Lawrence community members gather to celebrate Indigenous artists’ works on bus shelters

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Community members gathered at Haskell LIGHT student center and campus ministry Sunday to celebrate six local Indigenous artists and their works decorating 10 Lawrence bus stop shelters.

This project was begun in collaboration with the Indigenous Community Center (ICC) and Lawrence Transit in late 2021, after receiving funding from the Douglas County Community Foundation. 

For the artists, the illustrations are more than visual; they are spiritually connected, too. 

Full-time artist Mona Cliff, Gros Ventre tribe of Montana, illustrated the “Dear Deer” and “Baker Wetlands” pieces at Haskell Indian Nations University and 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue, respectively. These illustrations were personal to Cliff because of her spiritual connection with deer.

“‘Deer’ was one of my names given to me at 12 years old and so I have a special connection to them,” Cliff said. “Because we used them so much to survive a long time ago, they sacrifice their lives for people so that we can feed ourselves.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Mona Cliff speaks to community members at the ribbon cutting on Sunday, July 16, 2023 at Haskell LIGHT.

Cliff expressed the importance behind community representation through public art. 

“After doing public art and seeing the importance and how it brings the community together, it’s really become important to be able to represent the Native community so they can see themselves in our city,” Cliff said. “It’s become an important part of my artist practice.”

Included in the community she hopes to represent is her 13-year-old daughter, Mavcyka Beason, an Indigenous artist herself. 

“I feel really proud of her for doing all of this,” Mavcyka said. “I think it’s really cool that a Native woman is doing art [displayed] around town, because we aren’t really represented and she represents a lot of Native people in our culture.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Artists Mona Cliff (left), Odessa Star Comes Out and Tokeya Waci U (Comes Dancing First) Richardson

Another artist, Odessa Star Comes Out, Oglala Lakota tribe of South Dakota, illustrated “Sunkawakan (Horses),” at 33rd and Iowa streets, and “Wogligleya (Design)” at Sixth Street and Monterey Way.

Apart from inclusivity and representation of Indigenous culture, she hopes for this experience to encourage younger Indigenous artists to “never give up, just keep doing your art no matter what.”

The ICC and Lawrence Transit both hope to increase representation of Indigenous art and history throughout Lawrence.

Felice Lavergne, city transit planner II, said after an initial experiment with bus stop art, Lawrence Transit wanted to facilitate the display of Indigenous art throughout the community. 

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Felice Lavergne, transit planner II, speaks during the celebration.

“We really want them to see themselves reflected,” Lavergne said. “The [Indigenous community] are an integral part of Lawrence and we want everyone to see themselves here.”

Adam Weigel, parking and transit manager, also explained the role of the department as facilitators in this project. 

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Mayor Lisa Larsen (left) speaks with Adam Weigel, parking and transit manager.

“We’re just fortunate to have something of a platform for expression. With the buses, bus stops, we are fortunate to have a lot of infrastructure that can be unique or modified,” Weigel said. “Our role was making the invitation: asking if people want to be included and then seeing what comes from it … We’re here to try to facilitate people showing what they want to see.”

Rep. Christina Haswood, Diné, was also in attendance at the ceremony. Haswood emphasized the value of displaying Indigenous art not only throughout Lawrence, but through the state of Kansas. 

“Seeing the artwork at these bus stops can really add that value and comfort to a city and embrace the Indigenous identity. [It’s] telling that story and that history without having to sit down and give an hourlong presentation,” Haswood said. “You can just look out your window at a red light and you’ll see that Indigenous art.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Rep. Christina Haswood

Haswood hopes for these projects to help increase representation of Indigenous culture outside of the Haskell area. 

“There’s always this feeling that the Native American community is only in this area of town,” Haswood said. “We want to expand that and invite the public and invite the Indigenous community to break down those barriers.”

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According to Weigel and Lavergne, Lawrence Transit is open to more collaborations in the future. 

“I think we’re really open to the ideas that come from this and get brought to us,” Lavergne said. “We want it to be what the community wants and that’s pretty exciting.”

Weigel echoed that message and added that a new addition to Lawrence Transit could open more doors.

“With the new Central Station opening, that’s a space that can fit a lot of physical art events, ways for people to make connections with each other,” Weigel said. “It makes me excited about the future. There’s a lot of things we could do.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Artist Tokeya Waci U (Comes Dancing First) Richardson speaks to the crowd.
August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Robert Hicks, a leader of Lawrence’s Indigenous Community Center, speaks to the crowd at the celebration.
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Note: A misspelled name in this post has been corrected.

Natasha Torkzaban (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a current senior at Lawrence High School. She was an editor-in-chief of The Free Press at Free State High School before becoming an editor-in-chief for The Budget at Lawrence High School for 2023-24. Read her work for the Times here.

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