Keeper of the Plans

Mural new top spot to take a picture in Wichita

Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis designed a mural on the west wall of the College Hill Deli that has become one of the most popular places to take a picture in Wichita. (Jan. 6, 2017)
Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis designed a mural on the west wall of the College Hill Deli that has become one of the most popular places to take a picture in Wichita. (Jan. 6, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

There’s a new hip spot to take your photo in Wichita, and it may not be where you’d think.

As part of Avenue Art Days last October, local artists Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis painted a Wichita-themed mural on a side wall at College Hill Deli, 3407 E. Douglas, aptly titled “Wichita.”

The mural elicits comparisons to city murals in Austin, Kansas City and Des Moines – the kind of wall you want to take a picture in front of when you’re either visiting or returning to a city after an extended absence.

But in addition to providing a scenic backdrop, Tripoli’s and Lewis’ mural has been a boon for the deli on which it’s painted, said Ali Yassine, College Hill Deli’s owner.

“It’s projects like this that really instill a strong sense of togetherness in the businesses and the community at large,” Tripoli said. “It’s all these businesses working together to really beautify that whole corridor.”

Community effort, reward

Tripoli and Lewis had a lot of help painting “Wichita.”

Lewis – who specializes in graphic design – created the design on her computer, then devised a “paint-by-numbers” diagram so anyone could paint it.

The two sketched the outline of the mural on the building and let the volunteers come.

During the weekend-long Avenue Art Days event in the Douglas Design District, people could stop by and help paint the mural – no strings attached.

“It was all about simplifying the process and showing that anyone – as long as they just know this little easy process – can produce a large-scale work of art,” Tripoli said. “It’s educational in that aspect, because we could show it’s just a series of small steps.”

Lewis estimates at least 50 people contributed – from physicians to tech workers to fellow artists.

Even Cheeto, the Instagram-famous corgi, lent a paw to the effort.

Allowing the public to paint the mural creates more opportunity for error, Lewis said, but that imperfection makes the piece unique.

“It was nice because, on the computer, the design almost comes off too precise,” she said. “On the brick, with human error, it just has a life form to it that’s even better than the computer.”

“Wichita” is a whimsically designed piece that tells the story of Wichita through symbols – from the buffalo of the state’s early days to aviation and modern identifiers such as ICT and 316, the city’s area code.

Visit Wichita sponsored the mural.

Tripoli and Lewis – who operate under the collective “Lupoli” – have plans for more Wichita-themed murals.

They also want to bring more artists into the fold for collaborations.

“We hope to expand it and expand our collaborative bubble bigger and bigger,” Tripoli said. “This is really the second major project we’ve done for Lupoli, but there’s some very exciting things coming.”

Helping the business

Last October, Yassine offered his wall to Avenue Art Days for a community mural.

He didn’t realize that mural would attract new customers to his business.

“I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on it – a lot of people coming in for pictures,” he said. “It’s brought in some business. It’s helped a lot.”

Sometimes hungry people posing in front of the mural will stop inside for a chicken shawarma or a plate of hummus, he said.

Tripoli and Lewis themselves patronize the cafe and rave about Yassine, who provided them with free food and drinks for the entire weekend they were painting the mural.

“I’m happy for them, too,” Yassine said. “They’re wonderful kids, and they do a good job. They volunteered to do all that work for nothing. I admire them.”

Tripoli and Lewis also recently painted a mural for Two Olives, near 29th and Rock Road.

Tripoli said the success of his and Lewis’ mural signals that Wichita businesses are realizing the benefits of partnering with the arts community.

“It’s so cool to see how many different businesses are really supporting the arts and understand that it’s an integral and essential part of our community,” he said. “I think it’s projects like this that make this so wonderfully apparent.”

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt