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Mural Project Covers Two Walls On Kansas City's East Side With Colorful, Deep Meaning

The air was crisp and the sun was high Friday afternoon as a small group of people assembled in the amphitheater at the athletic fields at 9th and Van Brunt in Kansas City, Mo. They’d come by bus to hear artist José Faus say a few words about his new mural, “The Sun and the Moon Dream of Each Other,” one of two new murals commissioned over the summer by the MAPIT, Mural Arts Program Inspiring Transformation.

On hand was Scott Wagner, councilman for the 1st District and mayor pro tem of Kansas City. Two years ago, Wagner spearheaded this mural project as an anti-graffiti initiative. The unveiling of these two new murals on Friday brought the number of completed MAPIT murals in the city to five. Robin Case was the lead artist for a mural at the Brush Creek Community Center; Phil Shafer led the work at Kansas City North Community Center; and Michael Toombs was the lead muralist at Budd Park (after being vandalized, Toombs' piece has been removed for repair). 

Wagner was eager to show off the new projects.

“This is really one of those opportunities where you can get a two-for-one,” Wagner said. “The reality is that we have areas of the city where graffiti is a problem. People come and tag buildings and it sends a message into a neighborhood that this is an unsafe place, whether that’s true or not.”

But, Wagner said, “You put up a mural like this and now you are suggesting that not only is this area well-maintained and welcoming, but now this is a place where things are creative. It is a much different message.”

On the freshly painted wall were two opposing women, draped in fabric and holding children. Faus explained the duality of the two female figures.

“On one side you have a figure with an apprehensive gaze,” he said. “And on the other side, you have almost this beatific look of the mother holding the newborn. The idea here is that there is the reality of living and then there are our dreams and aspirations on the other side.”

Next stop on the tour was Grove Park Pool at Truman Road and Benton Boulevard. On the wall of the pool building there, Héctor Casanova’s “Breach” depicts two full-scale plesiosaur skeletons diving through the water beneath a fiery sky. One plesiosaur's spine bristles with human figures illustrating the industrial revolution, the rise of cities and the digital age.

Competing with the noise of traffic from nearby I-70, Casanova explained that he wanted to remind locals that 65 million years ago, Kansas City was covered in water. But the mural carried a deeper meaning as well.

“The entire thrust of modern civilization has been predicated on fossil fuels and without dinosaurs, we wouldn’t have fossil fuels," he said. "We wouldn’t have had the industrial revolution. We wouldn’t have achieved the opulence and the the state of prosperity that we have as a society. We would still be a pre-industrial society. So I think we owe more to dinosaurs than we tend to acknowledge.”

As everyone headed back to the bus, Edward Bell, who represents the 5th District on the city's Public Improvements Advisory Committee, lingered a bit to gaze upon the plesiosaurs.

“That’s what real art does. It has a visual effect, but also there should be layered effects that go along with the art that speak to the emotion and speak to the creativity inside of a person,” Bell said.

He said he could imagine future conversations between young swimmers and their parents after a day at the pool.

“Of course it’s going to start on the surface level, with a kid just seeing a dinosaur or two. But then you begin to see the transition of human culture, of human progression, and it creates a space to think about where we could go next.”

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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