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Kansas City Fringe Festival - History

Fringe Feature

Cheryl Kimmi - How an advocate for the emerging arts started the KC Fringe Festival.

Once the arts are in your bloodline, you can't stray far and odds are no matter where your career path takes you, you'll return to a creative endeavor. So goes the story of Cheryl Kimmi, Executive Director of the Kansas City Fringe Festival. The daughter of a musician and movie theater owners, Cheryl spent the first month of her life in a crib behind the concession stand at the Sunset Drive-In in Lawrence, Kansas. By the time she was 10, she was running the concession stand.

As a trumpet player for the St. Louis Symphony, Cheryl's father brought his love of music and the discipline of an accomplished artist to the household. He required all of his kids to play trumpet and then piano to learn to read music. By the time she was in high school, Cheryl added the oboe to her repertoire and played in the marching band, the jazz band and sang in the choir.

Cheryl moved on to Emporia State University, where she pursued a degree in music education. In her junior year, she realized that she didn't want to teach and completed a Bachelor of Science with an emphasis in music merchandising from the School of Business. Throughout her entire college career, she never stopped playing music. She took up strings and played oboe in the orchestra and symphony, sang in the choir and was the featured twirler with the marching band.

After graduation, Cheryl slipped into a 20-year business career in marketing and sales but she knew something was missing. On September 11, 2001, Cheryl and her co-workers were in the break room watching the attack on the twin towers on TV in horror. Suddenly management came into the room and said, "Get back to your desks. Get back on the phones. We don't see a plane flying into this building." Cheryl went back to her desk and submitted her resignation. She realized the times she felt most connected to other people and their passion was when she put her soul into her instrument and played notes that merged with those made by other people to create music together. It was time to return to the arts.

In the fall of 2001, Cheryl accepted the position of Deputy Director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. In 2003, she became Executive Director of Arts Alive, a new arts organization created to develop the next generation of arts patrons for major organizations like the KC Symphony, the KC Ballet and the Lyric Opera. However, through her extensive arts volunteer experiences with Theater in the Park, the Barn Players and the Unicorn Theater and as an administrative assistant to the Board of the Just Off Broadway Theatre Association, she also saw the need to cultivate emerging artists. She recognized that Kansas City needed to nourish and showcase artists in the early stages of their careers to sustain a diverse and robust artistic community. With the help of Joan Israelite, former CEO of the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City, Cheryl discovered that Fringe Festivals were providing that critical role in other cities around the world.

In 2004, in a joint collaboration with the Kansas City Public Libraries, Park University and the Crossroads Arts District, Cheryl assumed the position of Festival Coordinator of a new local arts festival – the Kansas City Fringe Festival. In 2005 she became the Executive Director where she continues to work diligently to realize her dream of building a showcase for emerging artists. In the 2011 Fringe alone, 455 primarily local artists appeared in over 368 original and uncensored performances.

The History of Fringe

Our roots trace to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, which spontaneously erupted in 1947. Eight groups, not invited to perform in the larger Edinburgh Festival of the Arts, created makeshift theaters on the outskirts - or "fringe" - of the established festival. Soon the Fringe Festival gained a large and loyal following, outstripping the mainstream festival.

Fringes around the world have adapted a simple formula that was created in Edinburgh. The main principles were to provide all artists (both emerging and established) with the opportunity to produce their work no matter the content, form or style, and to make the event as affordable and accessible as possible for the members of the community, empowering audiences with the ability to decide for themselves the truly great productions from the good, the bad and the gloriously disastrous.

To this day, the guiding principle of Fringe Festivals worldwide involve uncensored artistic expression, accessibility and community development. Fringing encourages artists and audiences to explore boundaries and to make bold choices in the creation - or enjoyment - of art. The KC Fringe Festival's goal is to provide artists an opportunity to create and perform new material right here in our backyard!