When the American Jazz Museum unveils a new mural during First Friday festivities on November 4, it won't just reflect the 18th and Vine District's lively and colorful jazz history. It's also a statement about today, its lead painter says.
"This project is an effort to show the community how important it is to work together," says lead artist Michael Toombs, the founder and director of Storyteller's Inc.
More than 750 people have helped paint the mural since work began in August, Toombs says. Nine panels, each of which is eight feet tall, will connect for a piece that's 36 feet wide.
"We have images of 18th and Vine back in the day, when people came from all over the metropolitan area, as well as from all over the world," Toombs says. "People were able to come together and enjoy communing with each other, with jazz as the foundation underneath that opportunity. We wanted this mural to depict that story."
The effort was conscious response to a divisive election season and a summer of violence in communities and around the world.
"We coined the phrase: Spill paint, not blood," Toombs says. "We felt that this project, at this particular time, would exhibit to our community how we could all come together and work on something depicting images of people working together. As you can see, there's a multi-cultural group of jazz artists and performers who participated in various events throughout history in the 18th and Vine District."
The images were selected from photographs provided by Michael Sweeney, the jazz museum's director of collections.
"We went through and structured them as a collage, then reversed out the colors so they would become an illustration," Toombs explains. After Boelte-Hall printed the panels, he says, "We had people come in and paint them like a big coloring book."
Regular coloring books featuring the images are also planned, as are T-shirts.
“We wanted to make visible the connections between jazz and the community," says the Jazz Museum's executive director, Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, calling the mural "a legacy art piece for our community to enjoy now, and for generations to come.”
Harmony on the Vine: Spill Paint Not Blood, is unveiled at 6 p.m. on Friday, November 4, and will be on display in the atrium of the American Jazz Museum, 1616 East 18th Street, Kansas City, Missouri.
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.