Janelle King was invited to speak at the first Pride-in-Place Meetup in October, where she spent about eight minutes sharing the small-budget initiatives she has coordinated and the impact those projects have had on shaping the perception residents and visitors have of Wichita.
The local artisan markets she organizes monthly outside her custom sewing workroom, The Work Room, offer a cultural experience and create an environment to support locally made art and home goods.
The Wichita flag merchandise she sells in the retail section of her shop gives Wichitans a way to show their civic pride on the T-shirts they wear, the mugs they drink from or the flags they fly.
The roughly 40 murals painted as part of her Avenue Art Days initiative to beautify the Douglas Design District have attracted families to get out and explore the district, which stretches from Oliver to Washington along Douglas, and take photos in front of the art.
She ended her informal speech with a call to action for the 100 or so in attendance: Forget the saying about there being no “I” in team; the letter “I” is an important part of the word Wichita, and each of us can choose to take action to positively affect the perception of Wichita.
“At the end of the day, I’m nothing more than a mother and a fellow community member, yet I know how to make a difference,” she told the audience.
King has heard from a few who were in the audience that day. Several businesses and organizations have made appointments to talk to her about one of her grassroots efforts, and a local bank has since committed to help sponsor Avenue Art Days.
King’s experience is exactly what the Perceptions Task Force wanted to accomplish with the Pride-in-Place Meetups.
“We all get our own little compartment and don’t always take time to peer around the corner to see what others are doing, so I think the purpose of the task force’s meetups is to give an introduction to what others are doing in hopes of then finding opportunity for collaboration,” said Moji Rosson, vice president of sales for Visit Wichita and one of four co-chairmen of the Perceptions Task Force along with Jerry Jones, vice president of commercial development for Slawson Cos.; Laura Bernstorf, senior project management specialist at Airbus Americas Engineering; and Roy Heatherly, publisher of The Wichita Eagle.
The Perceptions Task Force is sponsored by the Greater Wichita Partnership, which formed in 2015 to align and focus the economic development efforts of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. Business and community leaders work alongside full-time staff members on six strategic priority areas: grow primary jobs, diversification through entrepreneurship, educational attainment and workforce development, recruit and retain talent, downtown vitality and perceptions – both internal and external.
The Perceptions Task Force started less than eight months ago by identifying a three-step process to strengthen the city’s perception among residents and visitors: convene, catalog and catalyze. They held two Pride-in-Place Meetups to begin the convening phase.
“I think we just kind of needed a cheerleader, and in some ways, that’s what our group hopes to be,” said Bernstorf, a task force co-chairman. “For the issues that we have that we need to work on, we also still have a lot of stuff to be really, really proud of, and it far outweighs the issues that we need to address.”
The meetups were open to the public at Distillery 244 Old Town and attracted about 100 people. Each featured five speakers taking less than 10 minutes to share their personal stories of why they were involved and outline the work they or their organizations are doing to raise the city’s profile. In addition to King from The Work Room, speakers represented the City of Wichita, Fidelity Bank, Marketplace Properties, Visit Wichita, Wichita Community Foundation, The Wichita Eagle, Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, Wichita State University and Yellowbrick Street Team.
Organizers say they are still defining what the catalog and catalyze steps of the process will look like. One thing that is certain: Expect more meetups in 2017, maybe as often as quarterly and at locations throughout the city to encourage more participation.
“There’s no short-term solution. Changing perceptions is not something we can do overnight,” said Jaimie Garnett, executive vice president of Strategic Communications for the Greater Wichita Partnership. “We’re still working on the convening piece: listening to what’s working, identifying any common messages. Then we want to figure out how we capture those stories, and after that how we catalyze what’s working.”
The task force invites anyone who would like to present their personal grassroots efforts or the work of their organization or business to contact the partnership through its website at greaterwichitapartnership.org.
“The task force is still in our infancy, but we are ready to do more of what was started in 2016,” Rosson said. “It’s good to finally see Wichita pride on full display.”