Douglas County Commission to consider mural project for underpass that was previously marked with racist graffiti

photo by: Dylan Lysen

A Douglas County project proposes painting a mural on the support structure -- shown here on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 -- that provides an underpass below 31st Street in southern Lawrence. The structure was previously marked with racist graffiti and County Commissioners believe adding a mural could deter such graffiti in the future.

A new public mural could be coming to a Douglas County underpass that was previously marked with racist graffiti.

The County Commission on Wednesday will consider a plan to work with Van Go, a local art-based social service organization, to place a mural on a support structure of an underpass that goes underneath 31st Street in southern Lawrence on its way to the Baker Wetlands Trail.

In October, the commissioners directed county staff to look into the possibility of the mural, which was suggested by a resident who noticed the racist and anti-Semitic graffiti in the underpass. While the offensive markings were painted over, the resident suggested that a new mural could “turn that ugliness into something beautiful,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman said at the time.

The commissioners all agreed at the time that a mural could help deter future graffiti.

According to a memo to the commissioners, the proposed mural is expected to fill a 12-by-52-foot support structure and would cost the county about $15,600. Van Go said it plans to hire 10 to 20 local youth between the ages of 14 and 24 to paint the mural.

Karrey Britt, a spokeswoman for the county, said a mural design had not yet been decided. She said Van Go was expected to work with the commission on design ideas. In the memo, Van Go said it would consider the history of the location for a possible mural design, noting the wetlands and nearby Haskell Indian Nations University as “compelling starting points.”

A timeline for the project was not included, but Van Go said an eight-week project provides the organization with more collaborative research time, while a shorter project would result in some streamlined work.

In other business, the commissioners will meet for a work session to discuss a request from the Ballard Center for $40,000 of ongoing funding for the Douglas County Child Advocacy Center, a support service center for children who have suffered abuse or neglect.

The commission originally received the request as part of its 2021 budgeting process but did not include it in its approved budget. However, the commissioners wanted to continue discussions on the topic and consider adding the funding to the budget later.

The commissioners will also consider spending $42,000 for members of the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to participate in racial equity training with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, also known as GARE.

The purpose of the training is to teach the CJCC members how to apply GARE’s racial equity toolkit, which the council plans to apply to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office. In a memo to commissioners, Criminal Justice Coordinator Mike Brouwer noted the training could also be offered to other county employees so the toolkit could also be applied to other county government agencies.

The County Commission will meet Wednesday at 4 p.m. for a work session and 5:30 p.m. for the regular business meeting. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 956-0019-8053.

Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.

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