Our Man in KC: Wild About Harry, Bra Couture, and More!

Damian Lair with Maureen McMeel Carroll (left) and Suzanne McMeel Glynn at Wild About Harry.

Wild About Harry

You don’t have to be a Kennedy, Bush, or Roosevelt to make an indelible mark on world history. You may just be a farmer from Grandview, Missouri.

We were gathered at the very hotel (Marriott Muehlebach Downtown) where Harry Truman awaited the election results on November 2, 1948—the election that generated one of the most famous headlines ever: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” On this evening, I was the gracious guest of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum for their annual Wild About Harry event. One of just 15 Presidential Libraries (did you know that?) overseen by the National Archives, our library just underwent an extensive renovation that began in 2019. I’m arranging a tour—but that’s another column for another day. Back to the party.

Author of the just-released biography The Trials of Harry S. Truman, Jeffrey Frank provided a mesmeric keynote address that buzzed through an impressive flurry of Truman anecdotes and accounts surrounding the extraordinary presidency of an ordinary man.

Senator Roy Blunt was on hand to tout the $11.5 million he was instrumental in securing for attending to the museum’s exterior grounds. Blunt also introduced the Truman Legacy of Leadership Award recipient, CIA Director William J. Burns. Director Burns’s experience as former U.S. Ambassador to Russia made his observations about the current state of affairs eerily poignant. It’s not every day you get to sit in an audience with the CIA Director—but then again, the last in-person event hosted Secretary Madeline Albright. I’m especially glad I didn’t miss that one. It goes without saying that the Truman Library folks have a pretty solid track record of attracting top speaker talent for this event. Which is why—if you’re an enthusiast of history or politics (not the partisan kind)—I would encourage you to consider this event when it rolls around again next spring. History has a unique way of providing a lens through which you can assess the present more clearly. Not many events do I leave feeling much smarter—but this one, I always do.

Spotted: Senator Jerry & Robba Moran, Senator Roy Blunt, Marny & John Sherman, Bunni & Paul Copaken, Frank White, Mary Kemper Wolf & Gary Wolf, David Campbell, Patrick Ottensmeyer, Ursula Terrasi, Madeleine McDonough, Petra Kralickova, Darcy Howe, Heidi Peter, Bob Green, Jamila Weaver, Carolyn & David Fulk, Tom Mentzer

Hot Gossip: Who was busted for hooking up with her son’s friend while on his spring break?

KC Art for KC Parks

I had heard of Buttonwood Art Space, located inside the Buttonwood Financial Group offices on Main Street, but I’d not yet visited. Thus, I was excited when my friend Heidi Markle with KC Parks told me about an upcoming exhibition—and extended an invite to the opening reception.

For those also uninitiated, the Buttonwood Art Space occupies a significant portion of the first floor within the wealth management firm’s offices and hosts exhibits featuring works by local and regional artists. The exhibits rotate quarterly, and all art on display is available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a different nonprofit organization for each show. In a traditional gallery business model, a percentage of each sale is shared between the artist and the gallery. At Buttonwood, operating costs of the Art Space are paid by the financial group so the “gallery fee” can be redirected to local nonprofits.

Low and Slow by Tara Karaim.

The benefiting organization for the current show is KC Parks, which maintains 221 parks, 12,242 acres of parkland, 159 miles of trails and bikeways, 29 lakes, hundreds of athletic fields and tennis courts, 106 playgrounds, and five public golf courses. Whew! The exhibition encompasses a Kansas City theme and features 175 works from 93 artists.

While at Buttonwood, I enjoyed a thorough tour guided by Macy Vulgamore, the gallery director and marketing manager. A couple of my favorite pieces included ceramic shuttlecocks by Karen Merkel and a hyper-realistic and gorgeously simple Low and Slow painting of a barbecue platter that looked like a photo—by Tara Karaim. For budding collectors, it’s a great gallery for getting your feet wet, as a majority of the pieces can be yours for less than $500.

The Kansas City show extends through June 23, so there’s still time to visit. If you miss this one, the Rhythm & Reveal show opens on July 1 (benefiting Reconciliation Services), and Visions of the Flint Hills opens on October 3 (benefiting Friends of the Konza Prairie).

Overheard: “I always assumed he was a man of not many big words.”

Survivor Couture

I have never cried more at an event. It’s true. I attended the Bra Couture KC Fashion Show & Auction with my friend Lee Page, who sponsored a table. I had, of course, heard about this organization (the name is quite memorable) but knew very little about it. Due to another event on the same evening, we sadly missed out on the VIP pre-party for shoulder-bumping with a number of Chiefs players and other local celebrities. But we arrived just as the important part—the runway show—was heating up.

At this annual event, Bra Couture selects 14 completely custom bras, designed by various local artists (think: works of art lavishly sheathed in rhinestones or pearls) that are auctioned off after each is sashayed down the runway. But, as the organization points out: “It’s not about the bra, it’s about the bravado of a cancer survivor to walk a 120-foot runway and the survival journey that it represents.” Each model is also a survivor.

And so, as a man raised in no small part by and alongside fiercely strong women—a mother and two sisters with whom I shared a roof for 18 years, and two grandmothers, one next door and one almost as close—I was brought to a very real and tearful halt. Hearing each one of these women’s stories followed by them owning their existence and channeling that to bravely walking the length of an airline hangar—slicing through a sold-out crowd in a bra—it was moving. I imagine they’d say, though, the walk was easy compared to surviving breast cancer.

During the 12 years that the event has been in existence, it has raised millions—and a record-breaking $540,000 this year—for providing cancer services to those uninsured or underinsured who are battling breast cancer in our community.

Art holds healing powers—and in this case, it can claim a double-duty: healing for those whose cancer journey is indescribably improved, and healing for those who are literally living proof of how that support can provide the strength to make it to the other side—or down a runway.

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Opening Night

There’s nothing like opening night at the theater. Which is why I jumped at the chance to join my good friend (and fellow columnist) Merrily Jackson—not only for opening night of a new show, but opening night of the theater itself. Yes, The Arts Asylum has moved from downtown adjacent to Brookside East.

The Meyer Boulevard theater brings together a new collective of partners who will drive programming and theatrical endeavors under the guidance of Korey Childs, the artistic director, and Evie Craig, the executive director. The Arts Asylum, along with the Theatre Community Fund of KC, Faust Theatre, the City of Fountains Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and Pop Culture Sculptures, will produce shows, events, and programming at the new space. The Arts Asylum will continue its community partnerships with the likes of Crossroads Prep Academy and the Johnson County Library System for theater classes and camps, and production support of local playwrights. Which brings me to Gabby for God.

A dear friend of Merrily’s, and a new friend of mine, Jennifer Cannady, is a local playwright. Her new play, Gabby for God, features an all-female cast and explores the universal struggle to find common ground between divergent, strongly held religious and political beliefs. Centered around an afternoon ladies book club, the audience is offered a window into Gabby’s living room where an unexpected guest’s clashing faith ruffles feathers, but ultimately leads to self-discovery. Nothing over-produced or fanciful about this play—it felt like a real conversation, among real friends, that resolved in a real way. Which was comforting in times when conflict seems to ever swirl us. Bravo to Jennifer!

And it’s locally grown programming just like this that the Arts Asylum endeavors to nurture and serve up to the community in its new home. So, check out their schedule and see what’s up next.

Overheard “Those stripes are more Rikers Island than Saint-Tropez.”

City of Fountain

In the heart of bustling Westport, you’ll find something shiny and new—what’s billed as one of the largest queer and ally spaces in the Midwest. At the prominent corner of Broadway and Westport Road is Fountain Haus: a three-story emporium of packed dance floors, arresting beats, and a swell addition to the growing list of best rooftops in the city.

I dropped in during the opening weekend, which featured pop-ups by local performers and a rotating catalog of DJs across the multiple distinct spaces, including DJ Chef Nguyen, DJ Ray Peña, DJ Hydan, and DJ Maverick, among others. Also featured: a line wrapped around the block. I suppose that tells you all you need to know about the voracious appetite for exactly this sort of space. But don’t fret about a line; you can skip it with an annual membership card.

Since opening roughly two weeks ago, they’ve kicked off their “Pool Deck” Sundays, held an explosion-of-florals party, and a derby event hosted Mayor Quinton Lucas and City Manager Brian Platt, and by my observation managed to knit together the most beautifully diverse crowd in the city—by virtually any metric you pick to measure diversity. It’s a place where, no matter who you are, I’ll bet you’re greeted with open hearts and minds and feel embraced by a welcoming aura.

But FH is just getting started. Later this month, the restaurant component is scheduled to open, and they’re ironing out the rest of their weekly schedule. I’m told there will be “Boozical Mondays” with Daisy Buckët, featuring Broadway show tunes, and of course a drag brunch on Sundays, now that the phenomenon has taken essentially every major city (including our own) by storm.

Better pack an umbrella; you might just get wet.