World-renowned museums, fine-art galleries and one of the first jazz districts in the Midwest are only a few factors that make Kansas City a thriving place for aesthetes. The reality is, art is nearly everywhere you look thanks to local visual artists gracing city streets with colorful murals, sleek and modern buildings that house priceless collections, and venues where you can witness once-in-a-lifetime performances.
With so much art and culture here, it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are six must-visit sites for a glimpse of Kansas City’s creative side.
The Nelson-Atkins Art Museum
Home to more than 34,500 pieces of art, from ancient Egyptian statues and coffins to modern works by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock in the Bloch Building, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a world-class institution located right in the heart of Kansas City.
It will take a multiday visit to explore all there is to see here, and you won’t have to worry about the cost because admission is free. The museum also hosts both youth and adult art classes, festivals and a rocking, adults-only Third Thursday party with live music, free programs, art activities and more.
Insider tip: To feel like a true KC local, make sure to enjoy a picnic by one of the four legendary shuttlecock sculptures on the museum lawns.
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
The curious, mammoth gray structure of two symmetrical half-shells of concentric arcs is enough of a draw for visitors to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, but once you make it past the stunning architecture, the variety of performing artsavailable is mind-blowing.
Inside you’ll find the Lyric Opera of Kansas City — with nearly 100 different productions to its credit — performing in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre, one of the most acoustically advanced venues in the world.
The 80-person Kansas City Symphony performs a 42-week season here, as well, and the Kansas City Ballet performs four productions per year, including the always-popular “The Nutcracker” during December.
Spend an entire evening at the center and enjoy The Dining Experience before your performance. The modern-American restaurant has a seasonal three-course dinner menu and small plates.
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art
Located on the campus of Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art collection includes international, national and regional artwork within an elegant, minimalist building constructed of Kansas limestone.
In the permanent collection, visitors will find American Indian art, Latino art, photography exhibits, sculptures and more, as well as temporary exhibitions of student work. In addition to the exhibition space, the museum offers lectures, visiting artist presentations, art classes for children, tours and family programs.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Since it opened in 1994, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art has become one of the premier contemporary art museums in the country, drawing more than 100,000 visitors per year.
The sleek building has a striking, light-filled atrium, which serves as a welcoming space for art activities and events that are all free of charge and open to the public. Over the past two-plus decades, the museum’s permanent collection of modern and contemporary art from around the world has almost tripled, so chances are you’ll get to see something different with each visit.
In addition to special exhibitions, Kemper hosts installations, artist lectures, performances, film series, hands-on workshops, free docent-led guided tours and more.
Mutual Musicians Foundation
Founded in 1917 as the Musicians Union Local #627, the space now called the Mutual Musicians Foundation played a key role in Kansas City’s development as a jazz hub during the 1920s and 1930s.
When African-American performers came to town, they were only allowed to perform in what’s now known as the 18th and Vine district, a historic African-American neighborhood.
scheduled performances, many jazz musicians opted for late-night, impromptu jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, often rocking until the early morning hours.
Today the Foundation is a bit of a pilgrimage for jazz lovers, because while the jam sessions still take place on Fridays and Saturdays, the club doesn’t even open until 1 a.m., with the sweet sounds of jazz playing until 6 a.m.
The Foundation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and holds the distinction as the longest-running jazz venue in the world.
Crossroads Arts District
Home to more than 400 local artists and 100 independent studios, the Crossroads Arts District is one of the most concentrated and vibrant gallery districts in the nation. But decades ago it was home to a different kind of art.
In the 1930s, Kansas City was a centralized distribution point for the movie industry, with major film studios like MGM, 20th Century Fox and Paramount occupying nearly 20 buildings in the Crossroads District, known as Film Row.
These days, you’ll find art across all different mediums, like at Bunker Center for the Arts, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition space and studio hosting canvas stretching, encaustic painting and art therapy classes. The KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice is a popular gallery space, cross-disciplinary studio and artist-in-residence program for Kansas City Art Institute students.
To explore the arts organizations, galleries and studios all at once, visit on First Friday, when all the spaces are open late, and there are food trucks, live music, craft vendors, live theater, aerial performances and more.