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Culture, Art, and Community: Mattie Rhodes Center’s 25th Annual Day of the Dead Celebration

In a tribute to culture, connection, and creativity, the Mattie Rhodes Center is gearing up to host its 25th annual Day of the Dead event. This eagerly anticipated celebration welcomes all to participate in a celebration of life on the first Friday in both October and November. 

On October 6th, the Mattie Rhodes’ Day of the Dead altars and art exhibits will open. Then, on November 3rd, the Day of the Dead Parade will weave a colorful tapestry through the streets of Kansas City’s Westside community. Jenny Mendez, cultural arts director at Mattie Rhodes, said, “We kick it off in October so that we can showcase all of the altars and artwork, and so we can do our educational programming throughout the month that leads up to the November Day of the Dead.”

Beyond the colorful displays, lively parades, and engaging activities, this event holds deep cultural significance, uniting Latinos and the broader community in a spirit of remembrance and celebration of the dearly departed. The altars and artwork will be showcased within the expanded gallery space at Mattie Rhodes Cultural Art Center. “We have had lots of artists come into our space and create amazing altars for their loved ones, and we really want to highlight those,” Jenny said. We also want to invite new families, participants, and artists. The altars are a part of the art exhibit. It’s also an installation for the friends and families who have lost loved ones.”

Historically, the celebration has one featured artist whose work is showcased on a poster and T-shirt to commemorate the year. This time, the spotlight will shine on five featured artists whose works will be on display in the gallery. Meanwhile, event memorabilia will feature the art of one select artist. The identities of the artists won’t be released until the opening day of the event, so people will have to wait and see what’s in store this year. “People are always eager to see what altars were created this year,” Jenny said. “They get here super early to get in our doors. They also want to see the featured artwork, event poster, and T-shirt that has the featured artwork on it. We have families that will call ahead of time and ask, ‘Is your T-shirt ready?’ So it’s something that people look forward to.”

Beyond the displays in the Art Center, Jenny says the first Friday event in October is a party-like festival in the street outside of the venue. “We have food trucks and other cool vendors and it really creates this wonderful celebration atmosphere,” Jenny said. “There’s live artwork, and the lowrider community comes out to showcase altars in their trucks, which is a big tradition in LA and other places in the Southwest.” 

As the sun sets on the first Friday event in October, the moon will rise over the Mattie Rhodes Cultural Art Center in November, transforming the streets into a lively nighttime bash that is open to the entire community. “The parade on the first Friday of November begins at night,” Jenny said. “People walk in costumes and with sugar skull-painted faces. It’s a walking neighborhood community parade. We work with Stone Lion Puppet Theatre which is making glowing puppets for the event, and because it’s a nighttime event, everything is lit up.” Jenny invites families to light up their baby strollers or bring a lit wagon to tow their children during the parade. “Come dressed up as a sugar skull or a dancing skeleton and be a part of this amazing community event,” she said. “We get thousands of people who come and participate not only in our opening night in October but also in our November event.” 

Whether attending the art exhibit and street fair in October or walking in the parade in November, attendees can expect a festival atmosphere that not only recognizes but celebrates the circle of life. 

Featured in the September 30, 2023 issue of The Independent.
By Monica V. Reynolds

Monica V. Reynolds is an award-winning former reporter who honed her skills at a daily newspaper in Northeast Louisiana. After spending more than a decade in Austin, Texas, she recently moved to Our Town. Monica’s passion for journalism extends to documentary short filmmaking and photography. She is the founder of Vox Pop Marketing, an online marketing and web design firm that helps small businesses develop an authentic, magnetic message and online presence.


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