Planning begins for ‘reimagining’ of demolished downtown mural

In this file photo from March 6, 2015, Lawrence artist Dave Loewenstein holds a piece of his Pollinators mural after construction workers began to dismantle the artwork at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

Cinder blocks painted with segments of the demolished “Pollinators” mural are stacked on the art studio’s lawn like disjointed puzzle pieces. But inside the East Lawrence studio Sunday, local artist Dave Loewenstein and community members began the work to bring the mural back.

Loewenstein, the muralist behind “Pollinators,” is part of a team of artists and designers who will recreate at least the idea of the mural. The project is being called a “reimagining” of the mural, as it won’t be a replication and will be significantly smaller, but Loewenstein said some of the original themes will remain.

“There’s a really strong connection with the artists that were depicted, and I know that a lot of folks feel really strongly about making sure they are depicted again in some way,” Loewenstein said.

The Spencer Museum of Art commissioned the original mural in 2007 as part of its exhibition on Topeka native and African-American artist Aaron Douglas. The mural, which was adjacent to the farmers market, also featured six other Harlem Renaissance artists with Kansas roots amid a scene of plants, insects and animals.

The mural was painted on a building that was torn down in 2015 to make room for a seven-story apartment and office building near the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The museum partnered with Loewenstein and the new building’s owners, First Management Inc., to create the new mural.

The team of artists and designers for the new mural includes Kansas City artist Nedra Bonds, University of Kansas student Eugene Sarmiento and Lawrence High School student Janada Birdling.

Loewenstein said they are still building their design team and the direction for the new mural, but in Sunday’s discussion they talked about the history, audience and purpose of the mural, as well as its new context in place and time.

“So it’s honoring the past, but responding to the ideas in a new time with some new people involved and a new situation,” he said. “I mean, downtown is different for sure.”

Along with those ideas, Loewenstein said they are also discussing the use of new elements such as tile and mosaic. Planning and design for the new mural will continue in coming months, and Loewenstein said the goal is to begin painting in May.