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Boxcar Installation Transforms Downtown Rooftop

courtesy of el dorado, inc.

A landscaped roof at 12th and Walnut, in the Power & Light District of downtown Kansas City, is now an art space and community focal point with the addition of a new sculpture called “Prairie Logic." The custom-fabricated boxcar marks a collaboration between Janet Zweig, a Brooklyn-based artist, and Kansas City-based architecture firm, el dorado, inc.

Commissioned by the city of Kansas City, Missouri, as part of the One Percent for Art program, “Prairie Logic” sits on a railway track amid a field of bluestem grasses. According to the artist, the work represents Kansas City's position in the country as railway hub and gateway to the West.

Video by Julie Denesha/KCUR

Adding visibility to a green roof

It's the day of the installation for "Prairie Logic." Porter Arneill, Director and Public Art Administrator for the Municipal Art Commission, waits on a rooftop near 12th and Walnut surrounded by high-rise buildings.

"We’re up on a 6th floor of a parking garage right downtown," describes Arneill. "Which is a remarkable green space that a lot of people don’t know about. And this may help them learn more."

Far below, the street’s closed off. A crane is at the ready for two train wheel assemblies and a full-sized modified boxcar to arrive.

It’s all part of a new public art installation called "Prairie Logic," a 1 percent for art project created by artist Janet Zweig and el dorado, inc.:  a boxcar flanked by newly planted native prairie grasses.

"Today, it’s a slightly windy day and it’s just beautiful to see them blowing in the wind," says Arneill. "The grasses themselves become such a wonderful, poetic and natural element up here. It’s really delightful."

Support the weight of a massive art project

The crane lifts the massive assemblies, and workers put them in place.

"These are actual wheel and truck assemblies, from an actual boxcar," says el dorado's Dan Maginn, "They weigh about 8000 pounds each, so a total of 16,000 pounds – about 8 tons."

Steel beams support this weight – and the load of the 40-foot boxcar - on the parking garage, according to Maginn. And the boxcar has been altered – the sides are perforated, and the roof clad with corrugated steel. At night, fluorescent lights will make it appear to glow.

History of Kansas City as a transportation hub

According to Maginn, scale was one of the challenges of this project:  "How can you really occupy the space, a site this big, and have something not be too big and not be too small, but sort of be appropriately scaled for the space and for both someone visiting in person, as well as someone looking down from the 20th story of One Kansas City Place?"

The native prairie grass on one side provides a juxtaposition to a narrow strip of manicured grass. And Maginn says, for the sculpture, artist Janet Zweig took inspiration from the city’s history as a rail hub.

"Kansas City has this tradition of transportation, both coming through from one place to another. For some people, it’s a destination. For others, it’s where you embark," Maginn says. "And that really fascinated her (Zweig), the idea of this sort of lonely boxcar on the roof, amidst this prairie grass."

Engaging and interacting in an unexpected place

Theatre artist Lisa Cordes will curate occasional performances at the site. The boxcar doors open to reveal a space that can be used as a stage. There's also a small gravel-paved area where audiences can gather. Cordes says this adds to her roster of performances in unexpected places.

"Churches, schools, the street, alleys," recalls Cordes. "Years ago, I organized performances at two dozen different metro stops between downtown and Midtown.

"And being outside, also, because I did run the (Heart of America) Shakespeare Festival for four years. This is reminding me a little of that because we are going to be battling the elements."

The first performance at the site is intended as a "celebration and an opening," featuring music that calls to mind trains and journeys, such as antique pop from Victor and Penny and blues from Cadillac Flambé.

Cordes adds that due to the nature of the space, a garage roof, there will always be a rain date.

A grand opening for "Prairie Logic" takes place Friday, October 5, 5 - 7 pm, on the roof of Block 110 Garage, 12th and Walnut. Performances include music by Betse Ellis and Jason Beers, Diverse, Victor and Penny, and Cadillac Flambé.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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