Politics & Government

Downtown underpasses just got a bit more interesting

Artists from Danielle Studios have begun painting murals to beautify the railroad crossings in Old Town.
Artists from Danielle Studios have begun painting murals to beautify the railroad crossings in Old Town. The Wichita Eagle

A series of murals under Old Town railroad bridges has begun to take shape, but the project designer says they won’t all be finished in time to greet visitors to the NCAA basketball tournament in March.

The murals at the First and Second street underpasses are designed to contrast the built environment of humankind with the natural environment of Kansas, said Todd Whipple, the designer and primary arts contractor on the project.

Each underpass will feature two murals facing each other across the street. One side will be a cubist-inspired cityscape, dominated by squared corners and rectangles – the other a more impressionistic take with waving prairie grass and ethereal figures.

The color palettes will alternate between a cool-blue dominant nightscape effect and a daylight effect rendered in shades of yellow, beige and brown.

The murals are part of a larger city-funded project that also includes resurfacing of streets in the area.

The mural artists are starting with the blue night cityscape on the north side of the First Street underpass. The facing mural will be the warm-tone prairie scene.

On Second Street, the murals will feature the same pictures, but with the color palettes switched. The urban scene will be rendered in the daylight colors and the prairie will be the nightscape scene, Whipple said.

Although Whipple designed the murals and is supervising the project, the painting is being done by artists from Danielle Studios. The company has experience with murals, including the locally prominent Dunbar Theatre project, said crew chief Erin Konecny.

The original goal was to have the Old Town murals done as part of general sprucing up of downtown Wichita in anticipation of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. The Intrust Bank Arena will host first- and second-round games March 15-17, an event expected to bring Wichita thousands of out-of-town visitors and about $10 million in commerce for the local economy.

Whipple said the goal now is to get as much done before the weather turns. When it gets too cold, the paint won’t stick to the walls, he said.

“As late as we got started, we’re not going to be able to finish” in time for the tournament, Whipple said.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas