Laurenn McCubbin says she should have known that the quiet couple — dressed like they were straight out of 21 Jump Street — were undercover agents intent on busting her cabaret-style art gathering.
This past summer, McCubbin helped establish a local chapter of Dr. Sketchys Anti-Art School in Kansas City. A New York City-based artist who was sick of boring art classes conceived Dr. Sketchys. It blends life drawing with burlesque performances. For the past five months, dozens of metro artists have flocked to a West Bottoms loft to hone their skills while sketching cheeky models wearing corsets and lace. Unlike the dour, pasty types who typically model human anatomy, the burlesquers keep their artist audience stimulated with titillating musical numbers during breaks.
At the November 25 session, though, the anti-art school got a visit from two city employees who had no interest in drawing. They wielded a pen only to write Dr. Sketchy's a ticket for selling alcohol without a license.
McCubbin says she noticed the incognito investigators sitting at the kitchen space that serves as a bar for Dr. Sketchy's participants. They didn't crack a tablet, though they did watch that evening's performer, Greta Garter, work the stage. Then they served McCubbin with a municipal citation.
"There was no warning, no trying to talk to us about what we're doing," she says. "They said, either accept the ticket or they would check everyone's ID and shut us down."
McCubbin says the cash they collected at the door was strictly a donation for the dancers. Amateur artists scratch for four hours and, during breaks, they can shell out a few bucks for a bowl of homemade soup or a bottle of Boulevard to keep their creative juices flowing. "It's not a for-profit enterprise," McCubbin says. "It's not like we're running an illegal bar."
City officials think otherwise. "From the observation of my investigators, it was an actual business being run without the proper permitting," says Gary Majors, manager of the Kansas City Regulated Industries Division.
With a court date set for the end of January, McCubbin says the burlesque-lovin' artists are securing a lawyer and intend to fight a fine that could be as high as $1,000.
Majors says he's concerned with the patrons more than the entertainers. "It's the same for a burlesque place as it is in opening an Applebee's," he explains. "There are certain health requirements that have to be met."
With those requirements in mind, Majors' inspectors will be back the next time Dr. Sketchy's convenes. If the bar is still open, Majors says, the city will take more drastic steps.
"My guess is, we'll call in the police department with us and shut the place down and confiscate all the alcohol," he says. "And certainly, we reserve the right to bring someone from [the] codes [department] and the fire marshal and all that stuff."
Regardless, McCubbin says the sketch must go on. When the anti-art school meets again on December 9, though, she says she'll keep a close watch on the door.
"We'll definitely be on the lookout for any disguised tipsters," she says.