Avenue Art Days mural project coming to an end

Avenue Art Days launched in 2015 when artists created a mural of one of Wichita's founders, JR Mead, crossing the Arkansas River.

Avenue Art Days launched in 2015 when artists created a mural of one of Wichita’s founders, JR Mead, crossing the Arkansas River.

The Wichita Eagle

After eight years, more than 60 participating artists and 107 completed murals, the Douglas Design District’s Avenue Art Days initiative is coming to an end with what organizers are calling one “large-scale legacy mural.”

Local artist Heather Byers was chosen to create the community art project’s final, 108th mural after an open call for submissions. from Aug. 25-28, she’ll lead the installation of the project’s final mural with community volunteers and past participating artists who’ve been invited to help out.

“I hope we have a decent amount of people show up to help, or I won’t be sleeping much,” Byers said with a laugh.

To mark the end of a project that helped create what some have called mural mania in Wichita — as well as in other Kansas towns — organizers are putting on a Final Friday lot party on Aug. 26 next to the west-facing wall of Moler’s Camera, 2609 E. Douglas, where the mural is being created.

The three-hour party that starts at 5 pm will feature free beverages and hot dogs and burgers grilled up by sponsor Intrust Bank’s grill masters, organizers said. Besides watching Byers and her crew work on the mural, entertainment will include live music by Sage Judd Trio and the Lamphouse Photo Co.’s selfie camper.

Byers based her design concept, “Looking to the Future,” on the idea that Kansas is a great place to live and work. She’ll also incorporate the state motto “ad astra per aspera,” which means “to the stars through difficulties.”

“When the Chung Report came out, it showed young people are leaving because they feel like there aren’t opportunities here, where I know there are. I want to encourage young people to find their place, especially in Wichita.

“I really love Wichita. It’s the right size and has the right amount of stuff going on. But I also realize that stuff doesn’t just go on by itself. You know, people have to actually make it happen. We need to plan events and participate in things and show up,” said the 32-year-old Byers, a Wichita native who is raising her family just a mile from where she grew up.

Kickstarting the public art concept

That attitude of making stuff happen is what led Janelle King, the owner of The Workroom at 150 N. Cleveland — a gift store that features locally made art and a big dose of community pride — to create Avenue Art Days in 2015.

Back then, public art in the form of murals wasn’t much of a concept in Wichita.

In fact, King has often shared that when she initially approached businesses in the three-mile Douglas Design District about allowing artists to donate wall space for murals, she had to deal with the perception that murals weren’t much different from graffiti.

But then Wichitans started purposely seeking out the murals, taking selfies and other pictures. Business owners soon realized that the art was a draw. Soon, other entities in Wichita wanted murals. Now the city’s tourism advocate Visit Wichita suggests taking a self-guided tour of the many murals created in Wichita since 2015 — including the largest in the world created by a single artist on the Beachner Grain elevator — and provides a map of murals on its website .

Even smaller Kansas communities have gotten on the mural bandwagon. Byers, for example, just finished a mural in Haven that’s a large-scale shout out to Kansas farmers.

The murals also became a springboard for the careers of several participating artists. A number of them, including Byers, credit the project with getting them noticed. And getting paid work.

“With each new phase, we are finding that we are competing with artists more and more for commissioned work. This told us our mission to elevate local artists through the installation of highly visible public art has been met and exceeded,” said King, in a release about the project coming to an end. “This is why we’ve decided to end Avenue Art Days but go out with a bang to celebrate the city’s talented local artists and all those who have contributed to the program along the way.”

The rub for Avenue Art Days was that it often was associated with providing free artwork. And in its early days, it was. In 2017, organizers did some fundraising to start providing small stipends to the participating artists. This year, Byers will receive $4,000 to lead the final Avenue Art Days installation.

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Wichita artist Johnny Freedom says Avenue Art Days helped boost his art career. Madison Ham VIP Wichita Magazine

Creating art and careers

“Avenue Art Days has been a really good thing for working artists,” said Byers whose Avenue Art Days mural in 2017 was her first foray into making public art. Since then, she’s completed several paid commissions, including a mural for the city’s new Evergreen public library branch.

“It’s opened the eyes of Wichita businesses and building owners as to what can be done,” Byers said. “It’s not meant to be a way to get low-cost work but to do something community minded. But it seems like it’s a good time to end it. We’ve done a whole lot and have shown people the value of public art.”

Besides Byers, other muralists who credit Avenue Art Days with boosting their business profiles are Johnny Freedom, Delilah Reed and Chris Garcia of the Brickmob artist collective.

Freedom, who has built his art business on incorporating the Wichita flag, was among the first group of Avenue Art Day artists in 2015. While he wanted to go big with his first public art display of the flag, the business owner wanted to go small . Since then, Freedom has gotten his chance to do not only big displays, but also to get paid for them. He’s done murals since then for Piatto, the Pumphouse and other businesses and cities.

Both Reed and Garcia say their business models took off after participating in Avenue Art Days. Late last year, Reed opened her gift shop and art studio, The Loud Cicada, in the Revolutsia complex at Central and Grove. Garcia’s Brickmob artists collective business, established in 2014, now almost exclusively does public art and murals.

When Reed participated in 2016, she looked for a design that would incorporate the theme of a re-emerging Wichita. She liked drawing bugs and landed on the idea of ​​drawing a cicada, since one species of cicada re-emerges every decade. The mural is on a metal door of the Douglas Photographic Imaging building. She’s incorporated the cicada in other pieces of art since then and as her business’ namesake.

While Reed had been doing art for about 10 years and had previously co-owned a local art gallery, she said, “Doing Avenue Art Days got me so much more attention and jobs and noticed for public art.”

She’s created 20 pieces of viewable public art since then around Wichita, including three of the Keeper of the Plains statues as part of the Keeper 150 public art project.

Brickmob’s first Avenue Art Days mural in 2015, designed by now-deceased artist Philip Nellis and painted on a wall at 119 N. Cleveland, is a popular one, depicting JR Mead, one of Wichita’s founders, crossing the Arkansas River. Brickmob has since done murals in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Texas and four other Kansas communities. The business’ biggest mural is the baseball slugger on the Wind Surge stadium.

“From our standpoint, we owe it all to the (Avenue Art Days) murals,” Garcia said. “It changed our lives completely.”

Avenue Art Days lottery party

What: a Final Friday event celebrating the conclusion of an eight-year community art project with the creation of one final mural in the Douglas Design District

Where: 2609 E. Douglas

When: 5-8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26

Admission: Free

More info: facebook.com/events/1650202198714007


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