KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two musicians represented Kansas City at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s North American Creative Cities Forum.
UNESCO is an agency of the United Nations that aims to promote world peace through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences and culture.
Cities from all over the world met in Querétaro, Mexico, this year to share ideas on how to incorporate the arts into urban planning.
Amber Underwood, one of the representatives for KC, has been fighting for the arts to live on through generations. Not only does she perform as a professional artist, but she is also a band director at Central Middle School.
“My personal passion has always been about music advocacy,” Underwood said. “I’m always seeing the arts programs getting cut, or I’m seeing less and less funding for the arts.”
When she was chosen to make the trip to Querétaro, Underwood was eager to get to work on creating a music development plan for Kansas City.
“I was like why don’t we have these things? Why is there not money set ahead for arts, culture and heritage?” Underwood said. “We are going to have to have those tough conversations, going to our city and the people that are making these policies and giving out this money, and show them the strategy and how it can benefit Kansas City.”
Underwood says the goal is to embed the arts into people’s everyday lives. This starts by putting more emphasis on the importance of art, artists and what they can do for urban development.
“We say that we’re a barbecue town, we’re a jazz town, but people need to know that coming right into our city,” Underwood said. “So say, yes, we need a new soccer field, but why can’t we incorporate the artist or sculptures to make the soccer field look beautiful?”
Other cities at the forum reported success in job growth, increasing city revenue and decreasing crime with the intertwining of art within people's lives.
“It’s an investment in the city,” Underwood said.
Kansas City is the only music city recognized by the United Nations in North America, a title the city earned in 2017 thanks to the labor of Anita Dixon-Brown.
“When you can couple cultural enrichment with economic development, that’s why people should care,” Dixon-Brown said. “When it’s outpacing construction and travel and tourism and various things like that, there has to be a strategy that brings people and brings this industry into your city.”
Dixon-Brown says arts and music are an $877 billion industry worldwide.
Jacob Wagner, associate professor of urban planning and design at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, sees implementing such a plan as an opportunity for sustainable development similar to the Crossroads Art District.
“Not too long ago, this was an industrial district with a lot of empty warehouses," Wagner said. "And over the last 30 years, it’s been completely revived and now has probably some of the highest real estate values in the region."