their mark on boarded-up buildings
From blighted to beautiful. Northeast Kansas City organizations partnered together to turn vacant and abandoned buildings into pieces of art. Local artists gathered on a rainy Saturday on September 17, 2011 to paint the boards, which were installed at 3512 Independence Avenue. At the request of KCMO and Public Safety Committee, 12 artists participated in the painting of 18 panels on Saturday. The panels are then used to cover the windows at the abandoned apartment buildings in Missouri’s Northeast Neighborhood. This “Window Dressing” project was organized by Northeast Arts KC. The organization hopes that this was just the beginning of countering urban blight in their historic community. Kids from the Mattie Rhodes Center painted 5 panel boards to go on the front, second floor of 3512. Even with the rain on 9-17-2011 it was a great time for all who participated.
Several passersby stopped to peer up at the buildings at 3512 and 3516 Independence Avenue.
Some looked perplexed and studied the buildings for several minutes.
“What are you guys doing?” one pedestrian asked.
Call it urban art – a way to transform abandoned buildings into temporary masterpieces. Instead of staring at white boarded up windows and doors, pedestrians could now witness the work of local artists.
In one window, Alfred Hitchcock struck his famous pose and in another, a blue monster craved a duck for dinner. There were painted dragons, a sock monkey, a street scene and more.
One by one, city contractors installed the eclectic boards.
The idea for the art project began with the Public Safety Committee of Northeast HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Public Safety). Committee members bemoaned the number of abandoned buildings in Northeast and how it added to the blight of a neighborhood. They wanted to find a solution.
Officer Jason Cooley suggested the committee consider Cleveland, Ohio’s project that used chalkboard paint on abandoned buildings. From there, the idea grew and several area organizations became involved, including the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, which selected the two buildings, Northeast Arts KC, which gathered the artists to paint and provided supplies, and Mattie Rhodes, which wants youth in its after-school program to paint several boards.
Leslie Caplan, chair of HELP’s Public Safety Committee, contacted the city and received their blessing.
“They were really on board from the get-go,” Caplan said.
“I have contractors that paint boards white. We have no creativity,” City of Kansas City Neighborhood Preservation Division Manager Nathan Pare said. “It (painted boards) brings some character to the neighborhood and a sense of community to those going by. It makes you feel good that people are doing something and there’s something they can do to make an impact.”
Before city contractors installed the decorated boards on September 21, the buildings were two eyesores, Chamber of Commerce President Bobbi Baker Hughes said.
“It was depressing,” she said. “This brightens things up and gives you some inspiration, some get up and go. It also creates a better impression of the neighborhood for both residents and those passing through.”
“They just see a boarded up building and they get an impression of our community that’s not real. It’s perception versus reality. The reality of the community is the life that you see in these pictures.”
City Council member Scott Wagner attended the art installation and said he couldn’t pick a favorite, but that his sons would probably favor the sock monkey.
“I’m excited about the project,” he said. “It’s another example of neighborhoods reclaiming their neighborhood. This is one of those things where a neighborhood can’t buy these buildings, they can’t reconvert these buildings, but what they can do is make an effort to make it a little bit better, so the neighborhood looks a little more inviting.”
Soon, more neighborhoods will “look a little more inviting” as Northeast Arts KC plans to continue the project. Pare said the city will provide boards and install them as long as there’s interest.
“We just want to do something good for our community,” said Rebecca Koop, executive director of Northeast Arts KC. “There are plenty of buildings that are boarded up. Ultimately, we’d like to see the buildings repurchased and somebody back in there, but in the meantime, we have something a little better and more interesting to look at.”
Window Dressing can be a start of something Beautiful!