Keeper of the Plans

Beautiful new murals were just painted in north Wichita. Here’s why that matters.

Wichita’s North End was known for its murals way before they were en vogue.

The neighborhood, which is heavily populated by people of Latino and Southeast Asian descent, has for years been home to some of Wichita’s most impressive murals.

Count nine more among them.

Last week, artists with the Horizontes project painted nine new murals in north Wichita — including two near the historic Dunbar Theatre at 9th and Cleveland.

The new murals are the latest piece of what people are describing as a surge of momentum in Wichita’s North End.

“In the six years I’ve been in the city, I’ve seen tremendous progress and energy, people stepping up to do more and take ownership of their spaces and their communities,” said Armando Minjarez, the founder of Horizontes.

What is Horizontes?

Horizontes (“horizons” in Spanish) is a grant-funded initiative to boost civic engagement in Wichita’s North End and Northeast neighborhoods, an attempt to break down barriers in Wichita.

The concept was strong enough that the Knight Foundation awarded Horizontes a $100,000 grant in 2017 to make it happen. The centerpiece of the project will be a mural to be painted on the Beachner Grain Elevator this fall.

Studies have shown public art programs like Horizontes can both improve neighborhood pride and engagement, as well as promote “learning and teaching about diverse cultures (multiculturalism).”

Minjarez and the other minds behind Horizontes said they were careful not to do the mural project “in a way that would encourage gentrification and the displacement of people of color that live (in north Wichita).”

The aim is to celebrate the culture and history that the neighborhood is already rich in, not transplant new concepts into the area, Minjarez said.

“For that reason, we have curated artists ... who grew up in those neighborhoods, who have familial connections to those neighborhoods,” he said. “The art that is created is not detached from the community, but comes from the community and serves the community that lives there.”

The new murals

Most of the murals are near NoMar International Market, at 21st and Market streets.

Heather Byers’ mural at 102 W. 21st Street features 13 different portraits of her family, generations of whom have grown up in the neighborhood.

“I wanted to use my own family history and ties to the neighborhood hopefully to reflect other people’s stories,” she said. “My great-grandmother started a breakfast program at one of the neighborhood churches, and a lot of the people who walked by (while I was painting) recognized her picture.”

The murals should hopefully deter tagging, a common complaint in the neighborhood, Byers said.

One of the murals recently painted was vandalized earlier this week, though it has since been fixed.

Over at the Dunbar Theatre, Priscella Brown said she had a “great week working on (her mural),” as people would stop by “and reflect on the neighborhood and what it used to be.”

The Dunbar, which during the segregation era was the only theater in town to cater to African-Americans, is at 1007 N. Cleveland. It’s been closed since 1963.

Brown painted three legendary entertainers whose films were shown at the Dunbar when it was open — Moms Mabley, Richard Pryor and Hattie McDaniel.

“It just kind of brings life back into the community whenever you see something new,” said Brown, whose family lives in the area. “It just made everyone happy to see color and to see something going on in the area.”

Members of Wichita State University’s Sigma Psi Zeta sorority also painted a mural, “Support Each Other — Grow Together,” at 130 E. 21st Street.

Most members of the sorority are of Asian descent and have ties to the Vietnamese immigrant community in Wichita’s North End.

‘Go outside of those silos’

Minjarez said he often hears complaints that Wichita’s art community is not diverse or inclusive enough.

The solution, he said: Look at the talent that’s been operating out of north Wichita and other places for years.

It just takes stepping outside of your own comfort zone to find that diversity, he said.

“We have amazing artists of color in this city, but ... there’s not always necessarily efforts to go outside of those silos,” Minjarez said. “We want to support those artists and to offer a platform.”

All of the murals in the North End and at the Dunbar Theatre are on public display 24/7 — and selfies are encouraged.

Looking for another good reason to drive out that way and see them?

The Mercadito Hispano NoMar is a brand-new Mexican food and entertainment “mini-market” that will be open every weekend through October at NoMar International Plaza — near where a majority of the murals are clustered.

The market is open from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

That, along with the ongoing efforts to reopen the Dunbar Theatre and expand the Evergreen Neighborhood Resource Center, leaves Minjarez feeling optimistic about the North End.

“There are efforts already happening outside of even (Horizontes’) work that ... all add to the momentum, and our murals connect to that,” he said. “It makes people happy to see the neighborhood change in a positive way and it encourages others to do more.”

For more information on Horizontes, visit www.horizontes-project.com.

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