KC Wall Of Respect Opens At Jewish Community Center Today

KC Wall Of Respect Opens At Jewish Community Center TodayThe Wall of Respect was a mural created in 1967 by Chicago artists representing the Organization of Black American Culture. It fostered Black pride, revitalized the neighborhood and gave birth to a national community mural movement. Some 49 years later, the Wall no longer exists having burnt with the building it was painted on. However, historic photos of the iconic wall were powerful enough to inspire a project in Kansas City that has engaged more than 150 people of all ages and ethnicities from every area of the metro area.

Kansas City's Wall of Respect opens to the public on Thursday, Aug. 9 at the Jewish Community Center (The J), 5801 W 115th Street in Overland Park. The free program begins at 7 p.m. and features a video of the process required to create the installation, a talk back with the artists and educators involved, hands-on activities as well as an ethnic snack buffet. The Kansas City Wall and accompanying activities will be at The J until Aug. 14.

Like the original wall, the Kansas City installation features cultural symbols and images, but the similarities end there. The Kansas City project was created under the direction of The J. It is portable, designed to travel to schools, houses of worship, civic buildings, public festivals and corporations. It is highly interactive and designed for organic growth by the addition of elements created by visitors. It celebrates the cultural contributions of various ethnicities including African American, Native American, Asian American, Jewish and those from the Latino/Hispanic community. The local installation is actually not a formal wall at all. It's a yurt, a wood and canvas tent that is 12 feet in diameter. The outside is a mural in the round with the inside a space where viewers are invited to rearrange elements, leave notes and place personal works of art created at activity stations that accompany the yurt wherever it goes.

The J's Project Director Jill Maidhof laughs when she thinks about her original timeline for the effort.

"I received seed money in late 2016 with a projection of exhibiting the finished product in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original wall. It took twice that long, and a village of professionals and volunteers," she said.

Maidhof built a team to execute project. InterUrban ArtHouse (IUAH), located in Overland Park, was hired to oversee the artwork. The yurt was a design decision made by a team of artists representing the five-featured communities under the direction of IUAH Founder and current Artistic Director Nicole Emanuel. Informed by personal histories and narratives collected by Maidhof during structured story-sharing circles with each community, the artists meshed symbols and features of their cultures in the mural they painted on the outside walls of the yurt.

Drawn by artists, the roof depicts people from all over the globe wearing traditional garb. In an effort to expose people to neighborhoods they rarely if ever visit, Open Paint events were held in different parts of the city, from Union Station to Liberty and American Jazz Museum to Overland Park, to complete the drawings. Each included an orientation to and snacks from a neighborhood establishment, enticing people to enjoy more of Kansas City, to spread ideas and to patronize new vendors.

Sandy Gonsher and Pamela Simmons, award-winning curriculum consultants, were brought on board to create user-friendly presentation guides.

The yurt is available free of charge to organizations throughout the metro area, with the condition that hosts offer at least one educational program in conjunction with the exhibition.

"The yurt is beautiful but viewing it is just a beginning," Maidhof said. "We want people to have an experience that will challenge the way they look at art and grow their ability to see beyond the obvious in order to decode symbols and create meaning. We want it to inspire exploration of cultural identity and the impact that we all have on our city."

After its stay at The J, the Wall of Respect yurt will then be featured at the InterUrban ArtHouse, 8001 Newton Street in Overland Park with free public receptions on Aug. 17 and Sept. 21. On Sept. 29, the exhibit will be displayed during a Tangled Roots Festival featuring music, artwork and hands-on activities. The Wall of Respect is endorsed by Jewish Voices United and made possible by funding from The J, ArtsKC, Liberty Arts Commission, Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts and private contributions. For the exhibition schedule and applications to be a host site, see TheJKC.org/WallofRespect. For more information about this and other Tangled Roots programs, see interurbanarthouse.org/tangled-roots

About "The J"

Established more than 100 years ago, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, "The J," provides a warm welcome to families of all backgrounds. "The J's" all-in-one hub for health, learning and well-being elevates the lives of the lives of the community and its Members with programs of excellence in fitness, sports, theatre, cultural arts, senior adult programming and youth services including summer camps and child development. Everyone can live up at "The J," located in Overland Park, Kansas, and at thejkc.org.

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