Van Go JAMS artists unveil new mural in the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center

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Dozens of people gathered in the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center Wednesday night to view the new mural by Van Go’s apprentice artists. 

This spring’s Jobs in the Arts Make Sense (JAMS) program allowed 20 high school students to collaborate on a large-scale mural and five smaller works in the center’s Dr. Roger L. Boyd classroom. 

Since the session began eight weeks ago, Van Go artists have spent their after-school hours working with wetlands staff to create and execute these pieces of art. Several students were even recognized for achieving perfect attendance, which is no small feat considering they worked on the mural Monday through Friday. 

“Seeing how important the wetlands are to our community — and getting to put their time and creativity into showcasing that — is just really important for the youth,” said Sarah Humbert, Van Go’s office and development coordinator. 

Thanks in part to a sponsorship from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission’s Innovative Partnerships Grant, the artists were paid for their work and learned real-world skills as a result. 

Adelia “LeStat” Wilson said her experience with Van Go taught her far more than how to mix paint; she learned how to cash a check, manage tax documents and be a better team player by creating these pieces of art.

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Adelia “LeStat” Wilson, who said she thought she might have to drop out of school at age 14 to help provide for her family, said Van Go taught her life skills that she may not have otherwise learned.

“Van Go has helped me get to the point where I am now,” said Wilson, who will soon graduate from school. “Van Go has been there for me during the hardest times in my life.”

Before the students started working together on the paintings, they met with wetlands staff to brainstorm. Next, they spent weeks coming up with rough drafts before finalizing and presenting their plans.

Art director Rick Wright describes the last few weeks of the process as “a flurry of activity.” 

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times “Sometimes it seemed like it went by in about three days, and other times it felt like six months,” art director Rick Wright said of the eight weeks it took to create the mural. The process began with a meeting between Van Go and wetlands staff. From there, the students brainstormed rough drafts and refined their ideas before presenting to Discovery Center folks. Once staff gave the green light, the students got to work.

“We had the five round panels on the floor; we had scaffolding; we had youth climbing up on it and climbing up the wall,” Wright said, laughing. “I’m very thankful we did not make any large messes with that.” 

Many students expressed gratitude toward Van Go for giving them a space to create art with like-minded individuals. 

“I’ve always wanted to find a place to make art with other artists, and Van Go was the perfect for that,” said Ruby “Ru” Yother, a 15-year-old artist who has worked with Van Go only once before. “Van Go has helped me become a better artist, and definitely a better team player.”

Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times “My time at Van Go was very fun, and I’ve met so many incredible people,” said Ruby “Ru” Yother. “I’ve had a lot of fun this session, just meeting friends and learning how to paint a mural.”
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Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Artists in Van Go’s spring Jobs in the Arts Make Sense (JAMS) program gather in front of the mural they’ve spent the past eight weeks working on, May 10, 2023.
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Van Go co-executive directors Eliza Darman, left, and Kristen Malloy kicked off the ribbon cutting ceremony by welcoming everyone in the crowded room.
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times “Nature is something that inspires; nature is something that heals; nature is something that we can learn from,” said Irene Unger, director of the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center, in her speech. “This mural is going to be an important part of our mission to educate youth and to educate everybody.”
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times The mural is in the Dr. Roger L. Boyd classroom in the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center, 1365 North 1250 Road. Twenty high school students have spent their after-school hours working on the paintings four days per week for the past two months.
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times The completion of these projects marks the end of 16-year-old Barack Bennett-Robinson’s sixth session with Van Go. Bennett-Robinson said being involved with the program helped him process his grandmother’s death last summer, and described Van Go as “probably one of the best parts of my life.”
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Kelly Moomau, left, and Alyssa Redick pose for a photo in front of the mural.
Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times Peter Fakunmoju, left, and Olakunld Akinniyi take a selfie.

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Chloe Anderson/Lawrence Times In addition to the large-scale mural on the classroom’s back wall, Van Go artists also painted five smaller, circular panels.

Note: A cutline in this post has been corrected from a previous version.

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Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.

You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.

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