Carrie Rengers

No Douglas Design District issue is more polarizing than this one

Of all the differences of opinion in the Douglas Design District, no single issue seems to be more polarizing than the art.

“I know that there’s a lot of criticism about the quality of art,” said district executive director Renee Duxler.

“And there’s some people who love everything.”

Or as Spice Merchant owner Bob Boewe put it: “One person’s art is somebody else’s scribble.”

Workroom owner Janelle King conceived Avenue Art Days in 2015 as a way “to really just add a lot of color and vibrancy” to the district since planned streetscape improvements were pushed back every year.

“I thought, well, paint’s cheap, and we have an abundance of talented artists and volunteers.”

There have been six phases over five years that resulted in more than 100 murals — more than 80 of which still exist.

King said attitudes of district business owners have shifted from, “You want to graffiti my walls, and you want my permission?” to lots of calls asking, “Hey, how do I get a mural?”

Initially, Duxler said, “people thought we were crazy.”

“We barely had enough money to do the paint and supplies.”

Over the years, more money was raised for the murals and the artists who did them, but Duxler compares the concept to public radio or television.

“If you enjoy it, if it’s something that you want to see, then you know you have to pay for it.”

Rebecca Hoyer painted a mural on the Aspen Boutique building at Douglas and Oliver and said she was never introduced to the building owners.

“It felt a little nonprofessional.”

So she introduced herself.

She said she’d like to see “business owners more involved so they get something they really want on their building.”

An artist visited with Monkey Bytes Computer Repair owner Matt Hew about a plan for a mural on his building just east of Douglas and Laura, but then another artist showed up and painted something else.

“Of all of the murals that are downtown, I would say mine is probably not the nicest one,” Hew said. “There’s just, like, weird geometric designs, and it looks like macaroni.”

He complained online to the district.

“They were like, ‘You had the chance to say something.’ I was like, ‘No, they switched it on me.’ ”

Hew said he plans to eventually paint over the mural and do something else.

“I didn’t raise too big a stink.”

Years ago, volunteers also painted light poles while artists painted murals.

Jeff Breault, who owns R&J Discount Liquor near Douglas and Hillside, didn’t see the point.

“Painting a post purple and calling it art? It cheapens the area to a certain extent when there’s not something cohesive.”

He commissioned his own mural at his store.

“Janelle’s idea of art and my art are vastly different,” Breault said. He added, “I admire her energy and her enthusiasm for promoting the area.”

Hoyer said Avenue Art Days is “an exciting project, and I really enjoyed doing it,” although she added, “I think it would be better if there was more quality and less quantity.”

The murals regularly bring in people from all over to take photos in front of them, and they’re part of what makes the district attractive to some business owners.

“We think the Douglas Design District is where it’s at,” said Brad Steven, who owns the Wine Dive, the Hill Bar & Grill and Vora Restaurant European with his brother, Brent.

Steven said he and his brother purposely set out to not be in a “corporate chain area.” He said they wanted something “artsy.”

“Just that cool, like, eclectic look.”

Artist Curt Clonts said he’s discussed the murals extensively with other artists who have not participated in Avenue Art Days.

“They don’t offer to do the murals because there isn’t enough money to do the murals properly.”

He said there’s the issue of paint quality, money to purchase scaffolding and safety supplies and then enough money for the artists themselves.

Hoyer said she wasn’t worried about money for herself but does care about how much other artists are paid.

“They’re doing an awful lot of work — and exposure . . . doesn’t pay the bills.”

Clonts said that “some of the murals are extremely well done,” but others “look like they were painted by a high school class.”

He said he’d prefer to see business owners fully involved and have enough money collected for one or just a few “super-high-quality murals per year.”

“Now, I do not find fault with Janelle King,” Clonts added.

He said she gets an incredible amount done by not going to the city for money.

“I hope that the mural process continues.”

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Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.
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