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History of Creative Industry in KC

by Angela Kennedy | Jul 17, 2014

Kansas City Art Institute
The Kansas City Art Institute can trace its beginnings to an 1885 Sketch Club that is today a four-year college of art and design boasting famous alumni and faculty such as Walt Disney, Thomas Hart Benton, multi-media artist Robert Rauschenberg and sculptor, artist and writer Robert Morris. 

Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri in 1889, leaving the Midwest to study art in Paris and New York. Benton returned to live in Kansas City in 1935 where he lived for the last 40 years of his life. His home near the Country Club Plaza is on the Missouri State Register of Historic Sites and continues to serve as a museum for Benton’s life and art. 

Union Station
Union Station opened to the public in October 1914, designed in the beaux-arts architectural style popular in the U.S. and France in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Union Station encompasses 850,000 sq. ft. and originally featured 900 rooms. In its prime as a working train station, it accommodated tens of thousands of passengers every year. At its peak during WWII, an estimated one million travelers passed through the Station. The North Waiting Room (now the Sprint Festival Plaza) could hold 10,000 people and the complex included restaurants, a cigar store, barber shop, railroad offices, the nation’s largest Railway Express Building (used for shipping freight and mail) as well as a powerhouse providing steam and power. 

Country Club Plaza
The Country Club Plaza is still recognized as the nation’s first shopping center, designed by real estate developer, J.C. Nichols, in 1922. When the construction of the Plaza was announced, many of the city’s leaders called it “Nichols’ Folly.”  What they didn’t see was a masterplan that was years in the making and reflected a study of shopping areas around the world. 

Hallmark is the oldest and most well-known creative company started in the KC area. Beginning in 1910, 18-year-old Joyce C. Hall famously traveled around the Midwest selling postcards out of a shoebox. By 1915, the company known as Hall Brothers sold Valentine's Day and Christmas cards. In 1917, J.C. and his brother Rollie invented modern wrapping paper when they ran out of traditional colored tissue paper. 

In 1928, the company adopted the name Hallmark, after the hallmark symbol used by goldsmiths in London in the 14th century. It began printing the name on the back of every card and promoting it in ad campaigns, a practice the company continues to the present day. In 1944, Hallmark adopted the slogan, "When you care enough to send the very best.” In 1951 Hall sponsored a television program for NBC that gave rise to the Hallmark Hall of Fame, which has won 78 Emmy Awards.

Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art opened in 1933 as a massive Beaux Art masterpiece.  Newspapers nationwide reported visitors “amazed,” “gasping at its innovations and marveling at its luxury.”  The museum was built thanks to a $3 million trust funded by William Rockhill Nelson, founder of The Kansas City Star, and local widow Mary McAfee Atkins. 

Film Row 
Hollywood has always had a connection to the Heartland. It gets its name from a retired Topeka couple who bought property in the foothills west of Los Angeles and in 1887 established the City of Hollywood.

When moving pictures made the move from East to West Coast, filmmakers from around the world flocked to Hollywood. The actors soon followed. And many of Hollywood’s brightest stars came from Kansas City including Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Ginger Rogers and Ed Asner.

Needing more centralized distribution points to ship their features nationwide, Kansas City’s Film Row was born. The industrial enclave occupied nearly 20 buildings in a four square block area of the Crossroads District. Film Row counted as tenants such major studios as MGM, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount and United Artists. It also housed peripheral suppliers to the industry, most notably the Manley Popcorn Company the makers of those wonderful popcorn poppers that made popcorn the “must eat” snack of moviegoers everywhere. 

The roots of Hollywood animation reach to Walt Disney's Laugh-O-Gram studios in Kansas City, where he started making animated films in 1922. The character Mickey Mouse is said to have been inspired by a pet he kept at the studio ... a loveable local rodent.  

Generations of talented and experienced directors, producers and support crews honed their skills in Kansas City, including KC native Robert Altman. Altman returned to shoot “Kansas City” in 1995 and hastened the renovation of Union Station, now a Kansas City landmark.  

Altman is far from alone in choosing Kansas City and its surroundings as a backlot.   There’s Joshua Logan’s “Picnic,” Richard Brooks’ Truman Capote classic “In Cold Blood,” James Ivory’s “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge,” Howard Deutch’s “Article 99," Ang Lee’s “Ride With The Devil” and ABC-TV’s “The Day After,” which is still considered to be one of the most-watched and highest-rated TV events in the history of television.

The advertising industry started in KC much like it did everywhere else in the world. Sometime during the 1960s, things really took off. Bernstein-Rein opened in 1964 and has vaulted such global brands like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart to their current status. Credited with the creation of McDonald’s “Happy Meal,” Bernstein-Rein is one of the largest independent ad agencies in the country.

In 1970, Andrews McMeel UnBiversal was founded as Universal Press Syndicate by Jim Andrews and John McMeel. Garry Trudeau—then a student at Yale—was the first major talent to be discovered when Jim Andrews read his strip, Bull Tales, in the Yale Daily News. Trudeau's Pulitzer Prize-winning strip, Doonesbury, went on to become one of the biggest success stories in comic-syndication history. Universal Press Syndicate became a world leader in newspaper syndication, publishing, production of calendars, stationery and the development of new media.

Ewing Marion Kauffman
The Ewing Marion Kauffman family has been one of the most significant contributors to the Kansas City area’s creativity, innovation and arts. Ewing Kauffman is most well-known for his pharmaceutical company Marion Labs, formed in 1950, and for establishing the Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball team. However, Ewing Kauffman’s most enduring legacy to his community and the world is the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Kauffman wanted his foundation to be innovative—to dig deep and get at the roots of issues to fundamentally change outcomes in people’s lives. He wanted to help young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, get a quality education that would enable them to reach their full potential. He saw building enterprise as one of the most effective ways to realize individual promise and spur the economy. 

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
The concept for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts began with civic leader and philanthropist Muriel McBrien Kauffman as early as 1995. Mrs. Kauffman, Ewing Kauffman’s wife and partner, discussed her vision with her family and many in the community, and upon her death her, Ewing and Muriel’s daughter, Julia Irene Kauffman, carried the idea forward. As chairman of the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, Julia Kauffman has been the energetic force to turn her mother’s dream into one of the most technically and architecturally perfect performing arts centers in the world.

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