Late last week, Wichitans discovered that an anonymous artist who goes by Kanbee was responsible for hundreds of political-signs-turned-art-pieces by the sides of Wichita roads.
By Tuesday, those guerrilla art pieces were destined to be removed by a volunteer group of sign code enforcers.
According to city code, it’s illegal to place signs on the public right-of-way, which includes the grassy area between sidewalks and the street. So, under the code’s current language, enforcers are instructed to remove and throw away Kanbee’s art, along with any other signs in the right-of-way.
Kelly Dixon, who oversees county sign enforcement for the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department, summed it up succinctly: “Those artsy signs in the right-of-way technically should be removed. If they’re up on private property, then they’re art.”
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It’s been a familiar process for years at the city’s building department – dispose of Kanbee signs by the streets, then, when more appear months later, trash those as well, according to John Cox, zoning license sign supervisor.
“If you’re asking if I’m driving around looking for them, taking notes on where they are and picking them up, the answer’s no,” he said. “They’ll be picked up like any other sign would.”
Rules are rules
Members of Wichita’s creative community on Tuesday said they understand the city’s desire to enforce its codes – “the sign ordinance is important to keep so many bandit signs off city property,” Susie Cunningham commented on Facebook.
“I’m sure the artist did not expect the pieces to be permanent,” Jennifer Lane commented on Facebook. “At any rate, beauty is fleeting.”
The Wichita City Council last month approved a revision of its sign-enforcement code in an effort to clean up clutter on city streets. Under the code, “an unauthorized temporary sign in the right of way or on public property is hereby declared to be a nuisance,” and “any temporary sign placed or installed in the right-of-way will be deemed an unlawful sign and an abandoned sign and will be subject to immediate removal by the City of Wichita.”
A property owner owns the land and is responsible for maintaining and mowing it, but the city holds an easement for street use.
Cox said he has directed his volunteers to “keep your ears and eyes open – if we get an eye on who it is, we can have a chat with him.”
“They certainly haven’t attracted attention to themselves, as far as I know,” Cox said of Kanbee. “I’ve never had any idea what (the signs) were – I wanted to know as much for curiosity as for the fact that they’re on the right-of-way.”
A possible solution?
Take some of the signs on public rights-of-way and put them on your own private property – after all, Kanbee did say he intends the project to be a collaboration.
The subversive nature of the signs “adds meaning and context to the work,” Kristin Beal commented on Facebook.
“I think it’s important to note that Kanbee probably knew about the law, otherwise why else would they use a pseudonym?” Hugo A. Gogo commented on Facebook.
The artist communicated with The Eagle through Charles Baughman, a Wichita artist who befriended him through Instagram.
Baughman said Kanbee “is sad that the city feels the artwork needs to be destroyed” and that people should feel free to take signs to display in their yards.
The city ordinance passed last month bans all kinds of signs in public rights-of-way, which includes political signs.
Trashy look for city?
Council member Janet Miller said, after the ordinance’s passage, “the proliferation of these signs in the right-of-way has just gone nuts.”
“It just makes the city look so trashy,” she said then.
In relation to the Kanbee signs, Miller said “we can’t legislate signs on their word or content – the point is, you can’t stick a temporary thing on public property.”
“I think they’re fun, whimsical and unique to Wichita – he’s an extraordinarily talented artist, and I love that he makes them and does it in Wichita,” she said Tuesday. “My suggestion would be if people could request they be put on their own private property, they could still be enjoyed the same.”
Baughman said Kanbee still intends to make more signs but is currently out of material.
If you want to donate vinyl yard signs to be used in future Kanbee works, Baughman is taking donations at the Monart School of Art at the Art Park, 7230 E. 29th St. North.