'This article was written by Liz Potter, a second year postgraduate researcher in the English Department at the University of York, and a member of the NRG blog team. In it, she discusses Wichita's Horizontes Project, its presence and purpose, and the ways in which it has opened boundaries and allowed for greater community conversation.'
The Horizontes Project, Wichita
With an estimated population of around 644,000, more people call Wichita home than Liverpool, Manchester, or Bristol. Despite being the “Air Capital of the World,” a moniker for the city because of the skilled labor hub of aircraft production, Wichita is often overshadowed by larger Midwestern cities like Chicago. Over the past few years, however, Wichita has attracted plenty of attention from residents and newcomers for the unique economic and cultural factors of the metropolitan area. The South-central city in Kansas is impressively racially and ethnically diverse with large communities of Lebanese, Vietnamese, African-Americans, and Latinos. Historically, the North and Northeast areas are primarily Latino and African-American, respectively, with a massive industrial corridor that acts as a curtain; separating the two communities with towering grain elevators that stretch to over 37 meters high.
Some fear that the renewed interest in Wichita may omit Latino and African-American spaces and voices from future development. To invigorate the discourse, the Horizontes Project has sought after capable and diverse artists that reflect the people who live there. Together with the neighborhoods, the artists have worked alongside the residents and recorded individual stories to better their vision for the future of Wichita. As a result, 19 dynamic murals have been planned. The choice to move forward with murals is unsurprising as Wichita is no stranger to the form. The most famous of Wichita’s murals is Joan Miró’s Personnages Oiseaux (Bird People) completed in 1978 for Wichita State University. The mosaic made of Venetian glass and marble is the only mural of its kind created by the Spanish artist.
Joan Miro, Personnages Oiseaux(1978), after restoration, at the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University. Image owned by Marianne Marti.
Although I’m originally from a small town on the Oklahoma and Kansas border, I felt adopted as a Wichitan swiftly – despite a few sporadic jokes about my slightly twangier accent. My apartment had tall ceilings and antique crystal doorknobs, and across the hall were friendly neighbors that invited me over for cloudy lemonade spiked with bourbon. Despite my comfort in my newfound home, I realized that whenever I extended an invitation to host the next study session with friends, they scrambled for excuses to decline. I boldly asked what their reasoning was and one replied: “your neighborhood isn’t safe – especially at night.”
Over the years, I began to hear this sentiment more often and recognize what it actually meant. The intersection of racial and socioeconomic issues in the Wichita area I called home was a cumbersome and difficult topic for newcomers, like me, to understand. After the American Civil War, many African-American migrants were coming out from slavery in the Southeastern states. Kansas was very hospitable to the migrants, however, the mass exodus meant that the people were allocated wherever there was room. During the Civil Rights Movement era (1955- 68) the process of redlining significantly, and wrongly, affected the thriving African-American and Latino communities in Wichita. Redlining was used by lending bodies, specifically banks via loans, to discriminately either deny loans or demand impossibly high interest for commercial and personal property. Redlining effectively contained African-Americans and Latinos to worker colonies in the city, and restricted personal and cultural freedoms. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968, (also known as the Fair Housing Act) enforcing equitable opportunities for property and housing ownership regardless of race, religion, or national origin.
Sadly, redlining has lingering effects on many cities in the United States. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) created “Residential Security” maps of major American cities to better understand how redlining affected economic and residential growth before the 1950s. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) synthesized their information with the redlining maps from 1935 to 1939, and found that the high-risk and “hazardous” neighborhoods are the same red-lined areas with “hypersegregation” of black and Hispanic residents. Sadly, Wichita closely followed Macon, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama as third for U.S. cities with the highest percentages of neighborhoods marked as “hazardous” with 63.87% in the 1930s. As of NCRC’s findings in 2018, it remains the same with 64% of the communities graded as “hazardous” during redlining still containing the highest concentration of minorities.Perhaps felt by the residents of these neighborhoods best, the communities persist to rebuild, for example, the Mercadito Hispano Nomar, (a busy marketplace for Mexican vendors of food and entertainment) helps build bridges within their community and with other neighborhoods and ethnicities. I remember visiting this plaza, only a few blocks north of my apartment, and indulging in one of Laura’s Super Torta Steak Victoria sandwiches with a mangonada alongside a few of my Vietnamese-American friends. The celebration of cultural history means sharing not just food but also the arts. The Horizontes Project is a reflection of the continued efforts to invigorate Wichita by “prioritizing the needs and vision of neighborhood residents.”While there has been ongoing and deleterious structural neglect of these neighborhoods, the Horizontes Project is hopeful and finds potentional to incite “community pride and deepened connections” through mural art.
The industrial corridor, which can be seen from all major highways streaming through the area, is home to gigantic and prominent grain elevators – one of the most prominent is owned by Beachner Grain Company. Thanks to the investment from the Knight Foundation and Fidelity Bank, with steadfast roots in Wichita, the Horizontes Project secured full funding to paint a massive mural on the elevator.
GLeo,El Sueño Original(2018).
To tackle this gigantic task, Cali-Columbian artist GLeo was invited to design and execute the art with the potential to reunite Wichita. El Sueño Original(The Original Dream) has several figures within different planes of their own existence. For example, the figure farthest left of the mural is a young black man at a ¾ view looking away from the spectator. The side of his face closest to us is smoothly separated, revealing the internal headspace with an androgynous, yet leaning feminine figure with lighter skin and a delicate white headpiece piled atop their head. The artist, GLeo, posted a picture of the detail with a quotation from Antonio Galan, “until the man does not discover his feminine side, he will not feel complete and situated.” This particular section reflects a desire to not only reexamine racial and ethnic boundaries between the two communities but to expand the discourse into a fuller conversation including the fluidity of gender.
GLeo,El Sueño Original far left detail.
The work has now set the Guinness World Record for the largest mural painted by a single artist in the world. Armando Minjarez, project director and curator of Horizontes, told the Wichita Eaglethat the founding goal was not break the record but found that GLeo’s design “could easily break” the previous winner. He was certainly right: in 2008, Jorge López de Guereñu completed Miradas Sobre Bilbao, an acrylic mural which set the record with an impressive length of 38,701 feet. GLeo’s mural on the grain elevator dwarfs Guereñu’s work, measuring well over 50,000 square feet.
The significance of the gargantuan size of the mural underscores the importance of the message, succinctly explained by GLeo as: “the beauty of migrating as a fundamental right.” While immigration has always been a hotbed of discontent for all nations, now, more than ever, the United States is at a crisis point. As of writing this article, the United States government shutdown continues – the longest in history – with failure to reach compromise for funding a $5.7 billion wall on the Southern border with Mexico. Trump’s offers in hopes for compromise included three years of legislative relief for individuals who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. During Barack Obama’s presidency, the program was intended to protect those who came into the United States without documentation as minors. Under Trump’s presidency, the rights of these people have been clouded with uncertainty and fear. On the campaign trail in Arizona in August 2016, Trump promised should he be elected that “we will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants” in reference to both DACA and lawful permanent residents.A second proposal for Trump’s comprise for funding the wall is a three-year extension of Temporary Protected Status program for immigrants who have been displaced by natural disasters, armed violence, or other extreme events to live and work in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 300,000 people currently live in America, thanks to this initiative. Previously, the Trump administration has worked to deport many of these individuals citing the critical word of “temporary.” A federal judge blocked the attempt to eliminate the protections of the 300,000 people from places like Sudan, Haiti, and El Salvador.
The collaborative efforts made by the Horizontes Project and GLeo substantially alter the discourse of the public artwork. The inclusion of local community funding, meeting and working with local artists and citizens, living in the city, and using the images of actual people who lived in Wichita galvanizes the impact ofEl Sueño Original. The exchanges that occur between the artist and the community can be difficult but as artist Tim Drescher reminds muralists that, “if the only thing we do is paint murals, we miss the important political opportunities. We must work in conjunction with others on many levels in a multifaceted community. In the end, murals or other community arts are best seen as part of a larger plan of community organizing and not something in themselves.”Painting a colossal mural is simply not enough to revitalize a community and the Horizontes Project recognizes that. The continuous and ongoing conversations on the parts of the North and Northeast communities with artists and the public shows their determination to not only ask “what is in your horizon?”, but to listen to the answers keenly.
Mitchell, Bruce and Juan Franco. “HOLC ‘Redlining’ Maps: The persistent structure of segregation and economic inequality.” National Community Reinvestment Coalition. 2018.
Horizontes Project. “About the Project” 2018. http://www.horizontes-project.com/about [Accessed 21 Jan. 19].
Riedl, Matt. 2018. “This artwork in north Wichita is so large it broke the world record.” The Wichita Eagle. https://www.kansas.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/keeper-of-the-plans/article222365075.html [Accessed 21 Jan. 19].
McCaskill, N. 2016. “Full text: Donald Trump immigration speech in Arizona.” POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/donald-trump-immigration-address-transcript-227614 [Accessed 21 Jan. 2019].
López, G., Bialik, K. and Radford, J. 2018. Key findings about U.S. immigrants. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/11/30/key-findings-about-u-s-immigrants/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2019].
Hesson, Ted. 2018. “Judge blocks Trump from ending protections for 300,000 immigrants.” https://www.politico.com/story/2018/10/03/immigrants-protections-trump-legal-868126 [Accessed 21 Jan. 19].
Drescher, Tim. “Enemies Within and Without: Pressures to Depoliticize Community Murals.” Eds. Craig Little and Mark O’Brien, Reimaging America: The Arts of Social Change(Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1990), 152.