Chief Artistic Officer for Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. He is a choreographer, teacher, dancer, and arts administrator. He graduated from Ailey School’s Certificate Program in 1983.
Tyrone began his professional dance career with the Cleo Parker Dance Ensemble in 1983. Tyrone’s choreographic credits include “Summerland” commissioned by Dance Theater of Harlem’s Virginia Johnson. In Kansas City, Tyrone has choreographed for The Lyric Opera, The Coterie Theater, The KC Symphony, Wylliams/Henry Dance Theatre, KC Ballet, the KC Rep, and the Nelson Atkins Museum. Tyrone created Ailey Camp Group in 1995, Setting the Stage in 1997, and a second Ailey Camp serving Kansas in 2000. He successfully launched KCFAA’s move to the Jazz District in 2007 and lead KCFAA through a strategic plan with Michael Kaiser creating a new Symposium series.
Tyrone received a Pinnacle Award for Arts excellence from the Johnson County Library, Neighborhood Hero Award from Bank of America, the Robert A. and Dr. Phyllis Bernstein Humanitarian Award from the Jewish Family and Children Services, and traveled to the White House to accept the Coming Up Taller award presented to KCFAA for Ailey Camp. Tyrone is a member of the African American Artist Collective of Kansas City Missouri, Kansas City Municipal Arts Commissioner, and a Hollins University Master of Fine Arts in dance candidate
Damron Russel Armstrong
Actor | Theatre Director
Damron is a director/actor who spent his formative in Kansas City. He has worked on most of the stages Kansas City has to offer. He’s been a familiar fixture at Unicorn Theatre, The Coterie Theatre, Theatre for Young America, The American Heartland Theatre, The Living Room Theatre, Chestnut Fine Arts Center, New Theatre Restaurant, and Kansas City Actors Theatre. After graduating from Ruskin High School, Damron sought to further his education in New York, where he received the best education of life.
The practical application of that knowledge is working on the professional stage. He has performed nationally in A Raisin in the Sun (Arizona Theatre Co.); The Full Monty (Show Palace, FL); Children of Eden (Papermill Playhouse NJ); and Dreamgirls (The Palace, NH) – just to name a few. As a director, his credits also range from local to international, including Three Guy Naked from the Waist Down…A Comedy (TANSTAAFL, KC); Assassins (The Barn, KS); and Red Hot and Jazz (Piza Festival, Guatemala).
Embarking on this new adventure in his career as Executive Artistic Director of The Black Repertory Theatre is met with joy and excitement. The idea of giving back to his community is the reason for this journey. “I hope you will join us on this adventure!”
J. Leroy Beasley
Folk Artist | Sculptor
Leroy Beasley was born in College Station, Arkansas in 1958. He is a strong-minded tradesman who, over the years, has discovered and nurtured a passion for the arts. He is a self-taught sculptor who has added freelance photography and painting to his repertoire of naturally developed talents.
Sculpting has always come naturally to him. The most interesting part of his sculpting is that he uses no molds or pre-fired casting- all of the work he creates is passionately formed by his own hands, freeform. His photography, just as in his sculpting, is masterful at capturing strong, subtle, and insightful details missed in the confusion of daily life. His approach is defined and strong but also yields a gentleness that is filled with raw emotion. He is sensible while capturing tenderness and reality.
Photography has become a passion above both his sculpting and painting. He is now an award-winning photographer and continues to be inspired by it. Photography has opened up a new frontier that he feels is not only a fantastic passion but has infinitely enhanced his artistic spirit. Through it, both his Sculpting and Painting are brought to a whole new level.
LeRoy went to several countries in South Africa in December of 2008 and again in 2012. He had his camera in hand and photographed over a thousand pictures of the children of Africa in a months’ time. He continues to hone his artistic abilities in whichever medium he chooses. His work is inspired by family members and his surroundings. He happily shares his love of art with wife and fellow artist Michelle.
Painter | Educator
MHA, BA, LPN
It is real simple for me- I love art. I knew I loved to create from an early age. As an artist, I am free to express myself in any medium I want, about anything I want.
I don’t have a philosophical view about why art is so important. All I can say is that it's freedom.
Although I have had some formal training, I have always felt that being creative is all about your own personal expression. To be able to take a thought, vision, or idea from your mind and make it appear on canvas or through a photograph is magic to me. I have created something amazing to share. It is humbling to have such a gift. The peace and relaxation I have when I’m up until the wee hours of the night painting is priceless.
“It is real simple for me, I love art..”
Dr. Dina M. Bennett
Curator | Educator
Dr. Dina M. Bennett, Ph.D. is the Curatorial Director at the National Museum of African American Music, and an ethnomusicologist who specializes in African American music and culture. Dr. Bennett has previously served as the Associate Director of the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas; Director of Education at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi; and as the Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the American Jazz Museum (AJM) in Kansas City, Missouri. During her AJM tenure, she oversaw the museum’s temporary and permanent collection exhibitions, and also served as the co-curator and consulting ethnomusicologist for the museum’s John H. Baker Jazz Film Collection Exhibition (2009), the first addition to the jazz museum’s permanent exhibition since its opening in September 1997.
Originally from Topeka, Kansas, Dr. Bennett earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from Washburn University, a master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Kansas State University, and a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology with a minor in African American & African Diaspora Studies from Indiana University. Dr. Bennett has over 30 years’ experience in the music field and is an accomplished pianist. She currently serves on the advisory team of scholars for “A History of African American Music,” an interactive timeline produced as a resource for Carnegie Hall’s 2009 festival “Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy"
DJ | Host
Renée Blanche is a native of Detroit, Michigan. She stumbled into radio after ending her military career in El Paso, Texas. She has one of the most soothing powerful voices in radio today. Over the course of 25 years, the KCUR music program Night Tides has offered “an eclectic blend of contemplative instrumental and electronic music” on the airwaves every Sunday from 8 p.m. - midnight. Right along with those soothing melodies has been the distinctive voice of its host, Renée Blanche.
Quilt Artist | Educator | Advocate
NedRa Bonds is an artist who uses her talents to share messages about social justice, to teach, and preserve history.
Bonds was born in the historic Quindaro neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas to a family of quilters. Bonds received her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Kansas in American Studies and her Master of Science at Kansas State University in Urban Education. Both her mother, Georgia Elizabeth Patton, and her paternal grandmother, Juanita Patton, were quilters. Bond’s father, William Patton, worked as a police captain. NedRa was taught quilting at the age of six; “So I learned to make 10 stitches to the first joint in my finger, and if I didn’t do 10 then I had to take them out and do them over again.” She continues to pass these skills on to her two granddaughters.
Bonds entered school in 1954, the year of Brown v. Board of Education; “I spent the first three years in segregated schools. Then I was integrated into a school where all the teachers were white, and the subject matter had nothing to do with me."
Bonds did not realize until later in life that entering school in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement helped shape her as an artist and an activist. As a young adult, Bonds gave up quilting to pursue more of an activist role through community engagement; “As soon as I could, I gave up quilting to raise hell in all sorts of ways that were meaningful for me at the time. Letter-writing, sit-ins, you name it. It was the 1960s and the civil rights movement."
“As soon as I could, I gave up quilting to raise hell in all sorts of ways that were meaningful for me at the time. Letter-writing, sit-ins, you name it. It was the 1960s and the civil rights movement."
Poet | Educator
Taylor Brown is a poet, textile artist, and small group facilitator. Taylor is a graduate of Paseo Academy where her interest in the fine and performing arts were developed. During her teen years, she slammed with Kansas City’s International Teen Poetry Team going to the Brave New Voices Poetry competition 4 consecutive times. She returned to the team as a mentor coaching under Glenn North. She also hosted Generation Rap which is a teen talk show that is broadcast on Carter Broadcast Group’s Hot 103 Jamz. Taking her collegiate studies to Birmingham, Alabama, Taylor majored in education at HBCU (Historical Black College University).
When Taylor left Birmingham and returned to Kansas City her desire was to work solely for her community bringing resources and opportunities to the underserved. After securing a position at ArtsTech as an Outreach Specialist she was able to do just that. Taylor teamed up with Westport Center for the Arts for Kids Team Up For Arts to deliver quality art classes to underserved youth in the inner city. Traveling to local libraries, schools, and community centers Taylor exposes the youth to different cultures, and creative thinking using the medium of art.
Since 2014, Taylor has assisted Storytellers Inc. in their annual Teens in Transition program assisting with the art projects as well as providing tutoring for students who struggle academically. As a visionary, Taylor is always looking for more ways to create empowering experiences for young people that promote spiritual, economic, and creative independence.
With this in mind, Taylor planned a digital inclusion abroad trip where she traveled to Dakar, Senegal (West Africa) delivering laptops and teaching digital literacy, English, and ACT/SAT prep to young people in a local camp. She also spent time studying West African dance as well as the textile industry. Taylor is currently in the process of developing a cultural exchange program between the youth at ArtsTech and Dakar’s Sunu Thiossane Program. With not even half of her career behind her, Taylor is on her way to doing great things and developing life-changing programming for the young people she encounters.
Simone Curls joined the Prospect Business Association, Kansas City, Missouri as the Executive Director in February 2019. For 20 years, Simone was the owner of a business consulting firm working with small businesses, non-profits, and faith-based organizations. Additionally, while residing in Los Angeles, Simone was the Founder and CEO of UPLIFT, a private, non-profit 501C, designed to provide resources to children and families and build strong partnerships between community agencies, faith-based organizations, and government institutions. Ms. Curls has worked in the non-profit child welfare system for more than fifteen years.
Ms. Curls completed her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Southern University of New Orleans and her Bachelor’s Degree from Xavier University, New Orleans. In addition to the professional activities mentioned above, Ms. Curls served as a Field Instructor for the USC School of Social Work and was an active member of several advisory committees and local Board of Directors in Los Angeles.
Larry Poncho Brown
Illustrator | Painter | Designer
“The African American art realm has been pressing onward because of the positive images that have become a narrative of our perseverance. My works attempt to capture SOUL while purposely depicting positive representations of African American culture. Art and imagery are the strongest forms to challenge the perceptions
of African Americans in our society.” — Larry Poncho Brown
Larry Poncho Brown is a native of Baltimore, MD. Poncho received his Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in graphic design and photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD. His art, both fine and commercial, has been published nationally in Upscale, Ebony, Ebony Man, Essence, and Jet magazines. His art is featured in the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History book entitled “Wrapped In Pride” and “Connecting People With Art”. His popular works have been prominently featured on several TV shows including “A Different World”, “In The House”, “The Wire”, “The Carmichael Show”, “Star”, and “Greenleaf”. Movies featuring his art include “Avalon”, “He Said, She Said”, and “Soulfood”.
His work adorns the walls of the likes of Bill Cosby, the late Dick Gregory, Anita Baker, Susan Taylor, Ed Gordon, and Bernard Bronner just to name a few. His original works are in the corporate and institutional collections of Coppin State University, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the District of Columbia Superior Courts, the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Yale New Haven Health Park Avenue Medical Center.
He was one of many artists often referenced as “The Popular Artists” who gained national recognition during “The Cosby Show” era and found commercial success between 1985-2000 during a period known as “The Golden Age of African American Art”, by making their art accessible to the masses through direct participation in community art and cultural festivals, foregoing the traditional artist arrangement of artist representation, gallery representation, and art publisher distribution. At the height of this era, his works were sold in 3000 galleries across the country and on the walls of nearly 500,000 homes.
His art, both fine and commercial, has been published nationally in Art Trends, U.S. Art Gallery, Images, Upscale, Ebony, Ebony Man, Essence, and Jet Magazines.
In pursuing his philanthropic goals, he founded “Raising The Arts” which provides fundraising opportunities for non-profit organizations. He has created over 70 images for such organizations over the past three decades. Poncho was awarded “Artist of the Year” by the African American Visual Arts Association in 2000, the “Heritage Arts Festival Palette Award” in 2003, and the “Save the Arts Award” as Museum’s Choice in 2010, and “The Jan Spivey Gilchrist Visual Arts Award” in 2013.
JT Daniels is a social activist who uses his art to support and uplift the community. His murals can be seen all over Kansas City, adorning the walls of small businesses, streetcar stops, galleries, and local neighborhoods. His work weaves together various elements, such as characters and phrases, into streamlined designs that represent the heartbeat of the urban community.
Ramona E. Davis
Creative | Advocate | Collector | Founder
Ramona (b. Kansas City lives in Washington D.C.) is an American abstract painter and photographer. Her paintings are inspired by the spirit of the African and African American aesthetics as it relates to Black identity and the Black experience. As an emerging artist, she has exhibited in the "Who Does She Think She Is" exhibition with InterUrban Arthouse, AAAC Residency 2018, and Testimony: African American Artists Collective with the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art 2021.
Davis believes that art is fundamental to the human experience and activates that belief through supporting the arts/artists, arts advocacy and collecting art. She has served and/or collaborated with several Kansas City cultural organizations. She is the Founder of KC Black Arts Network (KCBAN). KCBAN exists as an “advocate for artists of color”. The goal of the network is “to cultivate and support experiences between artists of color and art enthusiasts.”
Davis and her husband, Eugene, are avid art collectors with over 60 original works consisting of paintings, photography, textiles, and sculpture. She is an active member of the African American Artist Collective, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and former board member of the Friends of Art Council at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. She holds a B.A. in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Kansas and has significant course work in graphic design as well as color theory, painting, and photography from the Kansas City Art Institute.
Muralist | Painter | Illustrator
Art has transformed my life and provided a platform to build bridges as well as lasting relationships around the country. It feeds my soul and allows me to give voice to the things that are important to me. I'm a long way from the small town I grew up in Arkansas and it's because of art and the ability to live my best life because I choose it and it chose me.
Najee Dorsey, Artist, Collector, CEO / Founder of Black Art In America™ (BAIA) Najee Dorsey's work has been exhibited in five museum shows in 2014, including his first major solo exhibition at the Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA, entitled: Leaving Mississippi -- Reflections on Heroes and Folklore: Works by Najee Dorsey (on exhibit until January 4, 2015). In addition, Dorsey has shown his work in numerous solo and group exhibitions. He has been the recipient of awards that include a 2006 Patrons Purchase Award from the Polk Museum of Art. His work can be found in the collections of Charles H. Wright Museum; Syracuse University; the African American Museum in Dallas, TX; the Marietta Museum of Art, FL; and Liberty Bank and Trust Company in New Orleans, LA. Dorsey's work has been included in the Hands Up Don't Shoot exhibit at the St. Louis University Museum -- until December 20, 2014. Najee is also the CEO and Founder of Black Art in America™ (BAIA) which is an online portal focused on documenting, preserving, and promoting the contributions of the African American arts community with programming that includes exhibition, discussion, and performance. Dorsey created the website in 2010 and now Black Art in America™ (BAIA) is the leading global online network and resource for African-American visual artists, collectors, industry leaders, and arts enthusiasts.
GERALD D. DUNN
Jazz Musician | Chef
Known as the Jazz Discipline, Gerald Dunn has spent his life devoted to music as an accomplished jazz musician. Gerald plays woodwinds and has been recorded on several albums. For over 20 years, he has served as the Director of Entertainment of the world-famous American Jazz Museum, as well as the General Manager of the Blue Room, which was voted by Down Beat Magazine one of the finest jazz listening rooms on the planet since 2003. His band, the Jazz Disciplines, regularly performs in Kansas City and tours around the county.
Gerald he has hosted thousands of bands of all musical genres ranging from jazz, blues, country, rock, classical and soul/R&B, including virtually all of the greatest living performers. Akin to Ray Charles, Angie Stone and from Jay McShann to Marilyn Maye. In addition, Gerald has helped to developed and shape some of the finest artists in a generation.
Carol Rhodes Dyson
A graduate of Howard University in Art History (B. A. and Graduate Studies), Carol has over 30 years’ experience as an art administrator, educator and now curator for museums, galleries, cultural institutions and alternative spaces in Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD and Kansas City, MO. She has extensive experience in exhibition research and production, creating public programs and producing performing arts/interdisciplinary projects.
While an undergrad at Howard University, she interned in Art Conservation at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, Williamstown, MA and at the Studio Museum of Harlem, NY in conjunction with “To Conserve A Legacy “an exhibition curated by Rick Powell and Jock Reynolds. The mission of the exhibition was to preserve and repair the trove of African American art treasuresheld in the collections of five HBCU’s and to introduce students of color to the interdisciplinary field of art conservation and its many opportunities. A catalogue was also an outcome of the exhibition.
Carol completed an M.F.A. in Curatorial Practice from Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD, in May, 2017.
Her thesis exhibition, Creative Alchemy: Common Source of Art and Science, was displayed at the Howard University Interdisciplinary Research Building (IRB) thru September, 2017 and featured the work of artists in conversation with the scientific research on each floor. Assemblage artist, Anne Bouie, created the introductory installation honoring George Washington Carver, artist and scientist. Second floor – referenced nano technology and physics – the artist Fletcher Mackey installed an image that was in conversation with physics formulas. Third Floor – referenced biology – artists Renee Stout, Evangeline EJ Montgomery were in conversation with the biology and physical transformation. On the fourth floor, Roslyn Cambridge referenced environmental science. Elementary school students from Meridian Public Charter School created whimsical images inspired by scientific terms. Chinedu Felix Osuchukwu was their instructor.
Also at the IRB she curated, Surface from Under the Microscope, The Henrietta Lacks’ Series by Jeffrey Kent. It was recognized by the National Academy of Science Magazine, ISSUES, Summer 2017 and an image from the exhibition graces its front cover. The exhibition was reinstalled at the National Academy of Sciences in September of 2019 and ended March 13, 2020. A copy of the catalog is available for download here http://www.cpnas.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/kent_catalog.pdf?mc_cid=9f9f0f4530&mc_eid=9472ff5019.
She currently serves as Curator for all locations of Busboys and Poets, a progressive restaurant and alternative arts space. Carol has held that position since the summer, 2013. An example of exhibition include: #Migration61, co-curated with the Phillips Collection based on what the 61st piece of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series would look. Sheco curated Implicit Bias co-curated with the Joan Hisaoka Smith Healing Arts Gallery displaying images confronting bias and racism featuring over 80 works displayed throughout five restaurants. She also curated over 60 images throughout five restaurants from 10th Anniversary of Busboys and Poets/Artomatic celebration.
She was recently hired as a part time Interim Curator at the Regional Lewis in Baltimore, MD and was appointed as one of the Public Art Commissioners for Prince George’s County, MD.
Carol has worked as an assistant to David C. Driskell, artist, art historian, author and curator and later served as a Curatorial Assistant to Dr. Jeff R. Donaldson for the exhibitions Ethiopian Passages at the National Museum of African Art and TransAfrican Art at the Orlando Museum of Art.
As President of Black Artists of DC (BADC) from 2013 to 2017, she curated “BADC, A Legacy of Excellence,” at the Blackburn Center at Howard University from September 2016 to Jan 19, 2017; Colorful Conversations at the Howard University Interdisciplinary Research Building, September to January, 2017; at the PEPCO Gallery, Carnavale co-curated with Carolyn Goodridge; At War With Ourselves: Battle for the Black Faced Boy, Brentwood Art Exchange (2015) and Living Life Like Its Golden, co-curated with Gina Lewis at Bowie State University (2014). Carol also served as the volunteer Gallery Director for BloomBars, an alternative arts space in Washington, DC.
Carol is originally from Kansas City, MO, attended the Kansas City Art Institute and was a co-founder, along with Emanuel Cooper, Jr. of Euphrates Gallery displaying visual art created by people of color and women. She is the mother of two grown magnificent children and the grandmother of four wonderfully busy little ones.
Film Critic | Producer
Shawn Edwards is a film journalist, pop culture guru, TV, and film producer. As a nationally recognized film critic for Fox 4 News in Kansas City, Missouri, he has won numerous national awards; including Best TV Film Critic twice by the LA Press Club's National Entertainment Journalism Awards. Edwards is the co-founder of AAFCA (African American Film Critics Association) created in 2003. He also created I Love Black Movies the popular social media and online movie community in 2008.
Edwards got his start writing for national hip-hop magazines. He wrote for The Source, XXL and Vibe magazines during the late '90s. He is a life-long lover of movies who began making his own films in the 7th grade. He won several national student filmmaking awards.
He is currently on the Critics Choice Association board of directors, a member of Gold Derby and working as a consultant and producer for the Hidden Empire Film Group. Edwards is also writing an illustrative book on the history of black film and is the executive producer of "Movie Trip TV.
Musician | Composer
Freeman attended the Conservatory at the University of Missouri- Kansas City and was the recipient of the George Salisbury Scholarship. He received the NARAS Grammy Award for production of the song "Begging the Shadows". He also spent time as the musical director in the one-man show "Paul Robeson", which played in theaters first in K.C. and later moved to the East Coast. The performance sold-out audiences every night. He currently tours with Roy Ayers and has performed in the UK and Europe. Most notably, he's played in "Ronnie Scott's" jazz club and many other festivals in Europe. He also toured for 13 yrs with Oleta Adams and has toured extensively in the Netherlands, the West Indies, Brazil, Costa Rica, Japan, and one of the most remote places being Turkey.
He has performed in some major jazz festivals both inside and outside the USA- the memorable, being the North Sea Festival in Holland. Now, he performs locally with his own band Eclipse as well as the Jazz Disciples and continues to be one of KC's favorite sidemen, performing with nearly all the great female vocalists of Kansas City, and at Sullivan’s Steakhouse.
Film Maker | Photographer
Diallo moved to Atlanta, Georgia in the early 1990s and attended Clark Atlanta University, majoring in Mass Communications, Radio/T.V./Film. While attending school, he worked as a production assistant on several music videos that included artists such as, TLC, Outkast, Goodie Mob, Xscape, Raven Symone, Usher, and with director Hype Williams. He is an award-winning filmmaker and jazz photographer with a BET (Black Entertainment Television) film to his credit entitled May This Be Love. His photographs have been used on Hallmark Cards, exhibited in the American Jazz Museum, Vine Street Studio, Buttonwood Art Space, Keyhole Gallery, and The Box Gallery
"There is something very magical about the marriage between music and film.”
Painter | Illustrator
I was born in San Diego, California. Shortly after, I relocated to Missouri and found my drive for art. I came to Kansas City at the age of 11, by that time a pencil was already glued to my hand. Every milestone in my life always led me to draw. So when I wanted to take it on as a full career, it really wasn’t a surprise. In doing so, I’ve been able to be a part of Arts Tech. As one of their artist, I make art and they sell it.
I also had the chance to teach incoming artists the ropes on how to sell and how to have conversations about their artwork. Throughout the years I have participated in several exhibitions and mural projects. I’ve exhibited in the Plaza Art fair 2015 -2019, art festivals in Texas, Colorado, and Ohio. I worked with Michael Toombs on many mural projects, as recently as the Brown vs Board mural in Topeka, the Nova Arts program, and the 18th and Vine mural project. I’ve been commissioned to create large-scale murals for in commercial companies and private homeowners.
"Every milestone in my life always lead me to drawing."
Robert Hale is one of the West Coast’s leading photographers. His work both as a photographer and as a journalist, has taken him on assignment throughout the world. His images are characterized by clarity and simplicity, with an extraordinary eye for light and shadow.
Whether animate or inanimate, Robert feels his subjects have an inner essence, and, if handled with patience and sensitivity, this essence will reveal itself.
His goal is to allow it to live in prints. Although he spent the next 20 years building a successful career as an account executive, he describes this time as “years in which I had lost my courage.” It wasn’t until he reached his middle years, having made a cross-country trip with two actor friends that he determined to commit himself fully to the passion of his youth. Eschewing financial security, in 1996 he left the corporate world and returned to the world of art. Since then his progress in the world of photography has been phenomenal. Robert’s images, essentially portraiture, have been printed in such publications as The New York Times, The Los Angeles
Times, The Village Voice, The LA Weekly, Black Enterprise, and a variety of national and international publications.
He has served as a contributing photographer at The California African American Museum in Los Angeles, California, The Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as the City of West Hollywood Government also in Los Angeles, California. He continues after more than 20 years to be a contributing photographer for the Directors Guild of America. Robert also has images in several collections, including a portrait of the legendary “Mama of Dada” Beatrice Wood, that resides in the Permanent Collection of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery, The American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and several private collections both in America and abroad. Robert has been proud to volunteer his photographic services to the Los Angeles Children’s Museum, Aids Project Los Angeles, LA Shanti, Aids Service Center in Pasadena, California, and currently The American Consulate in Marseille, France.
Painter | Educator
Anthony High is a Kansas City native, international artist, and educator. High received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Arts Education from Lincoln University and a Studio Art Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). He also teaches at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. High taught art education for the Kansas City Missouri School District for 29 years and is an adjunct professor at UMKC and the Metropolitan Community Colleges of Kansas City.
Painter | Muralist | Designer
Charles “Swavy” Jones is a Kansas City-based artist and entrepreneur most known for his vibrant paintings. The acrylic and airbrushed paintings of his are among his most notable work and have been shown across the city as well as featured in the Kansas City Star. Charles’ aim is to provoke thought and conversation through spirited storytelling and symbolism. His fashion line, Swavy Custom, keeps him busy as well while also tackling college. Charles attends the Kansas City Art Institute on a scholarship as 2022 Fibers Major. Becoming a more versatile creative thinker and sharpening his craft is what Jones is up to now.
Choreographer | Educator
Kimberlyn Jones is currently an Economic Development Manager at Metropolitan Community College. A native of Kansas City native known as a dancer, instructor, and choreographer. Ms. Jones received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in Business Administration and a Certificate in Dance and pursued her graduate studies at Rockhurst University receiving her executive MBA in Business Management. Her passion for dance and a business education established the Kansas City Metropolitan Dance Theatre in 2007, a nonprofit dance education and performing arts center for children in the urban core. She has danced and taught for over 35 years in the community and has conducted and choreographed numerous pageants, Debutante/Cotillion balls, community celebrations, and various productions of dance recitals and variety shows. Her professional training original started at Smith Sisters Dance studio, and then from Miller Marley, Betty Tillotson, the KC Ballet, and various studios across the country. Some of her accolades include KC Chiefs Chiefette, Mizzou Golden Girl, and dancing with Alvin Ailey Company for the Kansas City residency. In addition to her owning and operating the Kansas City Metropolitan Dance Theatre, Ms. Jones is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Director of St. James United Methodist Praising Grace dance ministry, has served as an Arts and Nonprofit advocate for the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, MO.
Clarissa Knighten left Corporate America in August 2017 to pursue her business, Rissa’s Artistic Design. R.A.D creates a haven for those who seek to collect and wear bold beautiful art. She strives to handcraft masterpieces of jewelry that range from Earthy to Edgy to Elegant. Leather, cowrie shells, tree branches, rocks, wire, various weights of metal, gemstones even buttons can be found in her work. Each piece has the ability to transform any outfit, while at the same time lifting the emotional expression of the wearer. This creates higher self - image, confidence and savvy attitude needed to navigate the complex and dynamic world we live in today. Her jewelry has a voice and an expressive story of resilience.
Clarissa participated in runway show with Kansas City Fashion Week Spring / Summer 2019, KC Studio Magazine September / October 2018 with the African American Artist Collective, KC Studio Magazine May /June 2018 edition has a photograph of her work for Black Space Black Art, Guild It - Presenter, Global Entrepreneurship Week - Presenter and Vintage KC Magazine advertised her work in the 2016 Holiday addition.
“I would like to help people understand jewelry is art. Wearable art, art in every form heals.”
Muralist / Arts Educator
Kreshaun McKinney is the Manager of Audience Engagement for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Kreshaun has been appointed Ex-officio by the Honorable Mayor Quinton Lucas to the Kansas City Municipal Arts Commission.
Program development and management, public relations, and outreach are just a few of her professional talents and benchmarks. She builds bridges between communities and diverse cultures that forge lasting relationships and bolster art appreciation. She generates innovative programs and learning opportunities that take the fear factor out of embracing art…or at least visiting it. No experience necessary to look!
Kreshaun invites people from all walks of life to spark multiple conversations and experiences that go beyond the gallery walls of a museum…all done, once again, within a good day’s work.
Jazz Musician | Composer
Hermon Mehari’s sophomore album as a leader, “A Change for the Dreamlike”, takes on a more personal tone. Written and recorded in a band in the French countryside during le confinement, it shows only hints at the aesthetic set by his debut album. The songs play like personal journal entries, versions, and visions of wishes, fantasies, and memories. Together they create a kind of modern mix-tape of dreams, in every sense of the word, in which the trumpet is a vulnerable presence. The project features a number of incredible musicians: Tony Tixier, Peter Schlamb, Ryan J. Lee, Kae Dilla, DeAndre Manning, Hugo LX, Karl McComas-Reichl, Jeff Hill, and Zach Morrow.
Although he already had a growing reputation, the success of Mehari's debut album, "Bleu", put him concretely on the musical map. It covered both the ground of his contemporaries and his own original music in such a way to establish his artistic identity. “Bleu” includes ECM recording artist Aaron Parks on piano, Blue Note recording artist Logan Richardson on alto saxophone, Peter Schlamb on vibraphone, Ryan J. Lee on drums, and Rick Rosato on bass.
Mehari was the recent winner of the 2015 Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Competition and a semifinalist in the 2014 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. In 2014 he released the CD "Our Journey" with Diverse, his second with the group. Mehari maintains a touring schedule around the world with his own group and as a sideman. Mehari was also the winner of the 2008 National Trumpet Competition and placed 2nd in the International Trumpet Guild competition in Sydney, Australia. As a founding member of Diverse, whose eponymous debut album on Seattle-based Origin Records reached the Top 40 on the Jazz Week Radio Charts, he has performed professionally with noted saxophonists Jaleel Shaw, Logan Richardson, Bobby Watson, Ben Van Gelder, and Tivon Pennicott. He has also performed with Aaron Parks, Joe Sanders, Hubert Laws, Randy Brecker, Tony Tixier, Dave Pietro, Clay Jenkins, and many other great musicians.
Hermon Mehari received his BM in Jazz Performance from the University of Missouri - Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance in 2010. In addition to performing, he dedicates himself to being a serious educator and has participated in clinics and panels around the world.
Sherry Mirador is a Kansas City native who has a love for all things related to design. Her journey into the world of design started with taking a sewing class at a local community college. It didn’t take long for her to recognize her God-given talent so, she decided to pursue a degree in Arts. In 2008, she graduated from Penn Valley with an Associate’s Degree in Apparel and Textile Design. Sherry has won several awards for original design in women’s evening wear and accessories.
Ms. Mirador began to design jewelry in 2004. By 2006 she was a featured artisan at two local Kansas City gift shops. In 2007 she debuted as a designer at the Kansas City Magic Fashion Show. Her collection caught the eye of a local magazine and was featured in their November 2007 Issue featuring local designers. She began to sew custom couture window treatments for a local Interior Designer in 2009. Her custom work has been featured in Kansas City Spaces (January 2018, December 2015, February 2012); The Chamber of Curiosity (2014), and IN KC (December 2019).
Her current project is a restoration of a historically registered house in Malta Bend, MO. She oversees all the custom design projects as a Design Associate for Flint Hall Interiors. The project won the 2019 McReynolds Award presented by The Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation. She continues to work as a freelance designer in Kansas City creating an exclusive line of men’s bow ties, jewelry, and home goods.
Arie is a Kansas City Artist who draws comics and caricatures. Her work has been featured in several books, including Black Comix, Black Comix Returns, I am Alfonso Jones, and African American Classics. She graduated from The University of Missouri- Kansas City with a BA in Studio art and attended The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon Graphics in New Jersey. She has created work for such companies as Warner Brothers Animation, Universal Studios, and has been an illustrator for Mada Design. Her projects included work for companies like Crayola, DreamWorks, and Nickelodeon. Currently, Arie lives and works in the Kansas City area as a traveling caricature artist for events, parties, and festivals. She also has a personal art blog which features her personal comic book work and animations. Her current project includes the completion of her first creator-owned book, Tornado Alley: Night of the Were-Rabbit.
Find her on the web to see more:
Jessica Care Moore
Poet | Performer | Publisher
Jessica Care Moore believes poems belong everywhere and to everyone. An internationally renowned poet, playwright, performance artist, and producer, she is the 2013 Alain Locke Award Recipient from the Detroit Institute of Arts. Born in Detroit, Jessica Care Moore first came to national prominence when she won on the legendary “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” competition a record-breaking five times in a row. Her searing performance of the poem “Black Statue of Liberty” earned Moore several meetings with high profile publishing companies.
But in 1997, she paved her own path and launched a publishing company of her own, Moore Black Press. She released her first book, The Words Don’t Fit In My Mouth, and sold more than 20,000 copies. Jessica Care Moore is the CEO of Moore Black Press, Executive Producer of Black WOMEN Rock!, and founder of the literacy-driven, Jess Care Moore Foundation.
Moore is the author of The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth, The Alphabet Verses The Ghetto, God is Not an American, Sunlight Through Bullet Holes, and a memoir, Love is Not The Enemy. Her poetry has been heard on stages like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the London Institute of Contemporary Arts. Along with her own work, she proudly published famed poets such Saul Williams, Shariff Simmons, Def Poetry Jam’s co-founder Danny Simmons, NBA player Etan Thomas, Ras Baraka, and former Essence Magazine editor Asha Bandele.
She has performed on every continent. She is the youngest poet published in the Prentice Hall Anthology of African American Women’s Literature, by Valerie Lee, alongside literary greats such as Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, Maya Angelou, and many others. Jessica Care Moore has graced the cover of The New York Times, The Metro Times, Michigan FrontPage, Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, African Voices Magazine, Black Elegance Magazine, and has been featured in print and online magazines across the world, including, Essence, Huffington Post, Blaze, The Source, Vibe, Bomb, Mosaic, Savoy, One World, Upscale, Ambassador Magazine, UPTOWN, and others.
Find her on the web to see more:
Carlos Nelson, Sr.
Carlos Nelson launched the popular Cascade media company in 2012. Cascade is an internet-based company created to facilitate honest and constructive conversations concerning important issues affecting the Kansas City African American community.
What’s Up Kansas City is the future of media and provides rapid access to people, information, and opportunities that were previously only available to the privileged and elite. Today, individuals and organizations have access to a progressive media platform to share their perspectives regarding the accomplishments and challenges of our community.
What’s Up Kansas City offers In-depth interviews with politicians, entrepreneurs, health care professionals, educators, civic leaders, faith-based advocates, and entertainers.
"Our commitment is to enlighten, empower, enrich and galvanize our community!"
Joseph Newton, Jr.
Digital Graphic Design Artist
Joseph Newton is a multifaceted artist who endeavors in photography, graphic design, landscapes and cityscapes, abstract paintings, Afrocentric paintings, and commissioned artwork; but He is best known as a portrait artist that has an eye for capturing many of the unique attributes of his subjects within his paintings. Joseph is a self-taught artist who is constantly honing his craft to be at the top of his game. Though Joseph has had no formal training in the arts other than attending a week-long camp at the Art Institute in grade school; he descends from a family of artists who are as talented in their own right in the areas of painting and sculptures. His works rival some of the best formally trained artists known today.
At a young age, Joseph drew on whatever he could get his hands on. His mother often put newsprint on the walls so that he could be creative and draw to his heart’s content. In high school he once had an art teacher assert that he was not a ‘real artist’ because as they put it, he did not “paint from life.” As one could imagine, this statement could be devastating to a young budding artist; but instead, it inspired him to prove that statement wrong. One look at his portfolio drives the point home that this declaration couldn't have been further from the truth. He began painting in grade school and as he got older he progressed to painting with oils and acrylics on canvas.
His works are an artistic expression of the spirit within and without-an elaborate detailing of how our Creator intricately designed us. His paintings are heirlooms that can be passed down for generations.
Many of his earlier works included black and whites. As technology advanced, his work has evolved to the use of digital paintings as his medium of choice due to the cleanliness and the convenience of it. Joseph believes that the subjects he paints have a story to tell and he captures a visual representation of that story as a distinct moment in time. He incorporates a variety of visual elements using a combination of expertise, detail, symmetry, and lighting to immortalize their story. While the goal is not ‘photorealism’, it has often been stated that his portrait paintings “looks like a photograph.” When asked, what is it that you are trying to convey in your paintings, Joseph's response is simply, “The beauty……. the beauty within their story.”
Painter | Illustrator
Joseph was born in Kansas City, Kansas. For as long as he could remember Joseph always liked to draw. In high school, Joseph entered some of his artwork in an art contest. Two representatives from the school were so impressed with his work that they came to his house to speak with his parents. They talked to his mother and father about the artwork that he had entered for an art competition. The school representatives explained to his parents that they could not judge his drawings as a teenager but as an adult, because his drawings were very atypical and just that advanced. His parents then enrolled him into art courses while in high school. Joseph took those basic classes that mostly taught traditional landscapes and still life for about two years. He continued his love for art and became a self-taught artist in the different visual art media.
With dedication and persistence, Joseph continued to draw. While on his journey, Joseph found that abstract art was how he liked to convey and express his ideas. Like most artists, Joseph tried different mediums to find the particular one that allowed him to work with both detail and ease. Joseph found that he was most drawn to oils. He finds that oils make his paintings rich and vibrant. While using oils, Joseph also incorporates different types of materials into his paintings and adds new textures to enhance the effect of his paintings.
Joseph likes adding geometric graphics into his paintings. He believes it gives them great depth and 3D effects. The theme for Joseph T. Newton’s selection of paintings is called, ‘I Ching’ in the Abstract; and ‘Metapharaonic’ (Metaphor) meaning Egyptian Hieroglyphic Symbols and (Pharaonic) meaning in relationship to the characteristics of the Pharaohs.
His artwork was found to be such alchemy, that Joseph became one of the first African American artists in Kansas City, Missouri to have his artwork displayed at 18th and Vine in the Historic Jazz District. He has had various art showings at Westwood City Hall in Kansas City, Kansas; along with street shows, and a private showing event in Kansas City, Missouri. Joseph Newton has been a member of the Charlotte Art League of Charlotte, NC and he has had showings of his unique work.
Fiber Artist | Designer
Kim Alexis Newton was born in San Francisco, California. She moved to Nashville Tennessee and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Fisk University and a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University.
Kim enjoyed a 20 plus year career with one of the world’s largest privately-held companies in America, most recently serving as senior vice president of Consumer Experience of the Hallmark Brand and has been recognized as one of the top 100 African Americans in corporate America. Additionally, Kim was named to the 2017 class of The Henry Crown Fellow by the Aspen Institute. She is also a member of The Executive Leadership Council, The Network of Executive Women, African-American Artist Collective,The Links, Inc. and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Throughout her career, Kim honed her skills as a fiber artist and recently decided to pursue her artistic passions more seriously. Kim learned to quilt (the traditional way) when she was 22 from her Grandmother. “That summer changed my life. I still don’t know if it was learning a time-honored craft from my grandmother or just the time we spent together. I fell in love with quilting.” Kim evolved to a modern approach to quilting, putting herself and her experiences into the storytelling. Instantly recognized as unique, Kim had the opportunity to feature her quilts in her first show at 28. Since that time Kim has exhibited at several shows episodically while she pursued her career and became a wife and mother. In 2018, a fellow quilt artist invited Kim to show two new pieces despite her apprehension of being pulled in several directions.
Kim fell in love again and with her new life experience was able to elevate her work in a way that was noticeable. The reaction was affirming. With this renewed interest from the art world, Kim secured her first solo show in May 2020. Kim works almost exclusively with Indonesian batik fabric because of their color vibrancy, symbolic meaning and workmanship. Batiks are hand dyed giving no two pieces the same affect.She believes their variation brings movement to and enhance the emotion of her pieces
"Fabrics speak to me and the emotion they convey are often my inspiration.”
Painter | Illustrator
Born in Chicago, Illinois, I learned at an early age that through art, it was easier to communicate my ideas about the world and the people around me.
I attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago, where I studied oil painting and figure drawing. As a student, I concentrated more on the technical aspects of art–drawing, color, composition, and design. Over time, I began to focus more on bringing energy and life into my work. Upon graduation, I was recruited by Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri, to work as an illustrator.
My work is narrative in nature. I find that a candid or spontaneous representation of individuals in everyday life can tell much about who they are. Facial expression, body language, hair, and clothing all reveal visual clues that have shaped and molded them into who they are today. My work at this moment attempts to connect the viewer to their story, to tell as much as I can about them in that image. I currently work as a full-time artist creating compelling imagery for the public and private sector.
Poet | Writer
Glenn North is currently the Executive Director of the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from UMKC. Glenn is the author of City of Song, a collection of poems inspired by Kansas City’s rich jazz tradition and the triumphs and tragedies of the African American experience. He is a Cave Canem fellow, a Callaloo creative writing fellow, and a recipient of the Charlotte Street Generative Performing Artist Award and the Crystal Field Poetry Award. His work has appeared in the Langston Hughes Review, Kansas City Voices, One Shot Deal, The Sixth Surface, Caper Literary Journal, Platte Valley Review, Kansas City Voices, KC Studio, Cave Canem Anthology XII, The African American Review, and American Studies Journal. He collaborated with legendary jazz musician, Bobby Watson, on the critically acclaimed recording project, Check Cashing Day and is currently filling his appointment as the Poet Laureate of the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District.
Poet | Educator
Michael Patton is a retired secondary school teacher of the Kansas City Public School District. He began his involvement in social activism while growing up in the Civil Rights Movement as a member of C.O.R.E. As a college student he served as a member of the Black Student Alliance of Westminster College working to advance the goals of black students on that campus. As a classroom teacher and union executive, he called for the increased participation of minorities in educational systems and has been an advocate for the continued inclusion of minority histories as valuable and necessary for enhancing the dialogue between the diverse parts of the American society.
His activism has also been expressed in the arts. Michael worked for several years instructing students for the Gems of 18th and Vine, a research and writing project sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation and UMKC. He has performed with the Gorilla Theater Group and the Theater Gym. His poetry is a reflection of his advocacy of art as a revolutionary necessity. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Black Archives of Mid-America. As a member of the African American Artists Collective, he continues to work to promote the artistic endeavors of artists struggling to be recognized for their talents and excellence.
Film Maker | Photographer
Kansas City, Mo based photographer/filmmaker, Jason Piggie, has been honing his skills in photography and filmmaking for the past three decades. Jason blended his thirty-six years of photography and twenty-year of filmmaking experience into a perfect marriage to create thought-provoking and inspiring works.
Jason was the recipient of The Rocket grand Award in 2019. He has received two residency opportunities through Charlotte Street Foundation. Jason has written and directed 15 short films including “A homecoming”, “Otis’ Song”, "Bad Dream", " Mattie's Song", " Agent C" and “Domestic" and has won 1st place at the 3/5/7 Film Festival in the 5 Minute Category. In 2012 he won best in show at the Arts KC show. He has exhibited in the Kansas City Artists Coalition: River Market Regional Exhibition, Reflecting the Time – The Box Gallery Kansas City Mo, Jazz Speaks to Life legacy – American Jazz Museum Kansas City Mo, All Hail to Hale – American Jazz Museum Kansas City Mo, Tomahawk Community Center: Overland Park Ks, Depictions: People, Places and Things Black Archives of Mid-America, and Jazz Then and Now – American Jazz Museum Kansas City Mo.
Jason Piggie currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri, but has work in other parts of the continental USA.
Arts Business Consultant
Ms. Richardson oversees the day-to-day operations of the KC BizCare Office, the City’s Business Customer Service Center, a free business resource, advocacy, and information center for new and existing businesses operating within Kansas City. Established in 2009, BizCare provides guidance and assistance for businesses navigating the City’s licensing, permitting and vendor approval processes. Her work also includes streamlining initiatives to remove barriers to entry and systemic issues that impede a business’s ability to grow in Kansas City. She is an advocate between businesses and City departments to coordinate business-related concerns. Her work is vital to the City’s goal of becoming the “Most Entrepreneurial City in America.” Nia started with the City in November of 2018.
Her goal is to create a more streamlined approach for new and existing businesses to navigate the city’s registration and permitting process through the BizCare Office. She is also working towards procurement reform to improve the City’s contracting practices and use its purchasing power to help grow and support small businesses doing business with the City of Kansas City and other local public agencies.
Collector | Artist
Dwight Smith (Major, U.S. Army Retired) is an Equal Opportunity specialist and Chief of the Intake Branch in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Region 7. He recently served as the Regional VP (Region 7) of the National Council of HUD Locals 222, prior to working at HUD. Smith served our great nation for 25 years in the U.S. Army. During his years as an officer, Dwight served as a platoon leader, executive officer, company commander, public affairs officer, professor of military science, and most recently as a special advisor to senior Afghan government officials for the NATO mission Operation Resolute Support.
Mr. Smith was deployed 5 times in support of our nation's interests to both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other areas deemed critical. Mr. Smith’s awards include the Bronze Star, The Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, The Meritorious Service Medal, and the Combat Action Badge, only to name a few. Dwight is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas and Chapman University earning both his B.A. and M.A. in Organizational Leadership. Mr. Smith is an avid collector of fine art, supporting local, national, and international artists. His collection has an emphasis on works by women and people of color.
Abstract Artist | Educator
Harold works primarily in acrylics and mixed media (occasionally oil). His work is influenced by jazz and the jazz dynamic in life. He lives and works in the Kansas City area. Harold’s work has been collected worldwide and he has exhibited in France, New York, Newport, San Francisco, College Park (MD), and of course Kansas City. Harold also writes and produces films.
David Bruce Stevens
Photographer | Film Maker
David studied at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. After leaving KU, he was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant in the Signal Corps (Communications). Upon discharge from the Army, Stevens became Director of the University of Iowa's Minority Film Workshop.
After leaving Iowa, Stevens worked for the NBC O/O, and Channel 4 In Denver, Colorado for 12 years as a photojournalist. Leaving Channel 4 in the early '90s, he became a freelance photographer/videographer. Through the years, he worked on documentaries, corporate and government video projects, as well as his personal photography.
Stevens' work has appeared on most major television networks, including ABC; CBS; TNT; and in the BBC-produced documentary, “Racism and Sports in America.” His passion is Black and White photography.
Bili Redd Thedford
Vocalist | Composer
Bili Thedford is a Los Angeles native, a phenomenal premier vocalist who stirs you to rise from your status quo and soar in melodic wanderings of all sorts. His voice brings the wealth of the intuition of the ‘art of music’. His ‘gift of song’ is not to be taken lightly and you won’t be able to take it for granted. He demands, with a precedent, every part of you that can love a song.
With forty-plus years as a professional singing career with extraordinary musicianship, Bili Redd Thedford embodies the incomparable multi-talent pulsing in a city that boasts an immeasurable number of names and unmatched quality in entertainment throughout the world, accomplished as music arranger-composer, lyricist, percussionist, bassist, and overall – a ‘musician’s musician’. His humility lends a gentle strength of sensuality to his vocal performance.
His credits include working with and accompanying Quincy Jones, Andre’ Crouch, George Benson, Randy Crawford, Billy Higgins, Jeromy Lubbock, Melissa Manchester, Minnie Ripperton, and Sarah Vaughan. The list goes impressive, 6 Grammy nominations winner of 3 Grammy’s and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Sonie Joi Thompson-Ruffin
Sonié Joi Thompson - Ruffin is a fabric artist, fabric designer, curator, and author.
She uses her artist’s platform to share the African American narrative. Her artwork is a celebratory testimony of courage, struggle, and strength that is intertwined through the life of African Americans.
She has conducted workshops and lectures about African American fabric art at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, and the Nerman Museum. She has been invited to exhibit her artwork at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, David C. Driskell Art Center, Mulvane Museum, Spencer Museum, the Holter Museum, and the Leedy Volkous Art Center.
Sonié is a co-founder of the African American Artists Collective. She serves on the Kansas City Museum Foundation Board and Curatorial committee, she served ten years as curator in resident for the American Jazz Museum’s Changing Gallery in Kansas City's historic jazz district. Sonié is a Charlotte Street Visual Arts Fellow, an Art Omi Fellow, Delta Sigma Theta Woman of Courage recipient and a Kansas Masters.
Her artwork and fabric designs have appeared on the cover and in KC Studio magazine, New Letters, and quilt magazines across the country.
Her most recent public arts selection by Helix Architectural Firm is the 2017 commission of Community Dignity and iNeema which rests on the exterior building walls of Kansas City’s Leon Mercer Jordan East Patrol and Crime Lab Campus. Her artwork can be found in galleries, museums, public and private collections throughout the United States, Europe and Africa.
“...a celebratory testimony of courage, struggle, and strength that is intertwined through the life of African Americans...”
AAAC Art History Intern
Sarah Smith is a Dylon scholar recipient, an undergrad at Park University studying European History with a minor in Sociology. She has served as a former class president of her alma-mater, Paseo Academy, where she attended from 2006-2013. She is also a former participant of Delta Cotillion 2013. Sarah has participated in multiple organizations, such as the National Honor Society and Student Orchestra. She is a recipient of the United States Achievement Academy as a National Mathematics Award winner, while also being labeled an outstanding citizen. Sarah has received recognition from the Missouri House of Representatives Gail McCann Beatty of the 26th District, and Randy D. Dunn 23rd District. Among other recognition, she has received a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement from the 16th circuit family judge, while participating in the law program at the University of Missouri- Kansas City (UMKC).
Michael V. Toombs
Muralist | Painter | Educator
Michael Vance Toombs is an accomplished painter, art activist, and founder and CEO of Storytellers Inc., Artist Collective. Mr. Toombs is a community leader and champion for young people and working artists in the Greater Kansas City area. Michael began as a young student with Matthew Monks at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. He furthered his study through classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and completed a business entrepreneurial course of study through Donnelly College, Kansas City, Kansas. Michael left the corporate world as customer service manager for GEHA Insurance for 8 years where he helped setup their customer service dept, which handled 3500 calls a day with 75 customer service reps.
I left to develop my own business in the belief that ”Art is a Change Agent for society’s difficulties.” Michael’s art form is “interactive community-based art”. As Executive Director of Storytellers Inc, Michael has developed contracts with many high profile organizations including University of Missouri, Wichita State University, Environmental Protection Agency, Accessible Arts, Bartle Convention Center, Olorun Foundation in Burkina Faso, West Africa, Kansas City Kansas Public Schools, Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority, Jackson County Family Courts, and C.O.M.B.A.T – Jackson County Prosecutors Office, KCMO Mayor’s office, KCMO Police dept.
Michael Toombs has worked with the Department of Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine and Public Health, University of Kansas Medical ArtsTech and InterUrban ArtHouse, as well as 18th and Vine Jazz district.
”Art is a Change Agent for society’s difficulties.”
Painter | Muralist
I’m from Kansas City and I’m an Artist!!!!
Art has always been a passion of mine. I knew from a very early age that art would be a strong influence in my life. My artistic mission is to entice the viewer to escape reality and live an alternate life within the painting.
J Art Pro is born out of Jason Wilcox's creative mind and influenced by a collaboration of painting, graphic design, video production, and music. Jason's artistic vision developed from an early age and advanced through education at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri where he was awarded Best Visual Artist of his Senior class of 2000. The Scholastic Arts Award earned him college art program scholarships.
Current media include acrylic, gold, silver, copper and green leaf, ink, paint marker, oil pastel, spray paint and watercolor. Natural sponges are the preferred application method for blending, but some pieces are done with a brush. New media and application techniques are uniquely utilized within each piece of work, such as embroidery, Marley hair, and French lace veil. Jason's work shows a contemporary outlook on realism, abstract, and pop art styles.
Sonia Sanchez, Ph.D.
Master Poet | Author | Educator
Sonia Sanchez is one of the most important writers of the Black Arts Movement. She is a poet, activist, and scholar she was the former Laura Carnell Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Temple University. She is the first Poet Laureate for the city of Philadelphia. She is the recipient of both the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award. Sanchez is the author of sixteen books. Her poetry has been read all over the world.
Congressman "Rev" Emanuel Cleaver II
Cleaver was elected Kansas City's first African American Mayor in 1991. During his eight-year stint in the Office of the Mayor, Cleaver distinguished himself as an economic development activist and an unapologetic redevelopment craftsman.
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II is a native Texan, now serving his seventh term representing Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District, the home district of President Harry Truman. He is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services; Chair of the subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy; member of Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance; member of the House Committee on Homeland Security; member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security; and member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. During the 112th Congress, Cleaver was unanimously elected the 20th chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In 2018, Congressman Cleaver received the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award Foundation. Past honorees include President Bill Clinton, the late Senator John McCain, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Cleaver has received five honorary Doctoral Degrees augmented by a bachelor’s degree from Prairie View A&M, and a master’s from St. Paul's School of Theology of Kansas City.
Internationally acclaimed artist Charles Bibbs, whose work is featured in museums, galleries, organizations, and homes of many collectors, displays a deep sense of Spirituality, Majesty, Dignity, Strength and Grace in his images. His work is done in a combination of realistic and larger-than-life interpretations of contemporary subjects that are ethnically rooted.
Born in San Pedro, California, and raised in Harbor City, California, Bibbs managed to work an eight-hour job and use his God-given talent in his spare time. But In 1991, Bibbs decided to leave his management position of 25 years, to form his publishing and distribution company, B Graphics and Fine Arts, Inc. Today, Bibbs is one of the top-selling artists in the country, and his business has grown to be one of the leaders in the African American art print market.
Public Artist | Master Sculptor
Ed Dwight has been an artist since his youth. He is a graduate engineer, a former USAF Test Pilot, and America’s first African American Astronaut candidate appointed by President John F. Kennedy. After successful careers as an Air Force Officer/Pilot, and real estate and construction entrepreneur, Ed has dedicated the last 33 years solely to his artistic endeavors.
In 1975, while in the Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) Program at the University of Denver, Ed was commissioned by the Colorado Centennial Commission to create a series of bronzes depicting the contribution of Blacks to the American Frontier West. The series of 50 bronzes was exhibited for several years throughout the United States, gaining widespread acceptance and critical acclaim. In 1979, while the series was on exhibit at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (National Park Service), Ed was encouraged to create a bronze series portraying the history and historical roots of Jazz.
The series created, entitled "JAZZ: An American Art Form," now consists of over 70 bronzes characterizing the creation and evolution of Jazz from its African and European roots to the fusion of contemporary music. In 2009, Ed was honored with the commission to create a historical life-size sculpture presentation of President Barack Obama’s first inauguration scene. The scene includes the President, The First Lady, the two Obama girls, and Chief Justice John Roberts administering the oath. The exhibit is on tour throughout the U.S. in museums and other venues.
Dean L. Mitchell
Mitchell is well known for his figurative works, landscapes, and still life's. In addition to watercolors, he is accomplished in other mediums, including egg temperas, oils, and pastels. Mitchell has been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, American Artist, Artist Magazine, Fine Art International and Art News.
His art can be found in corporate and museum collections across the country, including: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Mississippi; Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Beach Museum of Art, Manhattan, Kansas; The Autry National Center, Los Angeles; The Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, Arkansas; Gadsden Art Center Quincy, Florida; Canton Museum of Art, Canton, Ohio and the Library of Congress.
Dean L. Mitchell is represented by Marie Brooks Gallery in Quincy, FL Mac-Grader Gallery in New Orleans, LA, Astoria Fine Art in Jackson, Wyoming, Cutter & Cutter Fine Art in St. Augustine, FL E&S Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky, Hearne Fine Art in Little Rock, AR, J. Willott Gallery in Palm Desert, California, and The Red Piano Art Gallery in Bluffton, South Carolina
Jacob A. Wagner, Ph.D.
Urban Planning & Design | UNESCO Representative
Jacob A. Wagner, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning & Design at UMKC and the Director of the Urban Studies Program. He joined the University of Missouri in 2005.
He served as the Principal Investigator for the project entitled Planning for Heritage Tourism, Housing Resettlement and Neighborhood Economic Recovery in New Orleans, Louisiana, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2006-2008. This work supported the recovery of thousands of local businesses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This work led to the development of the Lafitte Greenway – an urban greenway and rails to trails project in the heart of the city and supported the development of cultural-heritage tourism-based strategies for neighborhood recovery after urban disasters.
In 2007, the Washington Wheatley Neighborhood Association in Kansas City, Missouri invited Dr. Wagner to develop a neighborhood plan with local residents. This marked the beginning of his work with Kansas City neighborhoods and the foundation for the establishment of the UMKC Center for Neighborhoods in the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design (in 2015).
In 2014, Mayor Sly James and his Environmental Management Commission established a Vacant Lot Task Force, of which Dr. Wagner was a participating member. The Task Force produced a final report that highlighted the Best and Most Sustainable Uses for Vacant Properties – including green infrastructure and urban agriculture. Dr. Wagner’s Urban Planning and Design studio developed new research and urban design strategies for integrating vacant land into urban neighborhoods to restore ecological functions of vacant land at the watershed scale.
In 2015, Dr. Wagner established the UMKC Center for Neighborhoods as a nonpartisan research and outreach center with the support of Missouri Senator Shalonn Curls. The Center for Neighborhoods serves neighborhood leaders throughout Kansas City, Missouri. The mission of the Center is to build the capacity of neighborhood and community organizations. The CFN team has trained 170 neighborhood leaders from more than 75 organizations since beginning programs in June 2016.
Dr. Wagner has published planning research in the Journal of Planning History, the Journal of Planning Education and Research, Cityscape: HUD’s Journal of Policy Development and Research, the Journal of Urban Design, and the Journal of Urbanism. He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Urban Design.
In 2017, Dr. Wagner’s research helped to earn Kansas City a designation by UNESCO as a Creative City of Music. Kansas City Missouri is an active member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and the only City of Music in the United States. In June 2018, Dr. Wagner joined the official delegation of Kansas City for the Annual Meeting of the UNESCO Creative City Network in Krakow and Katowice, Poland. He continues to work with member cities in the UCCN to promote music and creativity as a driver of sustainable urban development.
Maurice A. Watson
Advocate | Collector
Maurice Alvin Watson, co-founder and principal of Credo Philanthropy Advisors, LLP, has more than 30 years of experience in law, social and public policy, and board governance as a lawyer, advisor, and board member. He has been a partner and chairman of the law firm of Husch Blackwell, which is among the 100 largest law firms in America, representing public and private schools and school systems and colleges and universities, education advocacy groups, education associations at the state and national levels. Recognized as one of the most influential leaders in the Kansas City community and in the nation, he is a frequent speaker before groups across the country and has been named among the 100 most influential leaders in Kansas City, among the 500 leading lawyers in America, and among the most influential Black lawyers in America. As an undergraduate at Harvard College, he concentrated in Social Studies, a selective interdisciplinary honors program, and received a baccalaureate degree, cum laude. He subsequently received his law degree at Harvard Law School. After law school, Maurice served as Museum of Art, board—Kansas City legislative aide to the Honorable John Danforth in the United States Senate in Washington, D.C, where he advised on education, welfare, health care, and judiciary legislation. He has served on the Kansas City Ballet, board, Ford’s Theatre, board—Washington, DC, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art along with a host of the board in and outside of the Kansas City area.
Jacqueline Woods, Ph.D.
Educator | Poet | Author
Jacqueline Wood (Ph.D., University of Florida) specializes in twentieth-century African American literature with an emphasis on African-American women dramatists. She is a retired Professor Emerita of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. As an English professor teaching in the African-American Studies Program at UMKC, she taught Black Studies introductory and advanced theory courses and African-American literature. In addition, she has taught courses on early American immigrant experience, women writers of color, and composition and culture. Her scholarship centers on varied forms in the rhetoric of resistance in African-American women’s drama. Her published works include articles in Studies in the Humanities, The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, The African American Review, College Literature, and various American drama critical anthologies. Dr. Wood also has published the first edited collection of plays by Sonia Sanchez with Duke University Press: I’m Black When I’m Singing; I’m Blue When I Ain’t and Other Plays by Sonia Sanchez. She is currently working on a Sonia Sanchez Reader (also with Duke UP), a novel, and her own plays.
Director and CEO of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Julián Zugazagoitia is the Director and CEO of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the nation's leading encyclopedic art museums. Born and raised in Mexico City, educated at the Sorbonne and the École du Louvre in France, Zugazagoitia has worked at institutions like UNESCO, The Getty Conservation Institute, The Guggenheim Museum and Museo del Barrio in the Americas, Europe, and Africa.
Since his arrival at the Nelson-Atkins in 2010, museum attendance has grown 43% thanks to improved engagement with the community, superlative exhibitions ranging from antiquities to contemporary, and more inclusive programming.
Zugazagoitia is widely known for inspiring the community with his passion for the arts, scholarship, and education, and for his high energy leadership and collaborative spirit. He also currently serves as board chair of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York, NY, and on the board of the Kansas City Art Institute.