Every day, as commuters make their way south down I-135, the faces become more visible.
What’s being billed as the largest mural to be painted by a single artist in North America is coming to life on the side of a north Wichita grain elevator, and many in the community are taking notice.
And some are donating money to help get it completed.
Armando Minjarez once saw those grain elevators across north Wichita and thought they looked like walls — physical barriers between different neighborhoods and cultures.
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Minjarez also saw something else in those aging grain silos. An opportunity. And a giant canvas.
The mural is part of an idea that Minjarez had to bring neighboring communities, largely made up of different races, closer together. Minjarez created an organization called Horizontes, which means “horizons” in Spanish. It’s an effort to unite people that are “physically, emotionally and mentally” divided by I-135.
Just this week, Fidelity Bank announced that it is donating $35,000 to Minjarez and his team to help complete the project.
Minjarez applied for a grant through the Knight Cities Challenge last year and was awarded $100,000 for the project. The Knight Cities Challenge is an initiative through the Knight Foundation which “seeks new ideas that make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work.” The 26 cities are communities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, including The Eagle.
But the scale of Minjarez’s idea is so large, $100,000 wasn’t going to be enough. His initial budget for the mural was $156,000.
Aaron Bastian, president of Fidelity Bank, was struck by the Horizontes project and by Minjarez’s vision, and has been in awe watching it come to life.
“I thought the concept of the project was so compelling and really something that could be special for what’s kind of a barrier in this part of town,” Bastian said.
This week, Fidelity’s Bravely Onward Fund at the Wichita Community Foundation gave $35,000 to Horizontes, filling out the remaining unfunded part of the $156,000 budget. According to Fidelity Bank officials, the Bravely Onward Fund is “a donor-advised fund that allows Fidelity Bank leadership to make charitable contributions to organizations and causes that advance our city.”
“I think people believe in change that they can see,” Bastian said.
“And this kind of public beautification of buildings, what were formerly blank spaces, adds vibrancy to life. And to be able to see this every day and be impacted by it in a positive way - I think that kind of art is so meaningful.”
In addition to the Fidelity grant, other organizations and individuals have donated money, according to Minjarez.
Horizontes is hoping to raise additional money to help make up for the time that was lost on the project due to rain. Minjarez hopes to raise an another $15,000-20,000 for additional lifts and workers. He hopes the project can be completed by mid-November.
“As soon as we started painting the figures, people started coming in,” Minjarez said.
“That has definitely brought more attention to the project and we hope that it can also inspire people to really feel good about the city and the things that we’re doing and to support it.”
The actual artwork was designed and is being completed by GLeo, a street artist born and raised in Cali, Colombia. It was a mural by GLeo, completed in Brazil, that inspired Minjarez to reach out to her and see if she was interested in taking on the Horizontes project. Members of the Horizontes teams canvassed the neighborhoods in north Wichita before the actual artwork began, asking people what they wanted to see in a giant mural. The mural will depict members of the Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods reaching out to each other. All of the figures depicted in the mural are based on photographs of people who currently live or have lived in the neighborhoods in the past.
“To see themselves, their relatives, reflected in such a magnificent piece of artwork, it can only make you feel good about yourself and your community and your people,” Minjarez said.
“You get to go to school, go to work, go to church and you get to see this. Something that speaks to your own history. That is very powerful and will continue to have ripples for generations to come.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Colombia.