Keeper of the Plans

$100,000 mural project will add color to north Wichita

Armando Minjarez in front of a potential canvas for his “Horizontes” project, which received a $100,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.
Armando Minjarez in front of a potential canvas for his “Horizontes” project, which received a $100,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Courtesy photo

Armando Minjarez was lost.

Driving around north Wichita, while trying to find the Boys and Girls Club entrance on Opportunity Drive, he noticed a group of girls playing on a neighborhood street. In the horizon behind them loomed a giant concrete grain elevator towering over the neighborhood from Wichita’s industrial core.

The Wichita artist got to thinking: what if that drab, monolithic specter dominating the neighborhood was instead colorful?

“What would it look like if they could see a beautiful mural every day instead of a gray wall?” Minjarez said. “Right then is when I had the idea, what does your horizon look like. It came into my mind and it just kind of stuck with me.”

Now that idea is coming to fruition.

The Knight Foundation announced Monday it will grant $100,000 to Minjarez in support of his “Horizontes” project, to be used for painting a grain elevator and creating a series of community programs in north and northeast Wichita.

Minjarez has 18 months to complete “Horizontes” – horizons, in Spanish.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s going to happen, according to Minjarez:

▪ Starting later this summer, there will be a team of people canvassing neighborhoods in north and northeast Wichita, asking residents what they’d like to see on the mural, gathering community stories. The groups will also go to churches and neighborhood organizations to hear from residents. The groups will use new technology to quantify what they are hearing from residents, creating workable neighborhood data for future projects.

▪ Minjarez and his team of volunteers will also host a series of community workshops make “direct and lasting” connections with the community.

▪ Later this year, there will be a series of smaller murals painted in the area, leading up to a large-scale mural to be painted on a grain elevator around the 21st and Broadway area in summer 2018. The exact grain elevator to be painted has not yet been specified. It will be painted by a collaboration of local artists and artists from outside the community, brought in with the Knight Foundation money.

“We will be inviting artists from around the country, potentially international artists to paint some of the murals that we’ll be doing, but of course, like always, we’re going to highlight and elevate local talent,” Minjarez said. “There will be a curatorial focus on artists of color, or immigrant artists, that will be highlighted in this project.”

Minjarez said the project will unite two distinct neighborhoods that are currently divided “physically, emotionally and mentally” by I-135.

“Really, that’s at the heart of this – it’s building that black and brown solidarity in Wichita,” Minjarez said. “It’s taking over our own spaces. It’s building our own spaces, building our own platform, telling our stories directly. It’s about reclaiming our space.”

Minjarez’ project was one of 33 winners of Knight Cities Challenge grants nationally – the first time a Wichita project won one of the grants since the program was started in 2014. The Wichita Community Foundation is the fiscal sponsor of the project.

Lilly Weinberg, community foundation programs director for the Knight Foundation, said “Horizontes” is “a really powerful project around civic engagement.”

“We thought it was a really interesting idea that could be a way of taking something that’s considered a negative, an eyesore, and turning it into an asset within the community,” Weinberg said. “Art is a really important component that can bring communities together and break down barriers between community members.”

Minjarez said he anticipates beginning the community workshops by late summer. The large-scale murals will likely be painted next year, he said.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt