New art gallery invites visitors to hear, touch and “imagine your community”

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Whitni Carlson is a freelance writer based in Wichita.

The weather was rough for last Saturday’s “Envision Your Community,” the new show’s debut Envision Arts Gallery space, next to the historic Union Station building in Old Town Wichita. Blowing winds and 10-degree temperatures could deter even the most hardened art connoisseur, but according to Envision gallery and arts program manager Sarah Kephart, the estimated 288 guests were a sign that Kansas is ready to welcome blind or visually impaired and disabled artists.

“By all accounts, the day was a great success,” Kephart said, “We had times when it was hard to weave through all the people here to see these amazing pieces and mingle with the artists. was fun to see the community engaged, because that was the whole point of the show.

A tangible opportunity springs from the gallery’s bright walls, lined with portraits of the 18 featured artists, each alongside an example of the artists’ work in the chosen medium. Envision marketing manager Holly Herring escorted me through the space, pointing out special features such as raised tape lines on the floor for blind or visually impaired guests to trace with their canes to identify codes. Informative QRs under each portrait and artwork.

“We took care to include details such as sound and palpable sculpture to bring the space to life for a wide range of guests – both fellow artists and strolling community members,” Herring said.

The playful opening setup included a photo booth in the front window, a back room for snacks, and a wet bar.

Tactile “Braille” circles highlight the interactive message “Envision____? space at Wichita Gallery. (Whitni Carlson for Kansas Reflector)

In the early afternoon, I sat down with artist Cindi Lopez as she finished her collage. Lopez, who lost her sight in an accident, sat between her parents at a table where visitors could leave mini “Braille” circles adorned with our own photo textures, glitter or stickers to “fill in the blank.” , from which the community envisions the future of the gallery.

Lopez’s bio on the Envision Artist Profile Site calls her “a real ray of light,” and she was that — cracking jokes, calling her mom “a troublemaker,” and teasing her dad that she wasn’t even about to be done with all of them. her colors, even if she glued the final spangle.

“Oh, I love working on my art,” Lopez said, “cutting pictures out of magazines and inventing something new!”

Lopez’s 10-year involvement with Envision has opened doors, with her collages recently featured at both WAVE (a local music venue) and Douglas and Market as part of the public art project, “A Window on Wichita Art.”

Oh, I love working on my art. I cut out pictures from magazines and found something new!

At the evening reception, I spoke with three of the show’s other star performers. When I met Roshunda Holt she was hanging out with a local BVI musician charlie wilk, trying to persuade him to rehearse his full half-hour acoustic guitar set. I asked Holt if she was also a musician, and she laughed.

“I do a bit of everything,” Holt said. “I never tried working with mosaics until Sarah (Kephart) suggested it, and now I do all kinds of sports mosaics for sale – (KC) Chiefs mainly, but I also do baseball and d ‘other football teams – whatever people want.’

Holt has been with Envision since 2015, around the time of his diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that limits the retina’s response to light. Holt’s biography on the Envision website highlights a slew of her recent accomplishments, but what she raves about had as much to do with leadership and empowering others as her own art in the studio.

“I led a string art workshop in my church (St. Mark’s United Methodist) and people loved it! she said. “It was called Building Bridges One Nail at a Time, because, you know, they put the strings on the nails and everyone made friends.”

Artist Roshunda Holt exhibits both her portrait and her artwork at the gallery. (Whitni Carlson for Kansas Reflector)

Holt then took a “selfie” with me, “because I like making friends – that’s just what I like to do.” She then turned around to introduce me to two other artists circling the room: Lauren Bush and Tomiyo Tajiri.

by Bush The video installation channels the artist’s frustration as a blind young adult navigating life and vocational training. When I told Bush I liked her ceramic masks, she smiled and said wryly, “Thank you, it was cool to break the mask in front of the camera – and the muffins too. I think that helped gets my point across. Sometimes I feel happy (the yellow mask is a happy face), and sometimes I feel mad too – really.

The emotions conveyed by the overhead camera angle, showing his hands breaking through a sad black and white mask and crumbling muffins one by one, are raw and personal.

Bush learned critical skills through Envision’s services: learning Braille and navigating public transportation to tech camp and even a golf clinic. But her life beyond her hometown of Wichita (including exhibiting in Louisville, Ky., and now attending the Culinary Arts School at Butler Community College), has both opened doors and revealed obstacles. Her sculpture and accompanying video were first exhibited at Wichita State University’s ShiftSpace Gallery as part of their ““Envision Your Story” Expressive Arts Workshop and Exhibition last summer.

I like to create things that remind me of my culture and allow me to touch the delicate things of nature, like flowers. As my eyesight darkens, I’m still using my hands, and soon I’ll be showing all my work here.

I couldn’t help but reach out and touch flowers designed by Tajiri. Reaching into her kimono pocket, she pulled out an origami crane, a traditional Japanese symbol of peace. She gave it to me saying that I should open and close the wings thinking of my personal wishes, and they will be granted in due time.

“I like to create things that remind me of my culture and allow me to touch the delicate things in nature, like flowers,” Tajiri told me. “As my eyesight darkens, I still use my hands, and soon I will show all my work here.”

Indeed, the next solo exhibition scheduled for Envision’s gallery will feature the veteran public installation artist, who has a permanent installation in Gallery Alley in downtown Wichita. “Maitreya” is funded by a $5,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Although she’s not originally from Wichita (she grew up on Okino-Erabu-Shima, a small island north of Okinawa), Tajiri is proud to call the plains of Kansas home. Her palpable and accessible piece feels so welcome in this space, where form and color need not remain “hands off”, but can be felt by the whole human being.

The results of a photo booth at the Envision Arts Gallery were set up for all to see. (Whitni Carlson for Kansas Reflector)

The gallery will not remain restricted to Kansas artists. The exhibition program includes nationally renowned artists such as John Bramblitt. But what drives Envision’s mission is the engine of local and personal impact. Gallery Director Kephart is personally committed to the BVI community of artists that the Envision Arts Gallery serves and presents. Kephart was proud to show off the hard work of the artists, and I also saw evidence of her own long-term efforts.

“The opening of the new Envision Arts Gallery and Community Engagement Center has been a long-held dream of Sarah,” said Michael Monteferrante, President and CEO of Envision. “Envision is thrilled to bring this national initiative to life and what it stands for: inclusion and accessibility for all.

The Collected Opening Exhibition local partnerships which brought together Kansas art fans and donors and shed new light on the work Envision has done for BVI residents here in Wichita for the past 89 years.

In the future, Kephart says, the gallery could be a beacon in Kansas for foreign artists and art lovers like her. Its Artist-in-Residence program is designed to connect the BVI community to other artists working within Wichita’s creative community.

All proceeds from artwork and merchandise purchased at the exhibition directly supports artists and helps fund the artistic endeavors of the Envision Arts program. You can learn more about the Envision Arts Gallery and Community Engagement Center by visiting the website, or by calling 316-440-1699.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own review, here.

William E. Bennett