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A New Kind Of Wash, Dry, Fold: Art In The Laundromat

Over the next six months, a quiet Midtown laundromat will be transformed into the site for a series of arts events. It’s an experiment - combining different genres including film, poetry, and even culinary arts - with a focus on public-oriented artwork.

An open and friendly place

Inside the Walnut Place Laundromat, at 43rd and Walnut, a sloping entryway leads to a landing overlooking rows of washers and dryers. There’s a circle of plastic chairs and a red patterned rug.

"My name is Walle Badejo," the owner says, as he introduces himself and offers a cup of coffee.

Badejo is from Nigeria and moved to Kansas City to attend school. When he’s not greeting customers here, he’s at his job as a clinical scientist, doing diagnostic testing. He says the laundromat is a public place, as well as a family business – and they try to make it open and friendly.

Cross-pollinating communities

"I’m a two-way street person. If you think in two ways, what benefits me will benefit you," says Badejo. "And that’s the way the world’s supposed to work."

That's one of the reasons he says he opened the door for artist Sean Starowitz to experiment with a new project called Byproduct: The Laundromat. Starowitz says Badejo has already created a sense of community – it’s just inviting more people in.

"You tap into a specific community, and then you grab another community and then you get this beautiful cross-pollination," Starowitz says.

"Chance and risk taking" at the laundromat

Since graduating from the Interdisciplinary Arts program at the Kansas City Art Institute in 2010, Starowitz has collaborated on projects like BreadKC, a series of public dinners raising money for artists and art projects; and Speakeasy, a five-week exhibition that included concerts, readings, and workshops. He says in a laundromat, people are waiting for the wash or dry cycle to finish; he hopes to fill that time with cultural exploration.

"A lot of my work is about unexpectedness," says Starowitz. "And also chance and risk taking.

"One side of the project is setting art events in places that are raw. When it's not in this traditional art space, and setting it in a laundromat will be this sense of invitation. You can have dirty laundry and bring it here. Everybody has dirty laundry."

Starowitz has dubbed the programming at the laundromat as “Wash/Dry/Fold” – a mash-up of different genres. The first "wash" cycle for the opening weekend includes a screening of "My Porcelain Past," a 19-minute documentary about the final hours of a neighborhood restaurant. In the "dry" cycle, poets will read, as part of the locally-curated A Common Sense Reading Series.

Over the next six months, Starowitz envisions classes, conversations, and site-specific projects (while attendees do laundry) – and food, like this from Howard Hanna, chef/owner of The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange.

"Howard Hanna is going to try to sous vide fish in a washing machine. And maybe also use a dryer to pop popcorn," says Starowitz. "Yeah, food will be a big element."

Support for ideas as they "unfold"

The project is funded by Rocket Grants – a partnership between the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art – focused on public-oriented artwork.

"Kansas City is a really great place to stand behind your ideas, because people will support them. It’s really exciting to see," he says. "And I look forward to seeing this thing unfold."

The puns are limitless and Starowitz says he welcomes them. He’s also open to more ideas for the space. A filmmaker has already approached him about creating a laundromat orchestra, based on the sounds - the humming, the beeping – of the machines.

So, stop by, don't forget to bring your dirty laundry, and to expect the unexpected.

Byproduct: The Laundromat launches Saturday. February 9, 2013, 7 pm, at Walnut Place Laundromat, 4241 Walnut Street, Kansas City, Mo. The project continues over the next six months.

The “Artists in Their Own Words” series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

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.
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