Keeper of the Plans

Art on downtown doors, multisensory art experience coming soon to Wichita

Community mural brings Wichitans downtown

Artist Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis painted a mural in Gallery Alley in downtown Wichita with the help of volunteers. The art project was inspired to get young people downtown and get people excited about their city. (May 29, 2017)
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Artist Josh Tripoli and Rebekah Lewis painted a mural in Gallery Alley in downtown Wichita with the help of volunteers. The art project was inspired to get young people downtown and get people excited about their city. (May 29, 2017)

Two innovative new art projects are coming to the downtown area next spring, both intended to bring life to the city’s alleys.

Downtown Wichita, with the help of a $56,850 grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Wichita Community Foundation, is revamping its Gallery Alley at 616 E. Douglas and introducing a program that will wrap drab metal doors with colorful art.

Both projects are expected to come to fruition by next spring.

The aim, Downtown Wichita officials say, is that more public art will bolster downtown’s vitality.

“Public art improves the overall livability of spaces — it makes people happy, it makes people proud, and it builds character in the places you live,” said Emily Brookover, director of community development for Downtown Wichita. “And we’re already on such an upswing in Wichita with public art.”

‘Alley Doors’

The most noticeable program Downtown Wichita is creating is one that’s been borrowed from other cities.

“Alley Doors,” as it’s called, will take downtown alleyway doors and cover them with Kansas artwork printed on vinyl wrap.

Cities including Louisville, Ky. and Boise, Idaho, have introduced similar programs to public fanfare.

Artists will be able to submit work for the “Alley Doors” project — and downtown building owners who want to participate in the program get to pick which design they want on their door. Most all of the works submitted will be entered into an online gallery that those building owners can “shop,” Brookover said.

“Murals traditionally are just for 2-D artists or painters, but doing the vinyl really opens it up to everybody — photographers, digital artists, illustrators, even sculptors that have really cool images of their work,” Brookover said. “In theory, I have a piece of work, I take a high-quality digital photograph of it, then it gets put on vinyl.”

If an artist’s work gets chosen for the project, he or she will receive a cash stipend — and the artist retains all rights to the work.

“(The vinyl) is not original, which means if it gets damaged or vandalized, no big deal — nothing’s lost,” Brookover said. “You can take it off, replace it easily and the artist doesn’t lose an original piece of work.”

Downtown Wichita plans to create a map of all the door artwork, as well as signage coming out of the alleyway indicating artwork is ready to be discovered there.

Only Kansas-based artists will be able to submit work.

Downtown Wichita is looking for alley doorways in the area of Kellogg to Central, and the Arkansas River to Washington.

Interested building owners should contact the organization about signing up to participate in the project. Downtown Wichita plans to subsidize the creation and installation of the first few pieces using its grant funding.

“Just the existence of these in some of the darker spaces in downtown will increase safety and it will decrease the likelihood of graffiti — all these things,” Brookover said. “Aside from just being amazing and building character in your downtown, there’s a direct effect on the passerby.”

In Louisville, its “Alley Gallery” project — on which Wichita’s program is based — recently won a top award from the International Downtown Association. That program has installed artwork on 126 doors since its launch in 2017.

Other U.S. cities, including Santa Monica, Calif., Albany, N.Y., and Boulder, Colo., plan to launch similar alley-doorway art programs.

Downtown Wichita will have a call-for-artists posted to its website, www.downtownwichita.org, where it will accept submissions for “Alley Doors.”

It plans to have the first doors adorned by spring 2020.

Gallery Alley revamp

What was intended to be a temporary placemaking project two years ago has officially become a permanent one — albeit with some changes.

Gallery Alley, at 616 E. Douglas, features bistro tables and chairs, and an iconic spider sculpture (by artist Mike Miller) on the wall, among other artwork.

The alley has in the past hosted concerts, Final Friday exhibitions and movie nights — sometimes to the chagrin of residents in neighboring apartment buildings.

But now, Downtown Wichita wants to transform the alley into a “complementary, almost discovery-type destination” in tandem with the under-construction Naftzger Park across Douglas, said Jason Gregory, executive vice president of Downtown Wichita.

To accomplish that, all-new artwork is coming to the alley — with an emphasis on interactivity.

Some of the existing pieces will stay, including that “selfie spider” — “I really hope he gets a sister or a girflriend, some kind of spider family,” Brookover said.

An archway and interactive sculptures that artist Marc Durfee crafted from bike wheels also will stay.

Downtown Wichita is partnering with Envision to create a multisensory art experience in Gallery Alley, full of things people can touch, move and hear — in addition to seeing.

It plans to put out a call-for-artists soon and have the application window open approximately through August.

For this project, artists in Kansas and its bordering states are eligible to apply.

A panel of arts professionals and representatives from Downtown Wichita and Envision will select the winning pieces later this summer.

“We’re going to ask artists to really think about light and sound and movement — all of these things — so that people with low to no vision and people that just experience the world in a different way can also come and play and experience art in ways they wouldn’t normally be able to in a typical gallery or museum setting,” Brookover said.

Artists chosen to produce work for the Gallery Alley project will receive half of their funding upfront, and the other half when their piece is completed and installed.

The official call-for-artists will be posted soon on Downtown Wichita’s website, www.downtownwichita.org.

The project is expected to be completed by spring 2020.

Gregory calls both Gallery Alley and “Alley Doors” “small-scale interjections of fun and excitement.”

“It just adds to the distinctiveness of your community,” he said. “You go to east Douglas and you’ve got the murals in the Douglas Design District — just think about how that one exercise alone has changed the feel there.

“If you’re a visitor to Wichita and you see public art, it’s something you remember, something you’re immediately attached to and can relate to.”

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.

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