A connection between a renowned state artist and a local educator has opened the door for a group of Bethel College students to take part in a statewide history project and museum exhibit.
Dave Loewenstein, a Lawrence artist who in 2010 created the “The Imaginers” mural in downtown Newton, is leading “The Kansas People’s History Project.”
The project would, through colorful broadsides and accompanying texts, highlight stories of Kansas’ history forgotten or glossed over by history books via a travelling museum exhibit. The project was inspired by the work of author and historian Howard Zinn, including his book “A People’s History of the United States.”
“We want to bring both stories together,” Loewenstein said. “It’s being able to look at different perspectives so we can compare and contrast differing points of view.”
He said it is about getting people to participate in their own history as Kansas finds itself in both the political and historical limelight.
“Although it might not seem that way to some folks, to me this is the perfect time to be doing this,” Loewenstein said.
The project will culminate in Spring 2016 with a full exhibit at the Watkins Museaum of History, Lawrence before travelling to participating sites, including North Newton.
Funding is being provided by grants from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission and the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Partnerships are with Bethel, Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, La Casa de la Semilla - Wichita, Salina Arts Center and Pittsburg State University.
Loewenstein was at Bethel College Wednesday afternoon to introduce the project to Professor Rachel Epp Buller’s introduction to design class.
“Dave and I had worked together before on some projects, including the mural that’s downtown,” Epp Buller said. “He told me this was happening. I’m always very excited to get students involved in something outside the classroom, and connect them to something larger.”
The students’ involvement will serve as their major class project for the semester. A workshop Wednesday got them thinking about the stories they might tell — including that of local Mennonites, women’s suffrage or current misconceptions of life in Kansas.
“As this is an intro to design class some of them are starting very much from scratch learning the fundamentals of art and design,” Epp Buller said. “Hopefully this is a really hands on way for them put that into practice.”
Epp Buller said along fundamentals, the project would provide real-world application of the skills, and shows art and design can be used for a greater purpose than simply buying and selling.
“It’s not just what we make,” Loewenstein said. “It’s how we go about it. It’s the conversations that people are having with people they may not know, asking questions some of which they can’t answer, but are starting the process of saying ‘I don’t have to rely only on the experts. I can be a shaper and a teller of my own story and my own experience.’”
Loewenstein plans to return in a few months to help finalize the students’ contributions. But this is a project Loewenstein believes will continue to grow in the future, adding short films, dance, theatre and more to help tell the stories.
Loewenstein said they would try to incorporate the ideas of anyone who wishes to participate via submission of art or ideas. More information can be found at kansaspeopleshistoryproject.com.