Saturday, May 30, 2015

Topeka Capital - Journal Supports the Great Mural Wall

Editorial: Mural Wall Needs a Push
In April 2006, city officials and members of the Chesney Park neighborhood gathered at a white wall that formerly served as the shell of a water storage reservoir to announce the commencement of fundraising efforts to transform that wall into the Great Mural Wall of Topeka.The goal was $30,000 for the first phase of the project, which a city spokesman said would transform “the white-washed carcass of a now-defunct 10-million gallon water reservoir into a colorful piece of public art.”

The first 60-foot panel was painted in 2007 at a cost of about $12,000, but transformation of the “white-washed carcass” has taken longer than expected, primarily due to the difficulty of raising money following the demise of the Kansas Art Commission. Work on the mural stalled for more than two years because of a lack of funding. Anyone who has a few dollars, or some pocket change, to spare should consider giving the Great Mural Wall of Topeka a boost. There is room on the wall for two more panels. To date, each panel has cost about $12,000.

 What began as a Chesney Park project has become a community affair, although Tom Benaka, who was president of Chesney Park NIA when the mural idea was born, continues to be its most visible champion. Professional artists are selected to direct the production of each panel and community members, young and old, are invited to participate on “community paint days.”

Lawrence muralist Dave Loewenstein is lead artist for the current panel — the ninth overall and his fifth — “How Topeka Got its Name.” Subjects for the completed panels included Grant Cushinberry, Brown v. Board of Education, the arts in Topeka, and city and state history. Benaka and Loewenstein think one of the remaining panels should be dedicated to the city’s youth, with the final panel providing a look into the future.

Looking into the future was what city officials and Chesney Park residents were doing in 2006 when they decided a blank curiosity stretching along S.W. Western, S.W. 20th Street and S.W. Fillmore should become a colorful art piece of which the neighborhood and the entire community could be proud. Benaka says he is eager to see the mural finished. Others who share his anticipation can help make that happen with a timely donation to the Great Mural Wall of Topeka.

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Great Mural Wall's Final Stretch

The Great Mural Wall of Topeka nearing completion
Funding needed for last 120 feet of project
(story originally published in the Topeka Capital-Journal)

Maty 25, 2015
Nearly a decade after Chesney Park residents started turning the drab wall of a former water reservoir into vibrant art, The Great Mural Wall of Topeka is nearing completion.

Once covered in graffiti, three sides of a building owned by the Topeka Water Division — the walls along S.W. Western, 20th Street and Fillmore — became an community art project when residents in the Chesney Park Neighborhood Improvement Association decided to clean up the spray paint and attract people to the neighborhood. Since about 2006 Tom Benaka, a member of the NIA, has championed the project as a way to combat vandalism and revitalize the neighborhood.

“It feels like this has been my whole life,” he said standing in the grass near where Lawrence-based artist Dave Loewenstein painted Thursday. “I’m very anxious to get it done.” The project needs funding to make that happen, he said. Early on, the Kansas Art Commission granted money to the mural, but when that was dismantled in 2011 funds were hard to come by for several years. Benaka and others involved turned to online fundraising sites, some federal grants and even a $10,000 Hamburger Helper “My Hometown Helper” grant.

Empowerment grants through the city’s community relations department paid for part of the project, including signs that will explain each panel Benaka hopes to have posted later this summer. The first 60 feet cost $12,000 back in the summer of 2007 and each panel of the nine has cost close to the same amount for special long-lasting paint and labor, he said. Last year the corner of 20th Street and Fillmore Avenue was the first painted in nearly three years.

With more than 120 feet left, Benaka isn’t sure where the project will find additional money. They need between $30,000 and $40,000, he said, but few donors have stepped forward. “We’re grasping at straws to get funding,” he said. “Artists deserve to be paid.” Recently he reached out to city council members about using part of the transient guest tax to fund the last of the mural. The city uses a tax imposed on hotel and lodging to fund projects meant to boost tourism. Because the mural is across the street from the Kansas Expocentre, both Benaka and Loewenstein believe it could draw people to the city.

“This is something for people from all over the city and visitors to Topeka to enjoy,” Loewenstein said. Loewenstein, who has done murals in Lawrence, has been the artist on many panels, but other artists including Ashley Jane Laird and KT Walsh have contributed. Panels have been painted with the help of neighborhood children, Topeka High School students and people from all around the city.
The section Loewenstein worked on Thursday depicts the history of Topeka’s name. Other panels focus on Brown v. Board of Education, city and state history and notable residents.

With such a strong focus on history, Benaka had long wanted to have a panel dedicated to Topeka’s railroad history, but now he and Loewenstein would like to do two panels, one that focuses on the city’s youth and a final panel looking at the future. “We really want to promote the future, not just of Chesney Park but the whole city,” he said. When the current panel is finished — hopefully in June depending on the weather — Benaka said they will start gathering community feedback and ideas for the last panels.

“Art is already in the neighborhood and people’s lives,” Loewenstein said. “The mural is a way to celebrate that.”

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Capital - Journal article about new mural

Community invited to paint alongside Lawrence muralist at Great Mural Wall of Topeka
(published originally in the Topeka Capital-Journal)
May 2, 2015
By Ann Marie Bush
A few raindrops Saturday afternoon didn’t keep Lawrence muralist Dave Loewenstein from picking up his brush and working on the next panel of the Great Wall of Topeka. Loewenstein is serving as the lead artist for the ninth panel on the wall, of which the theme is How Topeka Got Its Name. He has served as lead artist on four other panels at the Great Mural Wall of Topeka, S.W. 20th and Western.
The wall was started in 2006 when Chesney Park Neighborhood Improvement Association members power-washed a 60-foot section of the 11-foot-tall wall of a former water reservoir. The wall stretches 900 feet on its east, south, west and north sides. Panels include a Tribute to Grant Cushinberry, The Road From Brown v. Board, Reanimating the Arts in Topeka, the Kansas Women’s Mural and more. Other lead artists have been Ashley Jane Laird and KT Walsh. Panels have been painted by neighborhood children, Topeka High School students and people from all around the city. “One thing has led to another,” Loewenstein said. “It’s really a grassroots effort.”

Ashley Russell, a Washburn University student, is Loewenstein’s assistant for this panel. He hopes Russell will be able to serve as a lead artist on a future panel. However, space is quickly vanishing as more panels are added. About 50 people stopped by last weekend to help Loewenstein during community paint days. People again were welcome to paint Saturday — the threat of rain kept some away. The last community paint day for this panel will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. However, people are always invited to stop by and lend a hand — or brush. “I think by the end of the month we should be done,” Loewenstein said.

Planning for How Topeka Got Its Name began in the fall with a design process, Loewenstein said. Jimm GoodTracks, of the Ioway Tribe, and others helped research how Topeka received its name. The word “Topeka” comes from an Ioway word meaning “a good place to dig for potatoes” (also called prairie potatoes or prairie turnips). “It was a staple crop for that tribe,” Loewenstein said. “It was an important food source.” The panel will show the prairie potato plant and members of the Ioway tribe showing others the plant. It also will depict a classroom teacher telling the “folk story” about how a Native American looked down at his moccasin and discovered his toe peeking out — thus leading founding fathers to name the town Topeka. “This is an opportunity to talk about some of the Native American heritage and folk stories,” Loewenstein said.

The muralist encourages everyone to help him out Sunday. Participants don’t have to be artists, and all materials will be provided.“This is a muralist’s dream come true,” Loewenstein said of the Great Mural Wall of Topeka. “There is so much great collaboration.”

Ann Marie Bush can be reached at (785) 295-1207 or
Follow Ann Marie on Twitter @AnnieScribe.