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Rising Stars: Meet Mikal Shapiro

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mikal Shapiro.

Hi Mikal, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always loved the city but I grew up in the suburbs where there was not a lot of variety. Along with Black, Latino, Indigenous and Asian families, Jewish families were not allowed to live in Johnson County up into the 1980’s—where racist deed restrictions still exist to this day—so my unconventional family stuck out like a sore thumb.

As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to ditch the monotony and I would escape into midtown where I ended up settling in my early 20’s. In 2000, I was accepted into the Kansas City Art Institute and began studying painting, drawing and creative writing. It was at KCAI where I met my band mates in Eudora, a proggy, art rock band named after a small town in Kansas where they worked over the summers.

The band opened my ears to musical experimentation while at the same time, I was exploring visual and literary forms. Pulled in a lot of creative tangents, I ended up dropping out to start a nomadic arts and curiosity show that showcased the works of my friends and myself.

Like a pop-up circus, we would inhabit the donated spaces of local artists and architects. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was building my chops as a community arts organizer. I continued to pursue music and songwriting and ended up finishing a graduate degree at film school in Chicago after which I moved back home to midtown Kansas City. I’ve been based here ever since and continue to pursue a career in music and the arts.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
One of my biggest obstacles is self-doubt. I recognize it as a voice in my head that I’ve internalized from the judgment and small-mindedness of others. I’m learning to own my own expertise and lean into my intuition. It’s an on-going practice that requires a sense of humor and if I can inspire others along the way… bonus! I know I’ve certainly been inspired by those around me who have found grace in their failures and opportunities for growth in their struggles. Whether we want to admit it or not, our individual paths are intertwined and when we can lift each other up, the bumps in the road don’t seem so insurmountable.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I’m a musician, artist, writer, and filmmaker. Unless we’ve collaborated on an art project or production, people tend to introduce me as a musician because that is the most public-facing side of my work. I’m most proud of side-stepping creative boxes and building community with my friends. I’m currently working on organizing the Kansas City Folk Festival, a free city arts and music festival. You can find out more at www.kansascityfolkfestival.org.

We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
I’ve learned how music and art are essential to work and I’m thankful to all the makers who continue to share their creative expressions for us to enjoy, explore and reflect upon. I’m a firm believer that imagination is the most powerful force we possess and covid just deepened my faith in that belief.

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