Keeper of the Plans

An art gallery in an alley? It’s coming to downtown Wichita

The Wichita Eagle

A new art gallery is coming to downtown Wichita, and it has only two walls.

By mid-May, sculptures will be installed in an alley north of Naftzger Park and next to 86 Cold Press, creating what the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation is calling Gallery Alley.

Alex Pemberton, director of special projects with the development corporation (and architect of other urban place making efforts in Wichita), said the project will help connect Old Town with the arena. It’ll be like “Pop-Up Park 2.0.”

“We’ve had so much success with the Pop-Up Park, and that’s done so much to get people out in public space and also shift perceptions of a site that was not viewed very positively,” Pemberton said. “Like the Pop-Up Park, we want to just test it out and see if it’s a good idea.”

The Pop-Up Urban Park at 121 E. Douglas offers picnic tables, space for food trucks and artwork.

Gallery Alley is a one-year pilot project, funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation administered by the Wichita Community Foundation.

“The fact that we’re doing it as a pilot will allow us to do some trial and error,” said Jason Gregory, executive vice president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. “We’re using some lessons learned from (the pop-up park) and think that actually benefits us in this project.”

The alleyway will be lined with four sculptures and a rotating selection of art on Final Friday nights, Pemberton said. There will be permanent bistro-style tables set up in the area to provide outdoor dining options for nearby businesses (Garden of Eatin’, Old Mill Tasty Shop, 86 Cold Press and others) and for people to bring picnics.

The downtown development corporation has also purchased a portable stage and a screen that spans the width of the alley, allowing for live music, theater, presentations and even movie screenings in the area, Pemberton said. Folding chairs are also available.

“It’s a very versatile, very multifunctional space,” Pemberton said. “The overarching theme is to get artwork and get our creative community out into a public space.”

The project also makes the sidewalk more pedestrian-friendly by closing off the alley to vehicle traffic.

“Really from a traffic standpoint, it’s pretty unsafe,” Gregory said. “You come out of that alley and you have a blind spot on either side. It’s dangerous for pedestrians walking and you really have to creep out of there.”

Pemberton said sometimes cars pull in the alley from both directions and meet each other head-on – “they’re like two rams butting heads,” he said.

“It’s really just redundant space that can be better utilized ... to be given to all of Wichita.”

The idea originally came from Pemberton’s Yellowbrick Street Team, a “guerrilla group” that promotes tactical urbanism. When Pemberton joined the downtown development staff in January, the development group took on the project itself, he said.

In a news release Tuesday, Shelly Pritchard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation, said the foundation is “happy to support another forward-thinking urban design concept in the core of our city, which integrates the arts and provides exposure for emerging artists to become entrepreneurs.”

The official unveiling of Gallery Alley is scheduled for May 26, to coincide with Final Friday.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt