Mural honoring front-line workers planned for one of downtown’s largest buildings

photo by: Courtesy: Van Go Inc./City of Lawrence

Local nonprofit Van Go Inc. has filed plans to hang a mural on a portion of the US Bank Tower at Ninth and Massachusetts Street. The rendering above shows the basic concept of the mural, but the images shown in the rendering aren't the images that will ultimately be painted. A group of student artists will determine the actual images once the project begins.

I suspect there are times when waiters and waitresses serving me wished they were 8 feet tall. It would allow them to stand back farther when putting another basket of chips and salsa in front of me. Well, soon, there may be 8-foot-tall servers in downtown, but not quite that way.

Instead, plans have been filed to paint a mural on one of the biggest buildings in downtown Lawrence. The mural will honor “essential workers,” especially those in the food industry.

The Lawrence-based nonprofit Van Go Inc. is seeking city approval for a nearly 50-foot-wide and 8-foot-tall mural on the side of the US Bank Tower at Ninth and Massachusetts streets.

City commissioners are scheduled to give the project its final approvals at Tuesday evening’s City Commission meeting.

Some details of the project, though, still remain to be worked out, such as exactly what the mural will look like. In its application to the city, Van Go said the artwork will consist of seven panels that are 8 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Each panel will contain a separate image.

Exactly what those images will be isn’t entirely decided yet. Instead, a team of artists ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old will be working on creating those images over an eight-week period. So, the image at the top of this article is meant to provide an idea of the overall size and shape of the project, but the images on the board are just placeholders. Van Go leaders and the group of students — the team is expected to have about 20 students — will determine the images as they talk with front-line workers around the city.

A good number of those front-line workers will be people in the food industry. Watching the work those individuals did during the pandemic sparked the idea for the mural, said Eliza Darmon, co-executive director of Van Go.

“When the idea for a mural came up, that was the time that all the restaurants were banding together to serve school lunches during the pandemic,” Darmon said. “There has just been so many things that have reminded us how essential these workers are.”

In addition to the front-line worker focus, the images also will be culturally diverse and will particularly represent the BIPOC — Black, Indigenous, and other people of color — community, Darmon said.

Soon after getting the idea, Van Go partnered with the Lawrence Restaurant Association and Downtown Lawrence Inc. to begin applying for grant funding for the mural. Darmon said Van Go wanted the mural to be downtown and in a location surrounded by restaurants.

“We want those workers to see it regularly and feel honored,” she said.

The mural will be on a part of the bank tower that faces to the east, making it most visible from Ninth Street. It is basically right across the alley from Milton’s and across the street from the Bourgeois Pig and several other establishments. The photo below gives you an idea of where the mural will be placed.

photo by: Courtesy: Van Go/City of Lawrence

Van Go Inc. plans to paint a mural on a portion of the U.S. Bank Tower building at Ninth and Massachusetts Street. The mural would be on the portion of the building that faces east and is best seen from Ninth Street.

If you are not familiar with Van Go, it is a longtime arts-based social service agency that serves high-needs and underserved youths. One of its more prominent projects has been the brightly colored park benches that you can find all over town. But the group has done many murals as well.

Van Go ended up getting $16,000 in grant funding from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission. Darmon said she hopes work will begin in September, assuming that the city approves the project. Since the painting will be done on panels, a lot of the work will be done inside Van Go’s studio. She believes the artwork will be done in November, although it is unclear when it will be hung on the building. That will be dependent on weather and will be coordinated with US Bank, which Darmon said has been a great partner in the project.

“Whenever we hang it, we’re definitely going to have a celebration,” Darmon said.

Once it is up, Darmon said she hopes it also will become a point of civic pride. She said she thinks it will help reinforce the image of Lawrence as an artistic community, and that it will just be a great conversation piece.

“We hope people will take pictures in front of it and tag Lawrence, Kansas,” she said.


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