Most downtown dwellers and workers in Wichita are keenly aware of the city’s Douglas underpass.
It’s musty, dark and populated primarily by pigeons (and their poop).
However, that stretch of walkway – west of Union Station and east of Naftzger Park – remains one of the primary connectors between Old Town and downtown Wichita.
This Final Friday, a collaborative of Wichita arts groups are teaming up to make walking under the bridge downtown a little less messy.
For “Under the Bridge,” those groups – the North End Urban Arts Festival, the Yellowbrick Street Team and the Wichita chapter of the League of Creative Interventionists – are bringing in LED lights, a DJ and a graffiti artist for a pop-up experience at the underpass.
There’s already been some concrete improvements to the space. The city power-washed the pigeon poop off the sidewalk just the other day, according to Thomas Dalton, co-founder of the North End Urban Arts Festival. The festival happens in the NoMar Market area near 21st and Broadway every fall.
But what about the pigeons? Will people really come to an art experience in an area where pigeons fly low overhead and frequently drop droppings?
“We hope to scare them away as we get set up Friday,” Dalton said. “With any luck, there will be minimal pigeon interference.”
The makeshift gallery, funded by an Up the Ambition Grant from the Wichita Community Foundation, will pop up again at Final Fridays in July and August.
Perhaps the idea of art in the underpass is not so foreign, after all: A city of Wichita study in 2012 proposed adding public art to the underpass and significantly upgrading the pedestrian experience. The city released a proposed design for the space in 2014. The project is still in the works; the first phase – which will include lights, color and “pigeon mitigation” – is scheduled to be complete by March, when the NCAA tournament comes to Wichita, according to Downtown Wichita.
Dalton is using the opportunity to promote graffiti artists – this Final Friday, local graffiti artist Sam Agoita will paint a 12-by-18-foot graffiti panel during the exhibition. Graffiti artists are featured in the annual North End Urban Arts Festival, but “Under the Bridge” gives them the opportunity to be seen by the Final Friday masses, Dalton said.
“We’ve always had these great panel of graffiti artists, and we’ve always wanted to show them off, and this was right after the time the (city) did their initial study for the Douglas underpass,” he said. “We thought this would be a great place to show off the panelists and get them more exposed to the downtown crowd.”
“Under the Bridge” will also feature a mural on which attendees can paint and share their vision for the area under the bridge.
Jenny Wiley, a fellow at the Wichita chapter of the League of Creative Interventionists – launched earlier this month – said she hopes people who come to “Under the Bridge” will imagine possibilities for the ugly “but pretty critical gateway in between Old Town and downtown.”
It’s the latest piece of creative placemaking in downtown Wichita – Gallery Alley, which transformed a narrow alley into a community hangout just west of the underpass, just opened last month.
“It’s kind of scary. … It’s just not the most pleasant place to walk through,” Wiley said of the underpass. “We thought (‘Under the Bridge’) would a great space to really illustrate what transformation can happen with just a little bit of elbow grease.”
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