Ninth Street Corridor design team to meet with public this week

This week, the city will host a series of public workshops regarding the planned Ninth Street Corridor Project, which aims to refurbish a seven-block section of the East Lawrence neighborhood and connect downtown with the Warehouse Arts District.

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This week’s public art workshops will be held at New York Elementary School, 936 New York St. Wednesday’s workshop will focus on complete street design and landscaping, while Thursday’s topic is the role of public art will have in the project. Both are scheduled for 7 to 9:30 p.m.

The programs, beginning Wednesday at New York Elementary School with a workshop on complete street design and urban landscaping, will give community members a chance to engage with the project’s design team.

Led by Kansas City-based architecture and design firm el dorado, the team includes engineering firm Bartlett and West; landscape architecture firm Coen + Partners; social and architectural historian Dennis Domer; indigenous landscape specialist Kelly Kindscher; and R. Luke Dubois, a multimedia art technician.

Tristan Surtees and Charles Blanc are the team’s lead artists, and together the longtime friends form the Canadian art studio Sans façon based in Calgary.

On a misty Wednesday afternoon in late March, they zigzagged through the East Lawrence neighborhood on a tour led by members of the Ninth Street Corridor Advisory Committee.

That group, made up of neighborhood, city and business representatives, is meant to act as a sounding board for city staff and the design team as the project advances.

“When we start a project, we like to start by listening and learning, rather than imposing a predetermined idea,” said the British-born Surtees, ambling along behind the other dozen tour attendees down an alleyway. “This is the start of that research and understanding, and people have been generous enough to take us around and explain some of the idiosyncrasies.”

Last summer, the Lawrence Arts Center secured a $500,000 grant from ArtPlace America to fund the project, which will extend from Massachusetts to Delaware streets on Ninth Street and integrate public art with planned city-funded street and walkway improvements along the corridor.

K.T. Walsh and members of the Ninth Street Corridor Citizen Advisory Committee, along with other East Lawrence residents, guided Tristan Surtees, Charles Blanc and representatives from the el dorado design firm through East Lawrence on March 25. The team visited Lawrence to meet with developers and visit locations such as the Lawrence Arts Center, New York Elementary School and other East Lawrence landmarks.

The goal, as stated in the Arts Center’s winning grant proposal, is to transform the neighborhood into “a platform for visual and performance art not yet imagined.”

Surtees and Blanc, a trained architect who originally hails from France, are also busy continuing work on Watershed+, a major public art project that aims to “place creativity at the heart” of Calgary’s waterworks. The idea of the assignment is to engage citizens on an emotional level with the infrastructure that maintains water flow within the city.

Past Sans façon projects include shrink-wrapping public artworks in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in Canada, and a giant “You are here” arrow that floated over the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, Wales.

The Midwest, however, is something of uncharted territory to the partners, who have visited Lawrence a handful of times in the last few years.

They’re still in the early stages of developing a plan for the Ninth Street Corridor, but interacting with residents — walking through studios, living rooms and backyards of East Lawrence — has given them a taste of “the texture and character of the place,” Surtees said.

“Calgary is largely about the hidden side of infrastructure, things we don’t see that we take for granted,” he said, referencing the Watershed+ project. “And here, I think, it’s the things we don’t see. It might be cultural, it might be geographic, it might be social — it could be a whole host of things that aren’t immediately apparent to people who are not from East Lawrence.”

Blanc agrees. For him, the project is as much about art as making Ninth Street functional and safe for travelers.

“The technical aspect of infrastructure can support social and cultural aspects. The idea, usually, is that infrastructure is functional, and that social and cultural aspects are different,” he said. “They should support each other. That’s the challenge.”

The second workshop, slated for Thursday, will delve into the role of public art in the project, while the third workshop, scheduled for April 20, will involve site history. Two public presentations are in the works for Aug. 19 and Nov. 18, and will deal with the complete street and design plans, respectively.