City leaders to consider proposal to add mural to exterior of public library

photo by: Contributed rendering

This rendering shows a proposed mural depicting stories of local women of color as it would appear on the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.

City leaders are set to consider a mural proposed for the exterior wall of the Lawrence Public Library, including a request that the mural be painted on panels instead of the library itself.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will decide whether to approve the mural, which depicts stories of local women of color. The commission will review recommendations from the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission and Historic Resources Commission regarding the artist group’s request to donate and install the mural on the ground-level concrete wall of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.

Both advisory boards recommended the project, and the Historic Resources Commission included a caveat regarding the surface itself. At the HRC’s meeting last month, minutes indicate that the commission discussed whether the surface preparation and paint application would damage the concrete base, which was formed using wooden boards to imprint a wood-grain texture on the concrete. Ultimately, the HRC voted to recommend the project, but to note in its recommendation that the board-formed concrete is “character-defining” and that the inappropriate removal of the mural has the potential to cause irreversible damage to that feature of the library.

photo by: Lawrence Historic Resources Commission

This image shows the concrete base of the Lawrence Public Library, which was formed using wooden boards to imprint a wood-grain texture on the concrete.

Based on the HRC review, the library’s board of trustees has indicated it is concerned about direct application of the mural to the concrete and is asking the city to consider an alternative application method. The library board sent a letter to the city expressing its continued support for the mural project but asking that the mural be painted on panels rather than directly on the library wall. The letter states that the board consulted with Mural Arts, the city department in Philadelphia in charge of developing and maintaining more than 4,000 public murals throughout Philadelphia.

“Given our community’s specific situation of a new city building and the various architectural awards it has won, (Mural Arts’) recommendation is for the mural to be painted on panels, recognizing minimal damage from anchoring to the building will be necessary,” the letter states. “… We are hopeful that the mural team and city commissioners can strike a compromise that works for all concerned parties.”

The team leading the project, Womxn of Color, began gathering historical and present-day stories of local women of color last year to incorporate into the mural design. The team initially proposed that the mural be painted on the parking garage next to the library but later said that there are technical issues with that surface and that they would like to put the mural on the library itself. The project proposal states that painting the mural on a civic space is a key element of the mission of the project to share the women’s yet-untold stories.

“This project is a celebration of the daily life and work, past and present, of Womxn of Color in Lawrence, Kansas; a monumental honoring of our presence, our creativity, and our labor as indispensable and integral members of this community,” the proposal states.

The proposal also gives reasons for not painting the mural on panels. The first is that, aesthetically, “murals function best when they are integral and incorporated into the architecture.” It also states that, practically, it is less invasive to paint directly on the wall than drilling holes into the concrete to hang the panels and that the added expense and labor required for panels may be beyond the project’s budget.

Ultimately, as a city-owned building, the City Commission has the final say on the proposal. As part of its meeting, the commission will review the proposal and the recommendations from both boards, then consider authorizing the city manager to execute a public mural agreement regarding the project.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

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