For first time, Van Go’s Arts Train program adds own mural to organization’s efforts

photo by: Mike Yoder

Apprentice artists with Van Go's Arts Train program created the mural "The Art of Listening," which was unveiled Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

The annual unveiling of a mural completed by apprentice artists with Van Go is a familiar sight in Lawrence.

Typically, one community mural is crafted each year by apprentice artists in the arts-based social service agency’s JAMS program geared toward 14- to 18-year-olds. What isn’t so familiar, though, is two of those projects being completed and unveiled in quick succession. But that’s exactly what happened this year as, for the first time, apprentice artists involved in the Arts Train program for young adults age 18 to 24 tackled a mural project of their own.

“…We had an amazing opportunity that was provided for us by Kansas Suicide Prevention Headquarters, where they came to us with this offer of wanting to commission a mural for their outdoor space,” Kristen Malloy, one of Van Go’s co-directors, told the Journal-World Thursday. “So it came at a (good) time and just was an opportunity for us to engage our 18- to 24-year-old group in creating their very first mural.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

From left are Leon Gomes, Ian Hoopes, Tiffany Jimboy, Regan Neeley, Allie Lathrom, Stella Grove, Inca Amen, Stone Ocsody, Michael Moorer, June Hackney and Courtney Purvis.

The result was two unveilings back-to-back, Malloy said, one earlier this month and the other last Wednesday. The JAMS group’s completed piece, “Interconnected,” is now on prominent display inside the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center, and the Arts Train piece, “The Art of Listening,” adorns an exterior wall at KSPHQ.

photo by: Mariah Seifert

Earlier in May, apprentice artists with Van Go’s JAMS program unveiled this mural, titled “Interconnected,” at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center, 1365 N. 1250 Road.

Following a successful process, Van Go’s leaders told the Journal-World that the hope is this won’t be the last time Arts Train artists complete a mural. They’ll be keeping an eye out for any agencies or organizations who are hoping to commission a mural of their own, and added that spring is always a good time to add more projects like this to the agency’s list.

“This has been met with such great success and reception and certainly any opportunity that we have for our youth to be able to participate in mural projects, whether it’s our JAMS program or our Arts Train program, is just an amazing opportunity,” Malloy said.

For fellow co-director Eliza Darmon, “The Art of Listening” represents a collaboration between two grassroots nonprofits with a similar history. Darmon said the two agencies both came into being after an individual saw a need in the community and rose to meet it, and they’ve both evolved over the years to become “fixtures in the social service landscape of Douglas County.”

For KSPHQ, that extends even further to the entire state of Kansas. The agency has been a key cog in connecting Kansans with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, especially as it switched to the 988 dialing code last year. With that work in mind — listening with intention to folks going through a crisis — it makes for a fitting title for the finished mural.

“It’s kind of a nice parallel to see how things can start with one caring individual and then what it can blossom into,” Darmon said. “…There’s a lot of great muralists in this town, and the fact that they chose us is really meaningful. It employed 11 youth to help create that mural and the mental health piece really ties to our mission, as well.”

Malloy said most importantly, the apprentice artists were greeted with a good reception at both unveilings, which itself is a crucial part of Van Go’s work.

After all, the importance of public artwork is one of the agency’s key tenets, Darmon said. It’s recognized by the entire community and then stands the test of time as something former Van Go artists can go back to and see themselves reflected in for years to come.

photo by: Mariah Seifert

Twenty apprentice artists with Van Go’s JAMS program worked to create the new mural at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center.

“…That’s what these ribbon cuttings and unveiling celebrations are about, to showcase their hard work and their talents, and then for them to get that recognition that builds their self-confidence and helps them see the value in the work that they’ve done,” Malloy said.

An artist with each program spoke at both unveiling events and, in their own words, even just having the opportunity to work at Van Go has made a substantial impact on their lives. LeStat Wilson, who was a part of Van Go’s spring JAMS cohort, talked about how working at Van Go taught important life lessons and provided a haven during a difficult time in life.

photo by: Mariah Seifert

LeStat Wilson, an artist with Van Go’s JAMS program, speaks during the unveiling event for the “Interconnected” mural at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center.

Arts Train’s Inca Amen, meanwhile, said Van Go became much more than just a job.

“It’s a home, a resting place for souls, still trying to find their way through the maze of this world,” Amen’s speech from last week’s unveiling reads. “I really do mean it when I say the memories I made here will stick with me for the rest of my life.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

Stella Grove, in the front at left, and Inca Amen, who is holding the microphone, speak during a ribbon cutting for a new mural, “The Art of Listening,” that’s now installed at Kansas Suicide Prevention Headquarters, 2110 Delaware St., Suite B. The pair are both Van Go apprentice artists, and part of a group of 11 total artists who completed the new mural.

Now, Van Go is working to hire a new Arts Train group over the summer, as well as a JAMS group later on. And the focus is shifting toward the next flagship project in the agency’s yearly rotation — the Benchmark program. Malloy said hiring is complete for the JAMS group that will be creating the benches, which each year are commissioned by businesses, families and others often to be displayed somewhere in Lawrence.

Work to craft the latest batch of benches of the hundreds that have been created to date will begin June 5, and they’ll be unveiled Friday, July 28 at 5:30 p.m. An announcement about this year’s bench clients is coming soon, Malloy said.


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