Keeper of the Plans

Downtown guerrilla art project around only when there’s wet ground

The Yellowbrick Street Team painted five separate quotes from Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra” – including this title quote – along the south sidewalks on Douglas on Sunday.
The Yellowbrick Street Team painted five separate quotes from Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra” – including this title quote – along the south sidewalks on Douglas on Sunday. The Wichita Eagle

If you took a stroll down a popular stretch of East Douglas on Monday morning, you may have noticed writing on the pavement.

By Monday afternoon, that writing was gone.

A new guerrilla art project in downtown Wichita literally retraces the steps of Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra” poem – but only when it’s wet outside.

Anticipating overnight storms, members of the Yellowbrick Street Team – a group that aims to promote better design through “tactical urbanism” – painted quotes from the noted 1966 beat poem on the Douglas sidewalks using superhydrophobic paint on Sunday. The paint shows up only when the surface is wet, and the nature of the paint causes drops of water to bead up and run off.

There are four quotes from the poem painted onto the south sidewalk – starting at the Beacon and ending at Emporia Street.

So home, traveler, past the newspaper language factory” – in front of The Wichita Eagle building

“Under Union Station railroad bridge on Douglas” – in front of Union Station

“To the center of the Vortex” – by Naftzger Park

“Calmly returned to Hotel Eaton” – at Eaton Place

The poem was written by Ginsberg to describe the exodus of artistic talent from Wichita to other places. Like many other beat poems, it also has a heavy anti-Vietnam War theme.

Though initially prohibited from reading it in Wichita, Ginsberg was eventually able to read his work at Moody’s Skid Row Beanery, in what is today Naftzger Park.

And Monday morning, he would have had an audience of about 13 souls.

This is the second time in just the past week that Ginsberg’s poem has floated into Wichita’s public consciousness – last week, Wichita Festivals announced a music festival named after the poem.

Alex Pemberton, leader of the Yellowbrick Street Team, said the group had planned its project about a month ago, but the weather had not cooperated until now.

“We certainly had some serendipitous timing with the new Wichita Vortex Festival raising the profile of the poem,” Pemberton said. “Hopefully it becomes a point of pride for those who know about the poem and the story behind it, as well as exposes new people to such an important piece of Wichita’s cultural legacy.”

Like the group’s previous paint projects, the art will fade. It can easily be removed with a power washer.

But a Facebook post from the Yellowbrick Street Team alludes to a motivation for the project. It’s more than just an eye-catching distraction for those walking along Douglas.

“The value of creative energy in creating a lovable city is readily apparent and should not be forgotten – our recognition should not appear and disappear depending on external conditions,” the Facebook post read. “Rain or shine, the arts matter.”

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

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