2-year project will work with Mexican-American community to create art installation about La Yarda

photo by: File Photo

Young La Yarda residents are pictured at the complex in this historic photo.

The Lawrence Arts Center will lead a two-year project to create an art installation about the La Yarda community in eastern Lawrence.

The art installation, “Finding La Yarda,” will be an “immersive art experience” that will recreate a room from La Yarda using film, sound, art and photography, according to a news release from the Arts Center.

Beginning in 1920, La Yarda, the housing unit built in the woods along the railroad tracks, was home to dozens of Mexican-American railway workers and their families before being destroyed in the 1951 flood. The Arts Center will involve La Yarda families and their descendants as it works to create the art installation.

“This is not a project we’re doing for the community, but with the community,” Project Director Marlo Angell said in the news release. “Finding La Yarda will not be the vision of an artist collective, but an interpretive experience driven by the sketches of past residents, the stories of elders and the dreams of their descendants.”

Angell said she got the idea after visiting the Greenwood Rising Museum in Tulsa, Okla., which intertwined authentic audio recordings, video projections and physical sets to tell the historical story.

Angell previously worked on a documentary on the subject, “Searching for La Yarda,” with filmmaker Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre. The release states the new project will build off of oral histories collected for the film by inviting new conversations about the importance of place, culture and togetherness through the lens of a physical environment. Angell said immersive art seemed like a great way to keep the conversations that arose from the film screenings going, particularly those about recognizing the land.

As part of the project, a creative team of artists will work in close collaboration with former La Yarda residents and their descendants to create an artistically rendered living space from the Santa Fe Apartments. The project will include physical and digital components, as well as a companion photography exhibit that will be displayed throughout the city.

Tactile set pieces, such as brick facades and decorative flowers, will provide physical dimension to the housing units that have only been visible through photographs and paintings. LED screens mounted in windowsills and tabletops will use experimental film to reveal “fleeting moments.” The narrative arc of the films will be based off of new story circles with La Yarda families during the summer of 2022.

Lawrence Arts Center Ceramics Artist-in-Residence Jonathan Christensen Caballero, whose upcoming exhibition has thematic ties to Kansas’s Latino history, will be a key artist on the aesthetic design of this project. His work will include ceramic sculptures in the garden and hands fashioning dresses from flour sacks.

Beyond the Arts Center walls, photographic portraits of living residents and descendants of La Yarda will be taken by photographer Ann Dean and displayed in various locations throughout the city. The large-scale images will highlight the contributions of the Mexican-American community in Lawrence and reach people outside of traditional gallery spaces.

The two-year digital storytelling project will culminate in a walk-through gallery installation in late summer of 2024. Individuals and families connected to La Yarda can email layardafilm@gmail.com to get involved.

The project is made possible by a sub-award from Stories for All: A Digital Storytelling Project for the Twenty-First Century, an initiative hosted by the Hall Center for the Humanities in partnership with the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Kansas and supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Stories for All brings together over forty Kansas-based partner projects dedicated to gathering marginalized and suppressed histories, interconnecting them, and sharing them widely through digital media.


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