There’s an army forming in north Wichita, one that seeks to enlist creative individuals and arm them with paintbrushes.
Color, connection and community are the key elements of their strategy. The mission: to bring vibrant public art works filled with joy, creativity, and a spirit of justice to neighborhoods throughout the city. This Thursday, the Bluebird Arthouse in Delano will host an open recruitment meeting to jumpstart a project organizers hope will transform optics as much as it will enrich the areas they aim to revitalize with art. Anyone with creative aptitude is invited.
“This army of artists meeting is to start recruiting creatives – not just visual artists but also writers, musicians, filmmakers and everyone who is in that creative sphere – to come and join efforts to start developing ideas to target north Wichita specifically throughout the next year,” said Armando Minjarez, who is leading the project.
The initiative to spur more public art is a project of the Seed House (Casa de La Semilla), a Wichita-based organization that aims to foster leadership by engaging creativity at the grassroots level. Minjarez works for the group as their cultural educator and is a resident artist. With a background in community organizing, activism and art, he helped found it in September 2012. He said that north Wichita will be the focus for the effort’s first year because they want to be able to measure the impact they are having visually and on the people in the specific area. It’s also an area with a lot of vacant buildings, blank walls and parks that he says are prime for a beautification effort such as this. In a part of town that Minjarez contends is often overlooked, the project aims to connect artists with community groups and property owners to find spaces for murals and other public art projects. A key to success will be drawing out the flavor of individual neighborhoods and ensuring that creations resemble the spirit and values of the residents. If all goes well, they may opt to expand to other parts of the city next year.
Minjarez has been in talks with community leaders and several artists for months about this venture. He said he has elicited a good amount of interest, not just from creatives, but also from city officials, business owners, churches and local schools. The project’s collaborative nature is why Minjarez is calling for an open meeting. “Every idea is valuable,” he said. “We all have our personal experience to offer that is unique to each individual. If we are all able to share our experience, we can learn from each other and come up with a plan that moves us all forward. You have the blank canvass. The people are the tools and the materials that create the art.”
Minjarez said Thursday’s meeting will include an overview of some projects already suggested and seek input for others. There will be small group breakouts and brainstorming to find overlaps and connections and possibly build teams. He hopes to get several people committed to taking on various aspects, be it doing the actual painting or facilitating the organizing around the projects. In March, Seed House will put on a training that will help focus the pursuits of those who sign up.
It will teach the army of artists how to engage the community around art. Projects will then be scheduled and work will begin.
“The key is training art leaders to be effective community leaders so that partnerships are fostered,” Minjarez said. “We aren’t just throwing artists out there to start painting. We want to give them the tools to be effective and appropriate. That’s just as important as the art itself.”
It’s a model that has seen success. Last fall, Seed House organized a group of high school students in similar fashion. They opted to paint a mural about immigration and show how the issue affects their daily lives. Now, a building on Park Place at 21st Street, just west of Arkansas, features the mural.
“Those young people felt invested and were transformed by that project,” Minjarez said. “Each had a piece in it. It boosted their self-esteem as individuals and also enhanced the neighborhood itself.”
Wichita is prime for a renaissance in public art, Minjarez believes, in part because people in the city are eager to see their values and their culture visually reflected in the places they live. He called this upcoming meeting the start of what he hopes turns into a larger movement.
“We are creating spaces where people can exercise their dignity and creativity to change a community. We are also giving people an opportunity to be engaged and be a part of something that is happening in Wichita. This will be a transformative experience for the artist, for all people involved, and for the neighborhood itself.”