Arts Education

Arts Education Artists-in-Residence

The Midwest Trust Center welcomes What If Puppets (formerly Paul Mesner Puppets) as the first Arts Education artists-in-residence.

Two members of What If Puppets on stage with confetti falling all around them

“Inspiring play and cultivating connections through puppetry.”

Over the past three decades, What If Puppets has captivated nearly two million people through its productions and educational programming. Audiences delight in the craftsmanship of the puppets, which range from glove puppets to marionettes to innovative shadow and object-based puppetry. What If Puppets uses humor and heart to present stories that connect to the complex social-emotional experiences of young audiences.

They hold the distinction of receiving three Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA-USA) Citations of Excellence. The UNIMA-USA award was created by Jim Henson to promote high quality puppetry in the U.S. and is considered the “Academy Award” of puppetry.

In 2020, as the arts world was rocked by closures due to COVID-19, the leadership seized the opportunity to research and develop a strategic vision. A community needs assessment was conducted, revealing the need for learning-through-play and arts integration strategies to support the social-emotional development of children ages 0-8. There was also a clear call for innovative ways to access professional arts as a form of family engagement, particularly for the very young.

In response to those findings, the board revised the mission statement in 2021: “To inspire play and cultivate connections through puppetry.” The staff restructured programs to achieve the company’s new vision: “A Kansas City community that celebrates the arts as essential for early childhood development through a company that is nationally recognized as a leader in puppetry and arts integration.”

Energized by the company’s vision, they now move forward to fulfill their mission as “What If Puppets”. The name change invites audiences to play with them and discover how puppetry and the arts contribute to community.

As part of their residency, the company performed "Animal Amigos.” They continue to offer their Educator Resource, “In the Workshop,” featuring webisodes for students, arts integrated lesson plans for educators, and much more, empowering educators to cultivate social-emotional skills through art, storytelling, and puppetry. For their third consecutive year, their artist educators will also work with staff and students at the Hiersteiner Center at JCCC to support social-emotional learning.

The What If Puppets team’s knowledge and experience in theatre for young audiences, puppetry, and arts integration is ensuring their history of excellence will continue while they evolve to meet and inspire today’s audiences.

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