Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Debbie Wagner, of Bennington, paints Tuesday morning on a portion of the 55 foot wide mural at Campbell Plaza. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal)
from the Salina Journal Wednesday, June 16th
Artist: Painting in downtown Salina focuses on 'unique arts community'
By Tim Unruh
Until the painting became more intricate, anyone caught gawking or talking too much about Dave Loewenstein's mural was encouraged to grab a brush and join in the fun. A number of people, mostly children, have accepted the Lawrence artist's invitation to be a part of "Waiting in the Wings," a mural overlooking the Campbell Plaza outdoor stage, 125 S. Santa Fe, in downtown Salina.
"Little kids will walk by and he lets them paint, too," said Carolyn Klenda, a waitress at Coop's Pizzeria, 123 S. Santa Fe. Painting began June 8. While they wait for their orders, customers at the adjacent restaurant "stare out the windows and watch him," she said. Loewenstein is splashing the plaza with lots of bright colors and a message as well. "It's pretty cool. He's put a lot of time into it," Klenda said.
Project an extension of Festival
Loewenstein's Artist in Residence project, which involved months of research, is an extension of the Smoky Hill River Festival, said Connie Bonfy-Stewart, director of the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission. Mixed into the 13-by-55-foot mural that Loewenstein is creating with Bennington artist Debbie Wagner are reproductions of local art; children on chairs like those above the entry of the former Roosevelt-Lincoln Middle School, and ornate shapes like the artist found on the United Building off West Iron Avenue. "I'm a director, or a conductor, of many ideas," Loewenstein said as he stood high on a ladder painting a black border.
A lot of art in Salina
Local people posed for some of the mural figures, which include a violinist and a dancer. "If you look real close, you'll see a figure of a curly-haired woman that looks a lot like (Sharon Benson)," Bonfy-Stewart said. Benson is the coordinator of arts education for Salina Arts and Humanities. "The focus is Salina's unique arts community," said Loewenstein, 43.
What makes it unique is a multifaceted approach, he said, including the annual river festival that reaches a broad audience, the nationally known Salina Art Center and the Arts and Humanities Commission, which promotes arts in education. And it's all in a relatively small town. "(Salina) has more civic institutions and public celebrations than maybe some (other towns)," Loewenstein said. There is a willingness to promote artistic endeavors in Salina, with plenty of artists -- including musicians and poets -- living here.
Being paid $6,000
Using National Endowment for the Arts and Kansas Touring Artist grants, Salina Arts and Humanities is paying Loewenstein $6,000 for the mural, which includes his supplies and living expenses while in residency. He's staying in a loft apartment above Santa Fe Avenue. "The design and the title are metaphors for the education and development of individual artists, and Salina's conscious process of building and shaping the cultural community over many years into what it is today," Loewenstein wrote in his blog. Loewenstein and Wagner expect to wrap up the mural in a week. A picture of how the mural will look is on the blog.
Gets a lot of use
Campbell Plaza is a "pocket park" that was created during the "Streetscape" upgrades in the 1980s, said Phyll Klima, executive director of Salina Downtown Inc., and is used for a number of activities throughout the year. Arts and Humanities stages concerts at the plaza in the fall, she said, and it's heavily booked during the holiday season. Coop's Pizzeria occasionally uses it during the restaurant's "Open Mic Nights," Klenda said. "We have a lot of different organizations and bands that use it for performances," Klima said. There is no charge to book Campbell Plaza. To make reservations, call Salina Downtown, 825-0535, a minimum of two weeks in advance.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Time leaps. It's mid-June. The weather is alternately a sauna or a torrent of rain and thunder (the latter at the moment is giving me a chance to write this), and people have been asking a lot of questions.
"What is it going to be?"
"How long will it last?"
"Do you get paid to do that?"
"It's too bad about the brick. Is there any way to sand blast it (meaning the mural) off?"
"Will you be done by the end of the Festival (two days) ?"
"Are you an artist?"
As one of my mural heroes Jean Charlot used to do, I only let people hang out as armchair critics for a few minutes before I say, "Here, take a brush and paint this." Sometimes it takes a little encouraging, as people aren't used to being asked to jump right into working on a big public production, but I try to match each person's abilities with the right task so they're comfortable and challenged just enough to stay engaged.
So when someone comes by to take pictures or get an interview, it's always a trade - sure I'll go on camera if you paint this shape blue - as happened with Ashleigh (on the right) who stopped by to film a little piece about the mural for Salina Downtown Inc.
Others, especially kids, don't need the prodding. They're more than ready to paint anything anywhere. And the idea that they're going to paint on a wall outside is intoxicating. I agree.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Salina project is being organized by the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission. It's a smaller scale endeavor than the MAAA Tonkawa / Newton project. And although I'll be here only about two weeks, working with my assistant Debbie Wagner and community volunteers who need a breather from the River Festival, I'm really excited about the design and location of the mural.
The research and design process for Salina had to take place this past winter since I knew I was going to be in Tonkawa leading up to my residency here. During the winter, I visited three times where I met with local arts leaders, gave a presentation at the Salina Arts Center, and collected research materials. Folks at Arts and Humanities and I agreed to focus the mural design on an evocation of Salina's unique cultural scene - how this small mid-western town has developed such a rich arts environment.
The final design (below) I'm calling "Waiting in the Wings." The design and the title are metaphors for the education and development of individual artists, and Salina's conscious process of building and shaping the cultural community over many years into what it is today.
Using a theater metaphor was particularly appropriate here since the mural will be painted on the wall behind the outdoor stage at Campbell Plaza on Santa Fe Street.
Here is how I described the design when it was presented earlier this year:
They are mentored/inspired/ guided by teachers who pass along tools (to be added in the final mural) to help them along as they develop their art. Accompanying these figures 'waiting in the wings' are other figures walking along high wires of artistic exploration. At the edge of the light and shadowed areas of the design, there appear new much larger representations the boy and girl (suggested specifically by Sawan Patidar) as they cross over onto the lit 'stage' with tools of self expression. (As you recall, most of these figures are based on Salina folk who posed for the mural). The center 'stage' section of the mural is based on a detail of a tile relief on the United Building designed by Charles Shaver.
Meant to convey a sense of dynamic beauty and possibility, the large shapes of the tilework are divided by emanating rings of light that originate from the act of artistic creation within the boy and girl. Behind and above the tilework are references to the city waterworks and one Salina's majestic grain elevators.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
This past May, while I was working in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, I took a few days off to attend the Community Built Association's 20th Anniversary Conference in New Orleans. Cruising down U.S. 271, my car was loaded with paint, brushes and drawing materials because, as a part of the conference, I was going to lead a mural workshop at the Lower 9th Ward Village - a small community center that emerged after Katrina to bring neighbors together and help with basic needs. The driving force behind the Village is Mack McClendon who has made it his mission to reconnect Lower 9th Ward residents with relatives and friends who left during the storm. To help in this effort, Mack wanted us artists to work with local folks to create a map that symbolized the Katrina diaspora, or in Mack’s words “Where’s your neighbor?”
At the back of the Village’s warehouse, which was being set-up for a fundraising auction, ten people gathered around a make-shift table to brainstorm. The idea was to create a visually captivating map that would remind people that many neighborhood residents, for different reasons, were still not home. Some died. Some fled the storm, found new homes and did not intend to move back. Some wanted to come back but didn't have the resources. And others had returned to the area but could not reoccupy their homes in the Lower 9th.
Making a map of the U.S. would be easy enough and we had a pretty good idea of how people spread out after the storm, but the mural team wanted to embellish the artwork with more than just the facts. We scrounged around the warehouse and nearby alleyways for materials and inspiration.
Mack brought us a coil of telephone wire. Someone else found an old doorknob. Perfect. The doorknob, emblazoned with a Fleur-de-lis, was attached to the mural and became New Orleans. The telephone wire, after we stripped it down and divided its many intertwined colors, was tied from the door knob out towards cities where people took refuge, each color indicating a different predicament or intention - red for not coming home, yellow for wanting to come home, green for back in their home, and black for back in New Orleans but unable to to reoccupy their house. Five hours of painting and wire stretching later and the mural-map was finished and ready to be installed in front of the community center. But how would the greater neighborhood (people who didn’t frequent the Village) know about this effort?
Somehow we had to spread this small painting out into the streets where more people could see it. The next day, and my last on this visit, we used scraps of plywood and old roofing to reproduce details of the larger map.
When they were dry, our crew scattered out onto the nearby streets and hung, wired, and placed the panels on fences, old street signs, and abandoned buildings. Hopefully, the would be curious enough to catch people's attention and lead them to the Village.
Someone drove by and asked what we were doing and, after they heard our story, asked if they could have one of the paintings for their house. We followed him down the street to his house where this small portion of a map of the Katrina diaspora was hung carefully and with pride on the wall of the front porch. Other neighbors inquired about the brightly colored paintings, and within an hour or so all twenty small panels had found homes.
This little mural/map (and its satellites) of “Where’s Your Neighbor?” was just a beginning I told Mack. A lot more could be done, and now it appears it will be. Just the other day someone sent me this article. It looks like the New Orleans artist group NoLA Rising is proposing a giant mural with a reproduction of our little mural/map as its centerpiece.