Theatre in the Park Temporary Art Installation

"Symbiosis" by Matthew Dehaemers

On Display NOW thru September 18 at Theatre in the Park!

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Where to See It:

7710 Renner Road, Shawnee Mission, KS 66219

Viewable during both daytime and evening hours by Theatre in the Park patrons as well as Shawnee Mission Park users! The installation will remain on display through August. A ticket purchase to a Theatre in the Park performance is not required to view the piece; however, if you're already at the park, we encourage you to see a show! Click here to visit the Theatre in the Park website.Location of Symbiosis Opens in new window

Community Engagement Project - Seed Balls

Thanks to all who participated! 

Event occurred on Saturday, June 18th from 6:30 - 7:30 PM.

Seed Balls 5_free image from Unsplash.comThis seed ball creation activity for all ages was an opportunity to literally take part in the furthering of the art installation "Symbiosis" alongside artist Matthew Dehaemers. The event was hosted by the JCPRD Public Art Program with artist Matthew Dehaemers and the Grassland Heritage Foundation.

Artist Statement by Matthew Dehaemers

Over the years my art process has aligned itself more closely with the other hat I wear as a landowner.  On this land I am the steward of a 12-acre virgin, unplowed prairie.  As the prairie’s caretaker, I work to protect this remnant prairie.  Today only one-half percent of original prairie still exists in the United States. Once the soil is turned over you can never truly get the complex construction of that soil back to make it true prairie. Every day of every season I learn something new about this prairie and the 110 plus species of grasses, wildflowers and forbs that live on its surface. It is amazing to think that some of these plants have root systems that extend 12 feet below ground—roots that even weave in and through the limestone below. These moments of learning and discovery are reflected in my work.  

The definition of symbiosis is “interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.  I reflect on this word as it represents the relationship between living organisms and the soils they grow in.  To offer a sense of perspective--one tablespoon of soil contains more organisms in it than there are people on earth. Another fact is that it takes a minimum of 500 years to form one inch of topsoil. The microbes that construct our soil have a mutually beneficial relationship with all plant life, including trees. Fungi which attach themselves to the inside and outside of the roots extend their individual reach out beyond the roots, creating a vast and delicate network between trees. Fungi supply the trees with nutrients and in return the tree gives the fungi necessary sugars for its existence.  This altruistic relationship is what helped established the environment and ecosystem we have today.

What lies beneath us is a complexity of life we are only beginning to understand. We are learning that it is vital to take care of our soil because it's necessary for our existence.  I wanted to take the scale of the micro-world of micro-organisms and blow it up to a massive scale. This shrinks us to the world of the microbe. This change of scale drives home the point that this world of micro-organisms is really in charge of all life on earth, not us. The structure is the crown of a tree from the park that has been flipped upside down, so what were the branches now become the roots. Atop the structure is an abstracted shell of a seed form that is giving birth to a new leafy sprout. The complimenting, colorful elements and the structures illumination at night help create a sense of magic and wonder as you walk among the structure. There is a complex beauty to this symbiotic relationship between all organism that I wanted to celebrate in this work. My hope is that we can learn how important our role is in our symbiotic relationship with this complex, magical, micro world beneath our feet. 

Thank you to my wife Shayla and my kids Sienna and Cole for their support throughout this project. I would like to especially thank Susan Mong and Jen Newell as well as the entire JCPRD Public Art Committee, The Shawnee Mission Park Operations crew including Kelby Hellwig, Jeff Girard and Matt Kermashek, Harold Sparks, Colby Dalton, and Adam Pollard from Blue Hat Crane, Ben McAnany and Matt Tadlock of McAnany Construction. 

Sourcing of the Tree

The tree was located within Shawnee Mission Park, east of Shawnee Mission Lake. It was slated for removal due to some significant physical injuries and a fairly recent carpenter ant infestation. This tree was a perfect candidate to repurpose for public art use. A permit was provided to allow the artists to utilize a tree on site for this purpose, collaborating closely with park staff on selection and transportation within the park. The unusual shape illustrates beautifully the complexity of the root structures within our prairie soil ecosystem here at this park! Many larger, much healthier trees are in the immediate area and this removal will not impact the look or feel of the landscape.Artist Matthew Dehaemers with cut tree

Installation Process Photos

Seed closeup without colorful globes

Project Inspiration & Educational Resources

About the Artist

Matthew Dehaemers HeadshotMatthew Dehaemers employs a vast arsenal of mediums, from water, wood, steel, and bread, to recycled glass and water bottles. Inspired by aspects of history, contemporary issues, community life and the ecology of the Midwest, his goal is to make art that operates on different levels of audience engagement. Sonya Andrews of Review Magazine wrote, “Dehaemers places a great deal of importance on the transformative forces of culture, history, and place.” She goes on later to say, “Kansas City’s visual art community will no doubt greatly benefit from Dehaemers’ ongoing participation. It will be exciting to see what the next decade will bring for his career. His desire to engender dialogue on our culture, history, trajectory, and identity is passionate and clear.” His work addresses issues that are social, economic, and environmental, from the global water crisis to telemarketing and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In 1996 after graduating with his B.F.A from Creighton University, Dehaemers spent a year living and teaching high school art on the Navajo Reservation in St. Michael, Arizona. In 2001, Dehaemers earned his M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Project Overview

Earlier this year, Johnson County Park and Recreation District released a regional call to artists for a temporary art installation at Theatre in the Park. By recommendation of the Art Selection Committee, the JCPRD Board provided final approval for the temporary art installation "Symbiosis" by Matthew Dehaemers to be installed at Theatre in the Park at Shawnee Mission Park during summer 2022.

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The Theatre in the Park is located on 10 acres in the northeast corner of Shawnee Mission Park. Each summer, Theatre in the Park presents five popular Broadway-style musicals, with casts featuring actors from the surrounding community. The season culminates with Evening in the Park, an annual, free summertime party in Shawnee Mission Park featuring live music and a movie. 

In 2022, as an added feature to Theatre in the Park, the Public Art Program will commission a temporary public art project to add a fun, interactive, and magical component to this much-loved community tradition.

The goals for the Theatre in the Park temporary art installation are to:

  • Engage visitors in Shawnee Mission Park and attendees of Theatre in the Park with work that is fun, interactive and/or participatory.
  • Create a sense of magic in the park and around Theatre in the Park that can be enjoyed during daylight and evening hours.
  • Provide opportunities for local and regional artists.

The Theatre in the Park Art Selection Committee includes:Theatre in the Park Temporary Installation_2022 Art Selection Committee

Pictured: Kelby Hellwig, Georgia Sizemore, Tim Bair, Susan Mong, Jonathan Thomas, Shelly Trewolla, Jen Rivas. Not pictured: Darcy Stewart.

  • Tim Bair
    JCPRD Culture Division / Theatre in the Park
  • Kelby Hellwig
    JCPRD Parks & Golf Courses
  • Susan Mong
    JCPRD Superintendent of Culture
  • Jen Rivas
    City of Shawnee
  • Georgia Sizemore
    JCPRD Planning & Development
  • Darcy Stewart
    JE Dunn
  • Jonathan Thomas
    Theatre Advisory Council Member & Lyric Opera of Kansas City
  • Shelly Trewolla
    Public Art Committee
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JCPRD's Public Art Vision Statement

Public art in JCPRD parks, trails and facilities will inspire a deeper connection to place through interactive, immersive, and inclusive experiences.

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Supporting the JCPRD Public Art Program2022_Primary_Circle_Dark_Logo Opens in new window

The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County plays a crucial role in the fulfillment of JCPRD’s Public Art Program through the procurement of grants and donations. The foundation continues to seek support for future projects through corporate and private funders. Those interested in becoming involved with public art initiatives are encouraged to contact Susan Mong, Superintendent of Culture, at 913-715-2573 or [email protected].


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