Juanta Saunders Jr. is proud to be from the “Broadway Square.”
He remembers a childhood spent in the neighborhood, which he defines as the area from Kellogg to Pawnee and Washington to the Arkansas River.
He and his friends knew every street, “all the alleyways,” everything.
There are happy memories, like gatherings at the former Dillons at Harry and Broadway for 25-cent soda cans. And there are bad ones, like when he was stabbed on Broadway.
The economic struggles the city’s south side has faced in recent years have made it hard to find pride and inspiration in the neighborhood, he said.
He’s fighting it with art.
“I would like to reinspire some kind of pride in the neighborhood,” said Saunders, 25. “I hardly ever come around people and tell them, ‘I’m from the Harry and Broadway area,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh me too, man. That’s a great place.’
“Hopefully with enough attention, we can change that and bring a little more opportunity to this place.”
Taking a cue from the Douglas Design District’s Avenue Art Days project, Saunders is spearheading a new project to paint murals on walls in Wichita’s south side.
The murals, part of what he calls the Broadway Beautification Project, are part of an effort both to inspire south-siders and to introduce kids to productive pursuits like art.
“It could not only promote the younger generation to do more in their community, but maybe some more businesses will kind of see that there’s something here more than just motels and gas stations or smoke shops,” Saunders said.
So far, two businesses in the South Broadway area have offered their walls to be painted. Saunders said he’s had difficulty convincing some businesses because his mural project is being confused with graffiti.
“It’s been proven at least in my work when you have a good mural and a certified art piece then most of the (graffiti) taggers, especially people who are in it for the art – people who actually write graffiti – they’re not going to tag over a mural that somebody spent their time on,” he said. “It’s almost like a respect thing.”
The plan, tentatively, is to paint these murals from Sept. 8 through 10. Like Avenue Art Days, the general public will be invited to help paint them, Saunders said.
“You don’t have to be that talented – it’ll be a paint-by-numbers thing,” he said. “Everybody can participate.”
For Saunders, it’s personal.
As a south-sider who eventually developed an interest in art, he realizes there’s an artistic “void when it comes to the south side, especially directly south of Kellogg.”
“It just kind of seems like all the glamour of downtown kind of stops right at Kellogg,” Saunders said. “Commerce Street is so alive with the art community, but no one goes south of Kellogg, or no one’s invested south of Kellogg for the arts, and it’s really just not even a block away.”
Saunders is currently fundraising for the project through an online IndieGoGo campaign. For more information, message him on Facebook at Juanta Saunders Jr., or email email@example.com.
Donate to the mural project
Saunders is fundraising for the event at www.indiegogo.com/projects/broadway-beautification-project-art-community#, but is also seeking physical donations of paint, brushes and rollers, tarps, bottled water, trash bags and gloves for community clean-up, and food to provide breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner to volunteers for two days. Any surplus will be donated to Wichita public schools. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.