With 2020 being the year that it was, a Clay Center organization hopes to share some bright spots and show what the city has to offer through a series of murals in the downtown area.
In December, A Mural Movement completed its third mural, which depicts the 1945 raising of the American flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, and is gearing up for its next mural slated for the spring.
Through the project, the organization also has fundraised to create a postcard greeting mural at 420 Court St. and a mural made of license plates paying homage to Kansas Highway 15, which bisects the city, located on the Poulson Family Dental building at 712 Sixth St. It’s also inspired other community murals in town.
Brett Hubka, who is spearheading the project as one of the committee members and local Rotary Club president, said initially the project was supposed to be a one-time Rotary project for the year to attract interest and visitors to the city.
Hubka said Clay Center didn’t have a particular affinity or history with public art, so he wanted to make the effort as smooth as possible to remove possible barriers, working on securing grants and donations to pay for things like materials or compensation for artists. The organization created a donation page with Clay Center’s Improvement Foundation, participating in its Gather for Good Match Day and raising nearly $15,000 from the event alone.
“Hopefully (the murals) give people some encouragement and excitement, especially over the last year with the hardships so many people have experienced,” Hubka said. “... Going forward the great thing about these is they’re works of art that people can appreciate over the next 20, 30 years. ... We can appreciate it every day living here, but maybe people passing through town or visiting can appreciate it and in some cases, give them a reason to visit Clay Center. I really think we’re a hidden gem here in Kansas, a little off the beaten path, but I think we got a lot to offer here.”
With the financial support and positive response backing them, Hubka said he spoke with other Rotary members who suggested they start with smaller murals to gauge feedback. As the project grew, the Rotary expanded its outreach to make sure it was more involved with the community, adding committee members from the high school, local arts council, Chamber of Commerce and Clay Center Action Network.
With Clay Center Community High School art teacher Tracy Lebo’s help, the committee enlisted the school’s audio and visual class to create a commercial for the project, and the arts and graphic design class helped with some design and concept ideas for the murals.
The murals included an installation of a K-15 collage of Kansas license plates in the shape of a sunflower, designed by William Counter of Chapman, and a postcard-style greeting mural, created by Whitney Kerr III of Kansas City and his associates.
Kerr also designed the veteran’s mural at the Edward Jones building, 701 Fourth St. It includes a real flag stretching upwards from a pole on the painted mural.
Hubka said the building owner, Dave Bloom, is a veteran and helped come up with the mural idea. Kerr wrote in an Instagram post that he was hesitant about taking on the project at first because he had never really painted anything remotely political, but he reflected on the impact of honoring veterans.
“Seeing how the finished mural affected him and other vets felt elating,” Kerr wrote. “I could feel how much it meant to them. ... It is so fulfilling being able to make other people feel just by doing what you love. I feel like most of the murals and work I have done are aesthetically pleasing but doesn’t carry the weight that this one does. During WWII, most of the soldiers who fought were drafted and didn’t have much of a choice. The reality of war is very depressing, but it’s part of history. It feels good honoring those who came before us and who helped ensure the stability and safety of our country.”
The committee has scheduled a dedication of the veteran’s mural for 11 a.m. Feb. 23, the 76th anniversary of the flag raising at Mount Suribachi. More details will be released as the date comes closer.
Now the committee has set its sights on its next project, the largest one yet, which is still in the early planning stages, Hubka said.
“It’ll certainly have that wow factor because it’s going to be right at the stoplight of our downtown,” he said. “Traffic driving down on K-15 will drive right by that. It’s going to incorporate many aspects of our community, and they’ll all kind of be hidden in the mural itself, and it’ll be interactive as well.”
What was once a one-time project has taken on a life of its own, Hubka said. Other building owners and the city of Clay Center have since expressed interest in participating in the mural movement. As long as the organization has the funds and there are open walls, he said they are interested in continuing the project.
“It’s pretty wild how it’s snowballed, way more so than I would have suspected, but it’s a really good thing though,” Hubka said. “We’ve had a few community members say, ‘Let’s become known as a mural town, because all towns are kind of known for something. Maybe someday when people think of Clay Center, they think about this project. Who knows?”