By David Markham
A ribbon-cutting and public reveal for JCPRD’s first major public art installation took place on Aug. 23 at the Mid-America West Sports Complex. The new artwork is within sight of the Gary L. Haller Trail in the Mill Creek Streamway Park.
The piece, which occupies all 4,500 square feet on the south exterior wall of MAWSC’s Okun Fieldhouse, is called “Rebirth” and is the work of ITRAicons, a local firm representing the collaboration of Kansas City muralists Isaac Tapia and Rodrigo Alvarez.
““Rebirth” is a visual tribute to the richness of life that springs from waterways,” the artists stated in their original design proposal.” To create this scene, different photos were collaged from the Mill Creek Streamway Park trail system. The mural starts and ends with a train, suggesting the importance of journeys and migration in nature. On the left, the ferocious beauty and transformative power of prairie fire contrasts with the peace and stillness of the water, reminding us that duality is essential for harmony and balance.”
The mural includes people walking across a bridge, the artists’ rendition of a mill which once stood along Mill Creek, as well as a variety of native plants and animals, including monarch butterflies, prairie grasses, a red-winged blackbird, and a meadowlark.
The process of creating this artwork began earlier this year when JCPRD released a call to artists within a 500-mile region to design a mural for Okun Fieldhouse. ITRAicons was selected from among 45 proposals received for this project.
“ITRAicons rose to the top for a few reasons,” said JCPRD Superintendent of Culture Susan Mong. “They had experience with large scale murals. They responded to the goals of the project really well and they had a strong vision for community outreach related to the project. I love the story it tells of this place specifically. This is not just a compilation of random flora, fauna, and animals, - it is exactly what you can expect to see along Mill Creek just steps away from the mural. I also really love the grandfather and grandchild walking across the bridge - it brings to mind for me this idea of being present in nature and this idea of generational legacy - and what we want to leave for the next generation.”
Since first collaborating in the summer of 2017, Tapia and Alvarez have been commissioned to paint more than 36 murals in the Kansas City area. The Okun project is their largest endeavor so far, they said.
Their diverse body of work is united by vibrant colors, evolving designs, and themes that celebrate their communities and honor their identities as artists who migrated to the U.S. at a very young age. Tapia is a native of Mexico, while Alvarez is from Uraguay.
Tapia said the mural was envisioned first on a computer, and the artists used their smartphones to help coordinate and place various sections of their artwork on the building. The entire piece, he said, was created with spray paint and spray guns.
In her comments at the Aug. 23 ribbon-cutting presentation, JCPRD Board Chair Heather Rubesch said the Okun site was identified early in the public art planning process as having great potential for a public art installment.
“This site has a really great intersection of user groups,” she said. “We have Okun Fieldhouse which hosts basketball, volleyball, and many other sporting events year-around. We have Mid-America West Sports Complex which hosts baseball and softball tournaments drawing visitors from around the country. And then we have users of the Mill Creek Streamway Park which intersects right at this section of the wall.
Between all this activity, over half a million visitors annually will enjoy this inspiring mural which celebrates the streamway trail ecosystem just steps away from the wall.”
JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart noted that a quality park and recreation system is a significant factor in attracting new residents and businesses to the county.
“We know that our parks and trails play a large role in improving our health and well-being, and improving our quality of life,” he said. “We’re thankful to have a national award-winning park system here in Johnson County, and we are thrilled to add public art to help inspire a deeper connection to place through interactive, immersive, and inclusive experiences. We hope this amazing mural inspires you and all who visit to feel a sense of responsibility to enjoy these spaces and preserve these spaces for future generations.”
In addition to being a collaborative effort of the artists and their team, which also included interns Yarana French and Fabrice Basimise, this project required the assistance of many JCPRD staff members and funding assistance from the JCPRD’s 501c3 organization.
The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County Vice Chair Bob Maher said “the foundation is thrilled to be a part of furthering the JCPRD Public Art Program through grants, individual and corporate gifts in support of this work. In fact, individual gifts helped fund about 20% of this mural project.”
The Okun Fieldhouse Mural Art Selection Committee consisted of Local Artists Allison Bowman and Carol Tinklepaugh, J.J. Miller of the city of Shawnee, Whitney Williamson from the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, and JCPRD staff members Mong, Planning & Development Project Manager Jordan Cline, Sports & Facilities North Manager Doug Hite, and Assistant Superintendent of Recreation Shannon Sonnier.
In addition to the outdoor mural, this project also includes community engagement projects which are free and open to the public and is meant to provide participants of all ages an opportunity to paint on a “My Mill Creek” Travelling Mural. No registration is required for these drop-in sessions which take place indoors at Okun Fieldhouse, 20200 Johnson Drive, Shawnee. Remaining sessions include from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15, and another from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25.
For more about these sessions and the mural project, visit the project’s webpage at JCPRD.com/1757/Okun-Fieldhouse-Mural-Project