for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Her main focus is performing around the country with Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, a treble quartet currently based in Chicago.

Michael Kirkendoll (2016) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Michael Kirkendoll

Michael Kirkendoll is an active performer, with frequent performances in Kansas City and Lawrence, as well as nationally. He’s played with newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and in May 2016 was featured in a recital series in New York City’s Bargermusic celebrating the work of Frederic Rzewski in “Music for a Speaking Pianist.”

Samantha Gossard (July 2016) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Samantha Gossard

 Mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard has worked her way up through the ranks of American opera; as a Fellow with the Aspen Music Festival, an Apprentice Artist with Central City Opera in Colorado, as an Apprentice Artist with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and as a Gerdine Young Artist with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. In early 2016, she was a national semi-finalist in the Metropolitan National Council Auditions. In fall 2016, she was named one of the four Resident Artists in the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Resident Artist Program.

Leo Gayden (2016) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Leo Gayden

Who will be the next dance star from Kansas City? It might just be someone from the hip-hop/breakdance scene – someone like Leo Gayden. In August 2015, Gayden stood out in Jane Gotch’s “Let It Fall,” which had premiered in February in New York. Besides “Let It Fall,” many in the area know Gayden from his mockumentary, Ratchet Hunter, which garnered tens of thousands of hits on YouTube and Facebook. Gayden was also featured in the video component of Peregrine Honig’s “Suites” project.

Charlie Mylie (2016) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Charlie Mylie

Over the past decade, Charlie Mylie has made countless comics, children’s books and coloring books, and his drawings have been featured in local zines like Thingswamp and Infoduct and also at local children’s bookstore, Reading Reptile. Mylie’s drawings have even found application in the business world, where he was artist in residence at BNIM, a Kansas City-based, international architecture firm. In fall 2016, Mylie showed two drawings outdoors, reproduced at billboard scale at part of Missouri Bank’s Artboards project.

Nabil El-Halawany (2016) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Nabil El-Hawany

Nabil El-Halawany is a self-taught artist who is also a practicing psychiatrist. Bruce Hartman, executive director of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, was so impressed by his paintings that he bought two of them for the museum’s collection. Jody Wilkins, director of the Main Street Gallery, booked a one-person show with the artist in 2016 as soon as she saw his images.

Frank Oakley III (November 2015) by Jim BarcusKC Studio

Frank Oakley III

Kansas City audiences have thrilled to Frank Oakley III’s notable performances in “Jitney” at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, “Blacktop Sky at Unicorn Theatre, “Rosa Parks” at Coterie Theatre, “The Freedom Riders” at UMKC and at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. In addition to plays, Oakley has racked up several film credits, appearing in “An Important Question” by The 48 Hour Film Project and in “On Sight,” made by ex-local actor Tosin Morohunfola.

Credits: Story

All photos by Jim Barcus, first published in KC Studio Magazine by the Arts Engagement Foundation of Kansas City.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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