The Best of the Best: Kansas City Arts & Culture

Expand your horizons and let your inner artist soar with cutting edge exhibits and classics that never disappoint.

Best Musical Festival


Boulevardia What’s not to like about what the festival organizers call an event “with beer, food, music and more beer." On Father’s Day weekend Boulevardia transforms the Stockyard District into its own realm of beer-topia and packs in a variety of musical performances that cater to almost everyone’s tune taste. Add in some seriously good eats, a maker’s market, decent crowd control and almost enough bathrooms and you have a festival of plenty — awesome.



Boulevardia, photo courtesy boulevardia

Best Blockbuster Exhibit


The Big Picture at the

Nelson-Atkins Museum

            This exhibit provides an almost unparalleled look at photography from its infancy in 1826 to present-day works of art. The photos on display encompass a wide variety of subjects from touching, intimate studies of humanity to pieces which are more contemporary art than traditional photography.

Best Hip Gala

Party Arty Party Arty didn’t start out as the event for the young, beautiful and oh, so fashionable. At first, it was more frump than fab, but over the years it’s become the event to attend if you’re the primary Instagram demographic. From spectacular themes to outrageous outfits (four-foot peacock headdress anyone?) this gala that raises money for the Nelson-Atkins is all about a vibe that has no hint of ladies who lunch.

Party Arty

Party Arty, photo 435 archives

Best Local Documentary


LZ Kansas City:

Stories and Impact of the Vietnam War     

This award-winning local documentary by KCPT-TV was produced to run in conjunction with the Ken Burns/PBS series “The Vietnam War.” The LZ in the title stands for landing zones that were used extensively in the Vietnam War to move forces in and out of combat zones. “LZ Kansas City” digs deep and tells the stories of local veterans who “landed” back in KC after the war, as well as our area’s contributions and reactions.


Best Place to See a Movie That’s Not a Blockbuster


Tivoli Ever wonder how you can see those obscure films that are nominated for Oscars? The short answer is the Tivoli. This beloved Westport theater that many in Kansas City call a cultural institution, shows critically acclaimed films and documentaries that can make your heart sing and make you an expert during awards season.

Best Local Band


Hembree Hembree is about to make it big, really big and these guys deserve it. Their indie rock sound is fresh with just the right amount of throwback. Last year, they opened for Elvis Costello when he played in Kansas City and their single “Holy Water” has had more than a million Spotify streams. The band’s frontman Isaac Flynn is a KC native described by almost anyone you talk to as “the nicest guy ever” (How Kansas City is that?)

Best Gala


Crescendo It’s a gala that doesn’t have speeches, testimonials, videos nor does it involve anyone reading a list of thank yous. Six years ago, Crescendo turned the traditional gala on its ear by reimagining what an event that raises money for scholarships for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance students should be, and the answer was: All about the performances. Held at the Kauffman Center, the event starts with an hourlong concert featuring students from every artistic discipline in the Conservatory and finishes with dinner in the Brandmeyer Great Hall. It’s an evening of WOW from start to finish.


Crescendo Dancers

Crescendo, photo courtesy crescendo

Best Symphony Outing


Handel’s Messiah Warning: goose-bump alert. Seeing the Kansas City Symphony team up with a choir to bring Handel’s Messiah to life is guaranteed to give you “all the feels.” Add in the acoustical majesty of Helzberg Hall and layer on the “Hallelujah Chorus” and you’re ready to either weep, swoon or jump to your feet for a standing ovation.

Best Celebrity Studded Party


Big Slick  It’s probably the best chance anyone in the metro will ever have to rubberneck and rub shoulders with movie stars, musicians and TV heavyweights. Billed as a “celebrity weekend,” this event features a cast of Hollywood big shots and is hosted by famous home boys Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner. Since its inception, Big Slick has raised millions of dollars for Children’s Mercy Hospital.




Meet the Past History comes to life in the Kansas City Library’s “Meet the Past” program. Library director Crosby Kemper III plays interviewer to a cast of prominent historical figures from Walt Disney to Harry Truman portrayed by local actors and performers. This extremely well-done program is “edutainment” at its best.

Best Christmas Entertainment Tradition


KC Rep —
“A Christmas Carol” 

For 40 years, the KC Rep has been a part of many Kansas Citian’s holiday experience. Loading up the car with relatives and going to see “A Christmas Carol” at the Rep is a tradition. Last year, that tradition got an update by the Rep’s talented artistic director Eric Rosen. The changes are subtle, but the result will leave you falling in love with the story all over again.


A Christmas Carol KC

"A Christmas Carol", photo by cory weaver 

Best Place to Listen to Music


Helzberg Hall at the
KaufFman Center

The acoustics in Helzberg Hall are some of the finest in the world; even surpassing the Disney Center in Los Angeles. Renowned acoustician, Yasu Toyota designed elements within the concert hall so the musicians would sound like a unified instrument. The results are striking and will spoil you for any other concert experience.

Best Place to See Jazz


Green Lady Lounge Open 365 days a year, the Green Lady Lounge is a jazz paradise that’s seriously committed to showcasing the rich jazz culture of Kanas City.  With live performances every night and two stages, the Green Lady is where you can find everything from up and coming musicians to jazz legends.


Green Lady Lounge

green lady lounge, photo 435 magazine

Best New Sculpture


“Dancers” Proving that 2 tons of steel can be used for making things other than SUVs, the outdoor sculpture “Dancers” located on Roe Avenue in Leawood is a testament to the adage, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The art piece features two 20-foot tall rectangular columns that the artist (from Denmark) says represent the “inward spiral of energy.” Mostly seen by drivers headed to or from Interstate 435, the sculpture has elicited some strong opinions; which is what art is all about: provoking thought and discussion.


Best Innovative Theatre

Unicorn Theatre For 44 years (316 Productions and 64 World Premieres), the Unicorn has been pushing the envelope with cutting-edge theatre. The Unicorn achieves their mission of producing thought-provoking plays which illuminate social issues and shine a light on diversity by continuing to present bold, in your face, works of art.

Best Makeover


Kansas City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

Yes, it’s been a couple of years since the KCB unveiled their new reimagined Nutcracker with sumptuous new sets and costumes. But it’s the on-going work of artistic director Devon Carney that’s keeping crowds flocking back again and again. Carney has a gift for giving audiences something fresh to experience each time, whether it’s eye candy that you didn’t notice before or inspired choreography that seems to evolve each time you take in the ballet.


The Nutcraker

"the Nutcracker", photo courtesy kc ballet media

Best New Space


The Truman

The Truman could be Goldilocks’ favorite venue — it’s not too big or too small — it’s just right. With a crowd capacity of around 1,400, it fills a niche for performances that don’t yet attract enough people to fill the Midland or Uptown and is enticing more emerging artists to come to Kansas City.

Best Local Author


Candice Millard 

She’s the author of three historical, non-fiction books that each have been New York Times Bestsellers. Millard is a genius researcher and story teller. She has a gift for taking history we thought we knew (or should know) and weaving it into a riveting read that stays with you long after you finish the book. Her latest book, “Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill” was named Amazon’s number one history book of 2016.


Hero of the Empire

"Hero of the empire" by candice millard

Best Place to See a Band That’s Too Cool for Top 40 Radio


RecordBar If you like your music fresh, the recordBar should be your hang. It’s a pit stop for some of the hottest names in alternative rock. Making the musical experience even better is a full bar and restaurant. We recommend the Torta loaded with carnitas, black beans and jalapeño slaw. It’s as hot as the music.

Categories: Art, Arts & Entertainment, Best of KC, Best of KC 2019, Dance, Features, Film, Music, Theatre, Video