Keeper of the Plans

Gallery Alley adding energy to Wichita’s cultural scene

The story of Gallery Alley’s opening weekend is the story of a changing city.

On Final Friday, youths packed the once-underutilized alley and rocked out to three similarly-aged bands. People crowdsurfed and bounced beach balls back and forth. Organizers estimate more than 1,000 people attended.

Then on Saturday, a screening of “The Breakfast Club” attracted people to the alley on a gorgeous evening.

And on Sunday and Monday, hundreds of people of all ages flocked to the alley to assist local artists Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis, known as Lupoli, in finishing their community mural on the bricks lining the alley.

“Projects like this really kind of show that people have this energy and desire to make Wichita more exciting,” Tripoli said Monday. “They have this energy and enthusiasm that they’re going to do these great things in the future.”

From the mosh pits of high school students on Friday night to the hobbyist artists with decades of experience painting on a Monday afternoon, the alley has emerged as a cultural haven in downtown Wichita.

“The whole city just felt energized,” Lewis said of the Final Friday opening. “It was really fun to watch this space come alive, whereas a week or two ago, it was just nothing – a blank canvas. Now we have these great lights and artwork and this space for people to enjoy.”

Gallery Alley is a project of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., which received a $66,504 grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Wichita Community Foundation to make it happen.

It’s a one-year trial, featuring sculptures by four local artists – Mike Miller, Marc Durfee, John McCluggage and Garet Reynek – and a rotating selection of art hung on Final Friday nights. On Friday, multiple pop-art “Star Wars”-inspired pieces by Cornell Bell-Steele sold.

It’s somewhat questionable whether the Lupoli mural, painted on the ground, will last a year if the sheer volume of people frequenting the alley holds steady.

“The nature of the project is that it’s probably not going to last very long, but it’s still fun to get everyone out there,” Lewis said Monday. “Hopefully, it’ll look good for a couple weeks or a couple months – by the end of the summer, it’ll probably be gone, which is nuts.”

The public was invited to help with the mural, and plenty of people came out to do just that, Tripoli said.

“We’ve tried to really be flexible and let the public have their own creativity within these guidelines,” Tripoli said. “We have a lot of things we didn’t plan – like, all of a sudden, the dancers have crowns and there are hearts and bracelets and patterns and stuff in the bands of color that we never intended for in the composition.

“It’s been really fun to let the public come in and have their own flair and unique voice be heard in Wichita’s public art.”

If the energy going into Gallery Alley continues, Tripoli said, it can be a transformative space in downtown Wichita.

“It was incredible the energy we had,” Tripoli said of Friday’s showing. “Barleycorn’s sponsoring three bands – Kill Vargas and the other bands did a fantastic job making downtown feel vibrant with life. It’s projects like this that really make that happen.”

Gallery Alley

Where: 616 E. Douglas (by 86 Cold Press and The Renfro)

What: Downtown alley converted into a pedestrian-friendly pop-up park, with four permanent sculptures, bistro sets and a variety of events planned throughout the year.

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