Thursday, December 10, 2015

Studio Open House!

Saturday, December 19th 
411 East 9th Street
Noon - 6pm

Check out the latest cool stuff from me and my friends Amber Hansen, Nicholas Ward and Jill Ensley +  a sneak preview of the soon to be released documentary "Called to Walls." There will be treats...

SOS - Save Our State

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Interview on Kansas City public radio

I was a guest on KCUR's program Central Standard along with Hector Casanova and Amber Hansen to discuss murals and the upcoming documentary "Called to Walls." You can listen to the interview here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cordley mural gets new paint, tells old story

by Rochelle Valverde
originally published in the Lawrence Journal-World
October 20, 2015

History tends to grow dimmer with time, but one story from Lawrence’s past was literally fading with the years. The mural on the exterior wall of Cordley Elementary School, which depicts a story involving the school’s namesake and a runaway slave known as Lizzie, had weathered in the nearly 15 years since it was painted. A recently completed addition and renovation of the 100-year-old school, located at 1837 Vermont St., did not forget the mural on the north facade. Despite an addition to the school’s northeast side that intersects with the mural, the wall was left intact and funds were allocated to completely restore the mural, said Lawrence artist Dave Loewenstein.

“Principal (Scott) Cinnamon was really insistent that the mural be a part of the new school, and you can see they worked around it,” Loewenstein said as he added fresh paint to the mural this week.
The mural depicts a story from Lawrence’s Underground Railroad, represented by the railroad tracks that run across the bottom, Loewenstein said. It tells of the time Richard Cordley, a Massachusetts abolitionist who was new to Lawrence in 1859, was asked to harbor a runaway slave named Lizzie. Cordley’s house — located on Vermont Street about two blocks from the school — was thought to be a safer option for Lizzie because authorities may check other homes first.

Lawrence muralist Dave Loewenstein tosses a paint brush in a bucket as he repaints his mural, "A Thousand Miles Away," on the north side of Cordley Elementary School, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. The mural depicts an Underground Railroad scene involving a slave named Lizzie and Lawrence abolitionists Rev. Richard Cordley (not pictured) and his wife Mary. Loewenstein will be glazing the mural on Wednesday as the last step before it is completed. by Nick Krug

The circumstances inspired a quote attributed to Cordley in 1859, on the topic of putting one’s theoretical beliefs into action: “It is easy to be brave a thousand miles away. But now I must face the question at short range.” The mural, titled “A Thousand Miles Away,” shows Lizzie’s concealment at the Cordleys’ house and eventual safe escape to Canada. The idea that even heroes get scared is a great lesson for kids, Loewenstein said. “We love that quote because it says so much about the challenges, fear and responsibility of engaging in work like this — for social justice,” he said.

Loewenstein originally painted the mural in 2001 after compiling sketches of the story that Cordley students made at the time. He has spent about two weeks restoring the mural with the help of another Lawrence artist, Nicholas Ward. The restoration was originally planned for the summer, but Loewenstein said he’s glad that in the end he’s working on it while school is in session. “It’s really been better to have students around,” he said. “They ask a million questions.”

Loewenstein said the kids know him and the story really well now, and he’ll hear them discussing it among themselves on the blacktop. The kids have even gone as far as to offer him tips or critiques as he’s painting, Loewenstein said. In addition to the story itself, it’s good for the students to see the process. “I think it’s really cool for kids to see artists at work,” he said. “We see actors perform and musicians play, but we don’t often see visual artists at work.” The repainting of the mural is almost done, and Loewenstein said he plans to add the final varnish to complete the project on Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Found jumprope drawings

While restoring the 2001 mural "A Thousand Miles Away" at Cordley Elementary School, I stumbled upon a jumprope left on the playground blacktop. Walking around it, revealed these accidental drawings.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Editorial: Painting a better future

from the Topeka Capital-Journal
September 20, 2015

Topeka has a fair amount of murals, some planned and authorized and some that seemingly pop up overnight, the work of spray-paint artists. The community has a new mural of the authorized variety, one many residents won’t get to see except in pictures. It is worth noting here though, not so much for the painting itself, which is beautiful, but because of how it came about and what it means to those who created it.

Shawnee County’s Department of Corrections unveiled the mural and a garden at its Juvenile Detention Center on Wednesday. Corrections director Brian Cole said studies have shown gardening and arts programs to be positive experiences in helping troubled youth with self-esteem, teamwork, problem solving and communication skills. Cole said he had been aware for some time of similar projects but wanted to research the subject before embarking on one. He and his team are to be commended for their willingness to go beyond incarceration with the bare necessities and find ways to ensure the troubled youth in their temporary care leave the detention center with skills and knowledge they didn’t possess upon entering.

If they are successful with just a few youngsters (although we’re sure the have a higher goal), they will provide a valuable service to the community. Many people who slide into a life of mischief, crime and incarceration begin that journey as juveniles. Efforts to change a person’s behavior at that gateway can be beneficial to the youths involved and society.

The mural was designed by artist Dave Loewenstein, of Lawrence, who has worked on the Great Mural Wall of Topeka at 20th and S.W. Western, and four young people at the detention center. Loewenstein projected the design, which incorporates birds and flowers, on the building’s walls and his young accomplices began painting in May. The finished product, “The Caged Bird Sings, I am More That Just a Weed,” spans two walls.

About 30 juveniles began work in the spring on a nearby garden, in which they raise tomatoes, kale and cabbage. Staff members built the plant beds and Washburn Tech donated some plants. Cole said the work instilled a sense of pride in the participating youngsters, who built a beautiful place that can be utilized. Topekans should take some sense of pride in a juvenile center where the staff cares enough to go beyond simple incarceration.

Members of The Capital-Journal Editorial Advisory Board are Gregg Ireland, Mike Hall, Fred Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Garry Cushinberry, John Stauffer, Frank Ybarra, Jessica Hosman and Laura Burton.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Synchronicity and the Comet

The spring of 1997.
I was thirty.
I had just signed up for my first email account.
And people all around town were looking up into the twilight sky to see Hale-Bopp, the comet.

I was skeptical about the comet. In the past, I’d looked for Halley’s and I’d strained my eyes to see Swift-Tuttle with no luck. Friends and the host on NPR’s Star Date said this was different – you could really see this one. I still had doubts as I stepped out on my little front porch in North Lawrence and looked up into the southwest sky. No kidding. They were right. There it was, a fuzzy illuminated arrow pointing west toward the horizon.

After five years of minimum wage jobs post grad school, which included lithography slicker, framer, produce manager and bread mixer, I was desperate for a change or at least a sign to nudge me in a new direction. And so not finding other compelling guidance, I took the totally predictable passing of the comet as mine. Move on, it said, and I listened. I left my job as the mixer at the new bakery in town called Wheatfields and took a leap into the role of self-supporting full-time artist.

One of the first gigs I applied for, as a newly unemployed full-time artist, was the City’s % for art project at the East Lawrence Recreation Center – the first that planned to integrate art into the design of the building.

East Lawrence Recreation Center entryway

Inspired by the work of the Chicago Public Art Group at Navy Pier, ceramic artist Amy Carlson and I collaborated on a proposal that called for sculptural benches embellished with glass and ceramic tile in the plaza at the entryway to the center. It was a long shot, I thought. Neither of us had done mosaic on that scale before let alone create the kind of massive concrete sculpture that it would be adhered to. We would need a lot of help.

That was eighteen years ago.

Long story short, we got the job and the help, especially from East Heights, New York and Central Middle school students. The occasion for this retelling is that along with the original mason, Greg Frost, I just finished restoring the benches, which led me to thinking about the ways artists’ relationships to their work and the audiences they reach change over time.

Artists who make permanent or semi-permanent public work enter into a relationship with the places their work is situated - we learn the place's stories, meet the neighbors and are connected to the forces that shape them for better or worse.  And in the same way we maintain our homes, gardens, and neighborhoods, artists who choose to work in public are implicated in the care and upkeep of what they create. When we neglect what we have made, we are neglecting the place and people too. Public artists are also part of a long-term dialogue (whether we acknowledge it or not) with the stories and perceptions that work inspires over time. What was absolutely sparkling new to me when it was created on my drawing table eighteen years ago is now a visual landmark, woven into the narrative of East Lawrence for kids (now adults) who grew up with the work and never knew it not to exist.

Original color study for "Synchronicity," 1997

I know this especially well these days as I have been restoring some of the murals I made 15-20 years ago (I’ll be working on the Cordley Elementary School mural this month), and have been fascinated to hear what they have meant to people over the years. Listening to their stories has reaffirmed for me how art can have a deep and meaningful influence on the way we know a place, especially when the work is made with as opposed to just for a community.

Revisiting an artwork you made a long time ago can be humbling, especially when it’s in public. All your mistakes and inadequacies are there for everyone to see. It also can be a kind of reunion with who you were as an artist (and a person) at a certain point in time. Returning to the mosaic benches was a mixture of both for me. I wish I had used darker grout, while at the same time I recalled what a precarious position I was in back then with money and work, and what a risk I had taken giving up that $6.50/hour job at the bakery.

The Center’s mosaics had gotten beaten up a bit during the first year after Amy and I finished them. It was due to a combination of kids desire for the vitreous glass tiles that looked like candy and a few skateboarders. The damage wasn’t extensive but it was visible and troubled staff at the center. The tops of the benches were damaged the most. The solution was to fill in the tops with black concrete (an unfortunate sacrifice of some beautiful tile work) and then replace all of the tiles missing from the the sides of the benches. After some cajoling, the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission agreed to help fund the repairs and Greg and I went to work.

Dave in 1997

Dave in 2015
Greg in 1997

Greg in 2015

Working these last few weeks on the restoration reminded me of what an active place the center is, and how it's ruled by kids, some of them the kids of the kids who hung out there in 1997.  It also brought back recollections of the spring of ’97 and Hale-Bopp. Back then I knew I didn’t want to forget it. So to mark the time, I did what humans have done for millennia – I painted (or in this case tiled) it on a wall. Go and look for yourself. In the middle of the bench between the moon and the outstretched hand of a worker holding a level you’ll see it, a small fuzzy arrow pointing the way.

Restored 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lower 9th Ward Village - update

The Lower 9th Ward Village
In 2010, I visited the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans to collaborate on a small mural project with residents working to reconnect neighbors displaced after Katrina. The"Where's Your Neighbor" project was the idea of the Lower 9th Ward Village's beloved leader Mack McClendon. The Village and Mack were known as the "beating heart" of the Lower 9th after the storm, and even though the center eventually had to close, it's influence on the neighborhood continues. Mack passed away earlier this year at 61.  Below is my original post from 2010 that describes our project.

Mack working with the mural team
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, they 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.

Mack McClendon

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New story about the Great Mural Wall of Topeka

Click on the photo to read the story about the latest mural at the Great Mural Wall of Topeka.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mural Workshop this June

Kansas Mural Workshop

A week-long intensive workshop (sponsored by the Hutchinson/Reno 
Arts and Humanities Council, Hutchinson Art Center, and The Downtown 
Hutchinson Revitalization Partnership), with internationally recognized 
muralist Dave Loewenstein, that will lead participants through all of the 
technical and organizing skills needed to develop a successful mural 
Over the course of the week, participants will learn:                                                     
- History of the community mural movement
- Contemporary trends in community engaged public art

- How to organize, fund, and promote a community-mural project
- How to work with city representatives and develop contracts
- The basics of team organizing, research and design
- How to transfer your design, prepare the wall and plan community painting
- The importance of a culminating event and mural maintenance

All of this will be taught through an actual mural project, for a downtown Hutchinson location that participants will work on over the course of the week.

Artists, teachers, community organizers, arts councils and students should sign-up for this rare opportunity to learn from one of the leading muralists working today.

June 15 - 21, 2015 in Hutchinson, Kansas

Contact to receive an application. Submit your application by June 14th. Participants will be limited to 20. The $45 fee includes all materials. 

To find out more about Loewenstein’s work and approach, go to:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thank you C.J.

From all of us who were inspired by your vision, passion and never ending commitment to social justice - thank you C.J.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Kansas Murals" book available from the University Press of Kansas

The University Press of Kansas has a new website where it's easy to purchase copies of "Kansas Murals: A Traveler's Guide," the 2006 book I collaborated on with Lora Jost.

"As much a book on Kansas land and history as about its mural art, this is a portrait of a place and its people. From beloved clichs to unexpected innovations, Jost and Loewenstein's selections take us from a wild-eyed John Brown to the ornate box turtle capital of the world, from silos to post offices, covered wagons to rocket ships, graffiti to architectural heaven. Read this even if Kansas is not on your itinerary.” 
—Lucy R. Lippard, author of Lure of the Local

“Makes me want to jump in the car right now and go look at those marvelous murals!”
—Marci Penner, author of The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers

“An essential book for every traveler in the Kansas art-scape.”
—Charles C. Eldredge, author of Tales from the Easel

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wings of Desire - The Art of William H. Howe

(This essay was originally published in on February 24, 2006. Since links to many of my old blog essays are broken, I am republishing them here.)

In 1941 as the U.S. entered into World War II, 13-year-old William Howe was busily filling sketchbooks with remarkable renderings of butterflies, as a student at the West Coast Institute of Arts and Crafts in Berkley, California. Later that year, William's father Edwin hastily moved the family away from the coast, in order to protect them from potential bombing by the Japanese. After a brief stay in Lawrence, the family settled in Ottawa, Kansas, which - as fate would have it - was directly in the path of the annual monarch migration. 

One of Howe's teenage journals.

William's infatuation with butterflies began at an early age. As he told it, the defining event of his childhood occurred when his father, who was an entomologist working for the USDA, brought home a cage full of caterpillars and left them on the dining room table. Over the following days, William watched spellbound as the striped caterpillars metamorphosed, first forming chrysalides and then emerging as elegant black swallowtails. From this experience grew a lifetime passion for the gossamer-winged insects. Howe said, "My fascination with butterflies has been welded into a lifelong avocation that has commanded both my spirit and my labors. But it isn't a scientific interest. The scientific problems I leave up to the experts. Sitting under a microscope in an office doesn't appeal to me. It is the emotional experience of catching a butterfly and the reward of being able to use my paints to capture it on paper or canvas. I do this for one reason - it's fun. And most jobs are not fun, I have found." 

In 2006 at age 77, Howe was still painting everyday in his small apartment in Ottawa. All of his paintings were made from observing actual butterflies (he never painted from photos), many of which he collected on his eighty-three trips to Mexico. Today, he is considered one of the country's most admired butterfly artists. His paintings are in the collections of museums around the world including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. His authoritative book "Butterflies of North America" (out of print), illustrated with 2,033 watercolors, is hailed by many entomologists as the greatest volume ever published on butterflies of this continent.

Howe at work on "Butterflies of North America."

I first saw William Howe's paintings in 1991 at the old Plum Tree restaurant on Iowa Street. They may have clashed a little with the Chinese decor, but Howe always favored restaurants, offices, and other retail businesses that he frequented to show his work. The advantages of these venues over galleries were that they had a captive and frequently changing audience, and usually no commission on sales. 

I continued to spot Howe's curious and original paintings over the years, like "Butterflies Greeting Columbus" below, and always wondered what the artist who created them was like. Then in 2004, we met. It was in Ottawa, at the house that he'd lived in since 1941, where I interviewed him about his mural depicting monarchs migrating through Chase County that he was restoring in the old Ottawa Middle School cafeteria. That first meeting led to others where, over slices of blackberry pie and coffee at his favorite restaurant, we discussed organizing a show of his paintings in Lawrence.

That exhibition, Wings of Desire - The Art of William H. Howe, opened in March of 2006 at the Olive Gallery. At the opening, Howe gave a short talk about his work and signed copies of his first book "Our Butterflies and Moths" published in 1964. The twenty plus paintings in the show represented the wide range of approaches Howe had taken to his life-long subject. 

Part of the Olive Gallery installation.
There were trompe l'oeil portraits of butterflies hovering slightly above the canvas. There were carefully composed families of butterflies, rendered like Audubon, in their natural settings. There were the paintings, Howe often called 'surreals' or 'abstracts,' where his mutable subjects become vehicles for storytelling and abstract design. And exhibited for the first time, were Howe's figurative and narrative paintings which explored his personal life and political concerns.

All of these paintings reflected William Howe's devotion to craft and reverence for nature. But his paintings are about much more than studied technique and patient observation - they are deeply felt personal statements, that illuminate the fragile and quiet life of both butterflies and the man who rendered them with such affection.

William H. Howe died on August 18, 2009 in Ottawa, KS. He was 81. For more on Howe's work, go to his website here, and this 2004 article in the Pitch by Gina Kaufmann.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mural postcards at Essential Goods in Lawrence

You can now buy postcards of most of my Lawrence murals (including the restored Seeds mural below) at Essential Goods, 825 Massachusetts Street.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Will East Lawrence become as pretty as a French Neo-Impressionist picture?

Lawrence City Commission elections are right around the corner and candidates have been pulling out all the stops to appeal to voters. This includes using all sorts of media from internet ads to yard signs and mass mailings, with one even appropriating a famous French painting to bolster their message.

For as long as there have been politics, politicians have understood and used the power of art and music to influence voters. These days it seems like every presidential candidate has a well-known and carefully chosen pop song playing at their events - just think of Bill Clinton and Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow).” And with visual art, Barack Obama got a real boost from Shepherd Fairey’s hugely popular “Hope” poster (although Fairey ran into copyright issues for the photo he based his poster on). Most candidates know not to use an artist’s work without their permission, some are uninformed, and a few figure they can get away with a little appropriation here and there and not get caught.

One of the best examples of this was Ronald Reagan’s co-opting of the Bruce Springsteen song “Born in the USA” during his 1984 campaign for president. Reagan not only didn’t have the musician’s permission, he didn’t understand the song’s meaning, which he took to be a patriotic cheer even though the lyrics clearly express the struggles of Vietnam veterans returning home to a broken system. More recently, Florida Senate candidate, Charlie Crist was sued for appropriating the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere” and eventually had to make a public apology.

Even when artworks or songs can be licensed, most institutions and individual artists specifically prohibit the use of their work in political campaigns. The reason is clear - associating a work of art with a particular candidate or political platform implies that the artist or institution supports them.

This is why I was surprised last week to find in my mailbox a campaign postcard that appeared to be in clear violation of those prohibitions. On the front of the card is a reproduction of Georges Seurat’s beloved 1884 painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte.” Superimposed over the bottom of the image is the word ARTS, while a banner runs along the top of the card that reads “March 3 – Vote for Bob Schumm.” Turning the card over, the campaign message deals exclusively with Mr. Schumm’s support for the East 9th Street corridor project, but nowhere on the card is credit given to Seurat or the Art Institute of Chicago which owns the work.

It's hard not to come to the conclusion that the juxtaposition of Seurat’s painting with Schumm’s campaign message represents the candidate’s vision for the future of East 9th Street.

Setting aside the issues of licensing and copyright (which probably are applicable in this case), I’ve been considering what else this campaign ad is communicating to voters. Looking again at Seurat’s painting and then thinking about the neighborhood of East Lawrence, I wondered if this bucolic fantasy is really what proponents of the East 9th Street project envision, and if so, what that means for those of us who live and work there now.

In Seurat’s painting, Parisians (all of them white) lounge along a riverbank. Women hold parasols, men wear top hats, one couple has a pet monkey on a leash. They are still and apparently silent but for one trumpet player - playing the tune to “Road to Nowhere” perhaps? This may be an accurate representation of 1884 France, but East 9th Street in 2015? It’s an unusual choice. With so many great artists in Lawrence (let alone Kansas), it begs the question - why Mr. Schumm chose to appropriate this famous painting instead of using the work of a local artist for his campaign postcard.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Half Empty

For the next six weeks I'll be working with students at Washburn University on Half Empty, a campaign to inform and advocate on issues related to water in Kansas. We have a blog for the project that you can check out here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

East 9th Street and the Allure of Creative Placemaking

Over the past year, there has been lots of conversation about the Lawrence Arts Center’s proposed development for East 9th Street. At City Commission, East Lawrence neighborhood meetings, in the Journal-World and on the street, people have been discussing the potential impacts and opportunities of this ambitious and first of its kind endeavor in Lawrence.

Reflecting on the origins of this project, and studying recent evaluations of the new practice of creative placemaking, may help shed light on many of the concerns and questions that have been raised.

East 9th Street
In 2010 Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus completed “Creative Placemaking,” the National Endowment for the Arts report that introduced this practice to a wider public. It was this report that launched the creative placemaking funding initiatives Our Town and later ArtPlace, which are at the center of the proposed East 9th Street project.

But just two years after co-authoring the NEA’s paper, Markusen wrote of her unease about how ArtPlace was measuring creative placemaking success. She writes “ ArtPlace is developing “measures of value, which capture changes in rental and ownership values…” This reads like an invitation to gentrification, and contrary to the NEA’s aspirations for creative placemaking to support social cohesion and community attachment.”

This is not a surprise. Gadwa Nicodemus and Markusen alerted us to the potential of creative placemaking to spur gentrification in their original NEA paper when they wrote, “Arts-initiated revitalization can set off gentrification pressures that displace current residents and small businesses, including non-profit arts organizations.”

And they are not alone in their concern.

In his 2013 essay, “Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-Belonging,” Roberto Bedoya, Executive Director of the Tucson Pima County Arts Council, writes, “The blind love of Creative Placemaking that is tied to the allure of speculation culture and its economic thinking of “build it and they will come” is suffocating and unethical, and supports a politics of dis-belonging employed to manufacture a “place.”

These comments by respected arts leaders are clearly reflected in the dialogue that has emerged around the proposed East 9th Street project. Although East Lawrence was represented on the Cultural District Task Force, which made general recommendations for the Cultural District, the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association (ELNA) was not consulted in the development of the actual ArtPlace and Our Town grants related to East 9th Street. Concerns about this lack of agency in the process, led ELNA to initiate forums for discussion around the project’s implications, including facilitated public meetings and a three-hour “Imagine East 9th Street” event. 

Imagine East 9th Street event, November 16, 2014
Comments from many participants at these meetings expressed the need for accountability and the desire for full participation in the overall process. These ideas taken together concern social equity - the idea that fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the community; and self-determination in meeting fundamental needs is a social good intrinsic to healthy and just communities.

In her 2014 article, “The Gentrification of Our Livelihoods: Everything must go,” about an ArtPlace funded project in San Francisco, writer Megan Wilson speaks directly to this need for equity. She writes, “To achieve these ends, we must work to put far more pressure on our city officials and hold them accountable to provide the best services, opportunities, and amenities for residents, while ensuring that existing communities are protected and supported through high functioning planning, permitting, and legislation with strong and clear avenues for oversight and accountability by their constituencies.”

This is what many East Lawrence residents have been advocating for – genuine accountability and an acknowledgment of the value that their unique experience and knowledge can bring to the process. Unfortunately, these basic measures have yet to be met while new concerns have arisen, as expressed in a letter (below) sent to Lawrence City Commissioners and signed by more than 140 residents.

June 21, 2015    

To Mayor Farmer and Lawrence City Commissioners,

We deeply appreciate the careful consideration you and city staff have given the East Ninth project process and trust that you will continue to give it the serious and thoughtful regard it deserves. The learning curve has been steep for this ambitious and first of its kind endeavor for our community.

In an effort to move toward the goals of a healthy, just, equitable and sustainable East Ninth Street project, we, the one hundred forty (140) individuals undersigned, have carefully reviewed the draft Work Plan submitted by el dorado inc to the City Commission and propose the modifications outlined below be included in the document before the plan is accepted.

1) Statement of Values

Respect and understanding of the place and people where this project is proposed are critical to its acceptance and sustainability. The Work Plan should be revised to acknowledge that the East Lawrence Neighborhood already has a statement of values that applies to the majority of the area where the project is planned. Following from this, the Design Team, City and Lawrence Arts Center should strive to respect and be guided by these values in reviewing existing plans, and as it moves forward with the East Ninth project.

2) Artist Participation Model

The culture and spirit of East Lawrence are alive and well, in part because of its organic growth and thoughtful and passionate stewardship. All public art projects in recent memory that have been carried out in East Lawrence have been presented for consideration and approval to the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association before going on to the City. This includes the mural at Hobbs Park, the forthcoming Intersection Repair, the New York School mural, the Cultural District, and Better Block event. We believe that the same process should be used for all art and culture related projects outlined in the Artist Participation Model (APM) section of the Work Plan. The Work Plan should be revised to include the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association in the review and approval process (that includes Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission, Historic Resources Commission, and City Commission), for all art and culture related projects proposed in the APM.

To ensure that the character and expression of the neighborhood is guided by those who live there, we propose that at least 50% of the projects outlined in the APM be led by Lawrence artists (with at least one Lawrence artist in each of the three sections of the APM), and at least half of those led by East Lawrence artists. To make the most of the potential creative exchange that can take place during this process, we propose that all art projects outlined in the APM include paid assistant artists from Lawrence. This will be great experience and training for our local artists and will give any lead artists who are not from Lawrence essential insights into the place they are working. 

3) Conservation Overlay

In order to ensure that development along East 9th Street and adjacent parts of the East Lawrence Neighborhood will evolve in a way that protects and supports the cultural and economic life of its residents and the unique character of its built environment, we propose that a Conservation Overlay be designed and implemented as a part of the East Ninth project and be in place before any work described in the Artist Participation Model begins. The physical extent and specific provisions of the overlay would be determined collaboratively with the City, project Design Team, East Lawrence Neighborhood Association and other interested citizens.

Thank you again for your continued work on this issue and specific consideration of our letter.


Brenda Nunez                       

Robert Baker                         

Jean Ann Pike                       

Dave Pike                              

Richard Kershenbaum           

David Crawford                    
Leslie Soden

Charlie Bryan                        

Ted Boyle                              

Dave Evans                            

Mary Kirkendall                    

Eric Kirkendall                     

Creed Shepard                    

Gotfred Beardshear            

Phil Collison                           

Susan Earle                            

Lane Eisenbart                      

Jill Ensley                              

John Hachmeister                 

Amber Hansen                     

Thad Holcombe                     

Lora Jost                                

Ashley Laird                           

Sue Ashline                            

Jim McCrary                          

Dave Loewenstein                 

Arch Naramore                      

Alison Dishinger                    

Yanice Friedman                   

Carol Klinkett                                    

Dennis Cox                             

Marilyn Brune                       

Chanette Alexander              

Lauretta Hendricks Backus  

Oswald Backus                      

Martha S. Thorp                    

Bonnie Uffman                     

Jill Allen                                 

Macy C. Smith                                  

Pat Miller                               

Dave Kingsley                        

Loring Henderson                 

Bob Garrett                            

Janet Martin                          

P. Johnson                              

Katheirne “KH” Harris         

Irene Tsuneta                                    

Don Kantorv                         

Megan Roelofs                       

Terese Cioffi                          

Katie Ashmore                      

Katie Reese                           

Marta Schwartz                     

John Huff                               

Marty Olson                           

Phil Chiley                              

Teresa Wilke                         

John P. Jervis                         

Janet A. Jackson                     

Louie Galloway                      

Saunny Scott                          

Laura Morgan                                    

Susan Munn                          

Janet Good                            

Elliot Good-DeCosta              

James C. Dunn                       

Ann Carlin Ozegovic              

Shannon Gorres                    

Sarah Wallace                        

Maya Crocker                                    

Linda Lips                              

Marvin E. Voth                       

Juliet Remmers                      

Brian Sultana                        

Ginger Chance                      

Thomas E. Peters                  

Dennis Constance                 

Daniel Bentley                       

Sarah Archiblod Busse         

Barb Michener                      

Katy Clagett                           

Bridget Chapin                      

Nancy V. Brune                      

Carol Schmitt                         

Eileen Larson                         

Don Mayberger                     

Stephanie Harsin                  

E. F. Tolbert                            

Jane W. Gibson                      

Jim Carpenter                                  

Sven Erik Alstrom                 

Frank Janzen                         

Alan Martin                            

Gregory M. Herrod                

Pam Blackburn                      

Robert W. Lepphe                 

John Swift                              

Jay M. Hester                         

Rhonda Beardshear              

Alonzo Beardshear                

Nicollete Proudfoot               

D. Byron Darby                     

Kellie Smith Herrod            

Tony Peterson                       

Dorothy Devlin                      

Kyle Garchee                         

Sonya Bonner                                    

Steve Bonner                         

Jolene Anderson                    

Brooklynne Mosley               

Jackson Sump                                    

Vicki Douglas                         

Phil Minkin                          

Dan Dimmit                           

C. D. Hall                                 

Marilyn Hall                           

Claudean McKellips              

Christopher Hayes                

Marah Melvin                                    

Ardys Ramberg                    

Sarah Rooney                                   

Odessa Shorter                    

Cindy Suenram                     

Nicholas Ward                       

KT Walsh                              

Amanda Schwegler               

Rebecca Blocksome               

Kate Meyer                            

Aaron Paden                          

Judith K. Burns McCrea        

Darron Carswell                    

Cindy Trask                           

Daniel Barkofske                  

Sam Michie                            

Ben Kimball                          

Carey Scott                             

Max Yoder                             

Johni Lacore                           
Chris Lempa