Keeper of the Plans

Wichita loses two of its most creative young project leaders

The logos for We Are Wichita and the Yellowbrick Street Team. The founders of both of these organizations announced recently they are stepping away from their projects.
The logos for We Are Wichita and the Yellowbrick Street Team. The founders of both of these organizations announced recently they are stepping away from their projects. Courtesy

Recently, two Wichitans announced they would be stepping away from their popular creative projects.

Both Alex Pemberton, founder of the Yellowbrick Street Team, and Kevin Wildt, founder of We Are Wichita, are taking a break from their respective efforts – citing personal and financial stresses.

What was Yellowbrick Street Team?

The Yellowbrick Street Team was a grassroots movement known for drawing attention to urban-living issues, primarily through ordinance-ignoring means. It put plungers on a Wichita bike lane, organized a flashmob dinner at the Keeper of the Plains and – with the help of two other local groups – drew attention to Wichita’s poopiest underpass.

Pemberton also works as director of special projects for Downtown Wichita.

In a Facebook post, Pemberton said since Yellowbrick’s founding in 2016, he has sunk $7,500 into the project. The project, Pemberton wrote, became too taxing, coming at the cost of personal relationships and time.

The remaining members of Yellowbrick Street Team announced Wednesday they would take “an indefinite hiatus” from all pending projects.

In a farewell post on the Yellowbrick website, members wrote “City bureaucrats threatened to fine and arrest us” for their guerilla projects like the bike-lane plungers and the “flash-dining” experience.

“They told us we would never get a permit again, regardless of whether we follow the rules,” the post read. “They pressured our employers to silence us, to limit our ability to act.

“Threats to saddle us with criminal records and threats to withhold their permission slips never scared us. We knew they wouldn't arrest us, and we didn't need their permission. We laughed those off. But threats to our livelihoods were serious.”

Because of the attention Yellowbrick drew, it “increasingly had to limit what we said and did, to the point that our ability to produce meaningful content and catalyze lasting change was limited.”

“Creating lasting change was essential to our mission, and without a reasonable path to make it, we began to look for ways to retool the initiative or change the conditions limiting our involvement. Those efforts were ultimately unfruitful. We have thus decided to put this initiative, this movement, on hiatus,” the post read.

What was We Are Wichita?

Wildt’s project, We Are Wichita, was a blog that shone a spotlight on Wichita’s creative community.

Through long-form articles, Q&As and a podcast interview series, Wildt was able to cover the local arts scene in a nuanced way.

Recently, Wildt and local artist Hannah Scott opened a brick-and-mortar gift shop at 2nd and Hydraulic, Vortex Souvenir. It sells merchandise from We Are Wichita, as well as other eclectic local gifts (a Wichita pennant from We Are Wichita made my Eagle Gift Guide this past holiday season).

In a Facebook post, Wildt said the project begun eating up too much personal time – as he was producing content late into the evenings and early-morning hours.

The site will continue to exist as a directory of local artists, though no new content will be published to the site.

The Chung Report

A Tuesday article from The Chung Report encourages Wichitans to tangibly support creative organizations they care about, to prevent those things from becoming mere “passion projects.”

“The real concerning aspect of this recent news is the circumstances that led these two innovative thinkers to change direction,” the article read. “Exhaustion, frustration and the overwhelming weight of responsibility create a real struggle for those who strike out to make change. ...

“Having the weight of progress rest on relatively few shoulders inevitably leads to the burden growing too great for these influencers to bear. This should bother all who want to see Wichita grow and prosper.”

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

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