Why Kansas City Deserves a Spot on Every Art Lover’s Travel List

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Why Kansas City Deserves a Spot on Every Art Lover’s Travel List

Nicknamed the Paris of the Plains, Kansas City is a surprising artist gem in the Midwest making it an off-the-beaten-path destination for cultural exploration.

“Welcome to 21c Hotel,” said the young man behind the front desk. “The art galleries are open 24/7 so if you want to come down at 2 a.m. to take in the artwork in complete silence, which we always encourage, you can.”

It was my first time staying at a 21c Museum Hotel. Situated in downtown Kansas City in the historic Savoy Hotel building, the 21c Museum Hotel wears many hats: It’s an art museum, a hotel, a dining spot, and a cultural hub. Known for their eye-catching, oversized, colorful plastic penguins, this boutique hotel chain reimagines a traditional hotel stay by marrying the concept of lodging with an art gallery. Its more 8,000 square feet of curated exhibition space is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for us night owls or anyone in need of late night inspiration. 

21c Hotel, Kansas City

21c Museum Hotel, Kansas City

At the time I checked in the hotel was debuting Pop Stars!, a contemporary intersection of celebrity, commerce, technology, and the media featuring more than 70 works of art by 50 artists. The first floor museum’s space was devoted to artists using painting, sculptures, photography, and digital art to explore how fame, business, and media have transformed our understanding of Pop. The hotel’s second floor is dedicated to the works of local artists.  

When one thinks of artistic hotspots, a hotel in Kansas City does not immediately spring to mind. In fact the city Kansas City in general is often overlooked for more obvious art cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. However, deep in America’s heartland, KC surprisingly holds its own when it comes to the arts. Fondly referred to as the “Paris of the Plains,” the city’s rich history laid the foundation for a flourishing arts scene. Its evocative streets and neighborhoods tell stories of the past, creating a vivid tapestry that makes up the city’s artistic allure. Here’s why Kansas City should be next on your art-focused travel list.


A prime attraction that catapults Kansas City onto the global art stage is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The world-renowned institution houses an impressive collection spanning over 5,000 years of human history. From ancient Chinese ceramics to 20th century works by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Georgia O’Keeffe, the museum is a treasure trove of art. For those who want to enjoy art outside, the outdoor Sculpture Park with pieces from Henry Moore and Claes Oldenburg is set on the grand 17-acre mall. 

Across the street is the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum is a mecca for modern art enthusiasts with works from the likes of Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and Faith Ringgold. Its captivating design with sleek lines and a bold use of materials makes it a stunning architectural marvel.

Kansas City’s rich musical heritage proudly shines in its dedicated American Jazz Museum. The interactive museum celebrates the city’s instrumental role in the evolution of jazz with  captivating exhibits that explore the era when Kansas City was a jazz powerhouse. The museum pays homage to local and national legends like Charlie Parker through extensive audio and visual displays. 

Arts District 

Kansas City’s street art is another facet that continues to grow. If you like your art outside the museum setting, head to Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District. The lively neighborhood is full of art galleries, quirky boutiques, and delightful eateries. Each First Friday of the month the area transforms into an open-air art gallery featuring local and national artists, musicians, and performers. On the far east side of the neighborhood, Kansas City’s Art Alley serves as a vibrant outdoor canvas that showcases the city’s eclectic artistic spirit. It’s a living gallery of ever-evolving murals and graffiti art creating a colorful public space beloved by both locals and tourists.

The West Bottoms, once an industrial hub, now houses magnificent murals and graffiti by artists such as Scribe and Jason Harrington. This revitalized district boasts a mix of art galleries, studios, and antique shops that invite visitors to immerse themselves in a unique fusion of old and new artistic expressions. During the first weekend of each month the city’s most prominent  antique dealers open their doors to the masses. The monthly event is the largest vintage and antique market in the U.S. 

Performing Arts 

Kansas City’s art scene extends to performance arts. The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is a striking building with two auditoriums that host ballet, opera, and symphony performances. A testament to the city’s love for the arts, it provides a setting that enhances the visual and auditory experience of each performance.

Kansas City’s Starlight Theater is a jewel within the city’s cultural landscape. The open-air venue offers unparalleled performances under the stars. Known for hosting Broadway-scale productions, popular concerts, and local community events, the theater serves as a must-visit destination for entertainment enthusiasts touring the city. To get a glimpse of the 10-story, 12,000-square-foot stage is reason enough to book a ticket to an upcoming event.

Jennifer Simonson is a travel writer by trade and a lover of the world’s food, cultures, drinks and outdoor spaces by nature.

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