Sunday, April 13, 2014

Deal to re-create popular mural at Ninth and New Hampshire streets in the works

by Chad Lawhorn
from the Lawrence Journal-World

April 8, 2014

A deal is in the works to recreate a popular downtown mural at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, although in a significantly smaller form.

Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting were told the Spencer Museum of Art and a Lawrence-based development group had reached a tentative deal that would allow local artist Dave Loewenstein to either recreate or refashion the popular Pollinators mural on the wall of a new multistory building slated for the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

But leaders with Kansas University's Spencer museum conceded the new artwork would be about half the size of the current mural, which is on the wall of a building that will be torn down to make room for the new seven-story apartment/office building.

Susan Earle, curator for the Spencer, said design details for the new mural hadn't been finalized. She said Loewenstein's new work probably wouldn't be a copy of the Pollinators, which honors several Black artists who have roots in Kansas. But she said the new work certainly would be true to the spirit of the original work, which was created in 2007 as part of an exhibit on famed artist Aaron Douglas.

KU leaders also said they will be seeking an unspecified amount of city funding for the new mural. The development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — has agreed to pay $20,000 toward the mural project. Spencer officials are estimating the project will cost about $50,000. Commissioners took no action on the mural but asked both parties to bring back a signed agreement on the issue.

Below is my letter to the editor about this proposal,  published in the Saturday, April 12th Lawrence Journal-World -

To the editor,

Our visual environment, what stories and voices we see represented around us, speaks loudly for who we are and what we value. In Lawrence we aspire (I believe) to openness, diversity and the celebration of a rich and meaningful heritage.

Insuring that the “Pollinators” mural and the story it embodies continue to have a significant presence in our downtown says that we as a community recognize the importance of the great African-American artists depicted, and how their legacy helps to define who we are as Kansans.

I am grateful to the Spencer Museum of Art and the more than 500 individuals I have heard from for their support and thoughtful suggestions. As a work of art made by and for the community, this mural is a shared cultural trust. Not unlike the way we protect and conserve important historical places and architecture, the “Pollinators” and the resonant stories within it are worthy of our care. The Spencer’s proposal, although it is a compromise of scale, expresses that care and keeps the mural where it belongs.

I also appreciate the willingness of the developer and architect to financially and logistically support the mural’s continued life in the heart of downtown. The Spencer Museum’s proposal, when agreed to and carried out, will show that private developers, the university, the city and neighborhood residents can work together in significant ways that support the larger community.

As Lawrence moves forward embracing arts and culture as integral to community life, let’s keep this project in mind. It demonstrates beautifully how art can be woven into the fabric of our bustling downtown, helping to fully express what it means to be a Lawrencian and a Kansan.

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