January/February 2013


by Jeff Heilman

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Swept with dancing short and tall grasses, wheat, wildflowers and other flora, the vast prairielands of Kansas are their own artful canvas. Not to forget helianthus, of course, the wild native sunflower designated as the state’s floral emblem.

Centered in the state’s northwestern corner, the sunflower industry even has its own artistic billboard: the 24-foot-by-32-foot, newly restored reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s famed Three Sunflowers in a Vase, perched on an 80-foot easel in the city of Goodland.

Art also makes a big statement in the mural-adorned halls of the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka, in the enduring legacy of Kansas City-born jazz legend Charlie “Bird” Parker, and the myriad forms of theater and other performing arts across the state. Also in Topeka, art has the power to restore neighborhoods via the continuing success of NOTO, or the North Topeka Arts District.

Whether exploring the universe at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center or descending 650 feet below the prairie at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum (both in Hutchinson), curated experiences run the gamut.

There’s no place like Kansas for artistic celebrations of people, life and the land, with the following options reflecting the state’s bright cultural appeal.

Opened in 1940, the massive Municipal Auditorium was Topeka’s entertainment center for nearly half a century. From basketball to Count Basie, the 4,200-seat facility saw it all before closing in the late 1980s.

Wind forward to 1991, and following a $6.25 million renovation, the Art Deco treasure reopened as the Topeka Performing Arts Center (TPAC). Boasting outstanding acoustics and excellent sightlines, the state-of-the-art venue, like its predecessor, is a “capital” choice for groups.

“For 21 years, TPAC has hosted banquets, graduations, wedding receptions, fundraisers and conferences in its more than 15,000 square feet of rentable spaces,” says Barbara Wiggins, the center’s executive director. “Far more than a performance hall that brings diverse entertainment to the heart of downtown Topeka, TPAC is truly a multipurpose facility.”

Rental spaces include the 2,500-seat main performance hall, the grand lobby and several prefunction and gathering spaces.

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