Overland Park committee reviews designs for proposed murals, art installations downtown

A mural designed by by Donald “Scribe” Ross depicting a western meadowlark, the Kansas state bird, is planned for the wall of a building fronting 80th Street.

Thirty-four years ago, Overland Park was nationally recognized as the city that almost decided white was not a tasteful enough color to allow on the White Castle burger restaurants that had begun to spring up around town. Some city officials wanted beige instead.

Artist Emily Alvarez’s design for one of the panels on the mural installation that would face the clocktower plaza in downtown Overland Park.

This year business color schemes are once again on the city docket – this time as city planners decide whether vivid murals splashed over the sides of buildings can be an allowable exception to the downtown city code.

The murals are one part of several art works that will further change the downtown landscape, if approved. Also included are a sculpture and eight mosaic-tiled benches. The city council’s community development committee reviewed the art Wednesday night.

The murals depict different scenes. One features the meadowlark — the Kansas state bird — and another a bluegill well known by Kansas anglers. Another mural, slated for the side of the building where Ten Thousand Villages is — shows women in traditional dress of their countries making crafts. The fourth installation, which will include four separate panels,  symbolizes the creativity and cooperation of a multi-racial community, according to a description provided to council members.

The murals are part of a plan to create wayfinding through art, and are funded as part of a grant the InterUrban ArtHouse obtained from the National Endowment for the Arts.

No city money is going into the project and the art is all being placed on private property with the cooperation and input of the owners. But the project will still need approval from the city planning commission because it will require a deviation from the architectural standards in the downtown code. The planning commission is scheduled to hear it May 13.

Although no action on the murals was required of the committee, some members asked for reassurance that there was enough communication with downtown residents about them.

“Those of us who have been on the council for a while and done some art selection around the city are aware that not everybody appreciates the same pieces of art,” said committee chairman Curt Skoog. He added that he’s received some emails from people commenting on the artwork.

Councilmember Faris Farassati also asked about city communication with the neighborhood and was told that neighbors within 200 feet were notified and that meetings have been publicized.

For downtown neighbors the proposed murals will be another major change for an area that has had many the past couple of years, said Ralph Beck. Beck, who organized a protest against the loss of the gazebo and other changes to the former Santa Fe Commons Park, attended the committee meeting but did not speak.

But he said afterward that the people he’s talked to question what the murals have to do with the history of downtown. Those downtown neighbors have already dealt with parking issues that came with construction of new apartment buildings, a proposal to move the Farmer’s Market into the park and the redesign of the park itself. “They’ve been through a lot,” he said. “It’s just the feeling of when is this going to stop?”

However Beck said there is no current plan to launch a protest of the murals.

A mock up of one of the mosaic benches planned for downtown Overland Park.

Skoog stressed that the city will not be able to weigh in on the artistic merit of the murals, only whether the big paintings will be an acceptable way for businesses to cover their exterior walls.

Regardless of how that comes out, the committee did give its blessing to a sculpture and some benches, also for downtown. The sculpture, Aurora VII by Tom Corbin, is of a woman with arms upraised and will be located at the northwest corner of 80th Street and Conser Street. It will cost $25,000 including delivery and installation costs. That money was budgeted last year.

The eight benches have various mosaic designs. Two will be located at the Matt Ross Community Center, three at the Farmer’s Market and one in Thompson Park. The other two are at the intersection of 80th Street and Overland Park Drive and 80th Street and Conser Street.

The benches cost $15,000 for all eight, including installation and landscaping.