ArtsConnect reveals inner beauty of Topeka

Matthew L. Self, Review Editor in Chief

ArtsConnect brings out the best in Topeka providing a place for local artists to congregate, share ideas, discuss new projects and work collaboratively on current projects that make the capital city more and more beautiful with every passing year.

ArtsConnect claims the title of the premier art organization of Topeka and is well acclimated to this designation. The organization hosts grant writing workshops and exhibitions, sponsors art projects in Topeka, participates in the First Friday Artwalk, and creates huge murals around the city for the public to enjoy.

“We have painted 13 murals so far in Topeka,” said Sarah Fizell, executive director at ArtsConnect. “The Brown v. Board mural is the largest and highest profiled mural, both locally and nationally. It’s my favorite because it was a project that people thought we couldn’t do. It was exactly what we hoped it would be. It offers visitors a new way to look at the case, and it has a lot of magic that came with it.”

ArtsConnect also sponsors the Arty Awards in the fall which highlight the significant depth of artists and art programs in Topeka. The event acts as a fundraiser for the organization’s support so it can continue to strengthen and foster the arts. A Community Arts Award, Literary Arts Award, Performing Arts Award, and Visual Arts Award are a few of the possible achievements that local artists can receive.

The organization is in the process of relocating its headquarters to the North Topeka Arts District, otherwise known as NOTO, where it hopes to take a more active role in the community. Their current headquarters, located at a small office in the YWCA building, required the organization to host all events and activities off-site and significantly limited their ability to directly feature and support artists.

Their new location is over thirteen times larger than their old site and is already being put to use for popular grant writing workshops. It is planned to open fully in late February and will function as the administrative center for ArtsConnect along with its associated artists in Topeka.

ArtsConnect keeps a running tally and catalogue of all the interesting art sites in Topeka in a public art guide. Their website is updated yearly to reflect the ever changing art scene of Topeka. Many of the public art pieces on display at Washburn are included on ArtsConnect’s website along with the Mulvane Art Museum.

Some of the other sites that have benefited from ArtsConnect include the Oakland Mural located at the corner of Seward & Lake that was completed in 2013, the Blaisdell Pool Mural in Gage Park that was completed in 2018, and the Meadows Mural located on the northwest corner of the Meadows Elementary School site that was completed in 2015.

The Iron Rail Brewery, which opened just last year in downtown Topeka, has gained advantages from ArtsConnect as well. Huge murals that were created by local artists depict the railroad history of Topeka and add to the stylish and tasteful décor of the restaurant.

“We could have gone out and bought stock artwork to put on the walls here, but we decided to allow some local artists to display their talent instead,” said Don King, the brewmaster at the Iron Rail. “Everybody talks about the murals when they come here, and everybody is excited to see them. You can see the stories painted into them, and each relates to one of the flagship beers here. This is really one of a kind, unique art.”

ArtsConnect’s impact on the community is not going unnoticed, fortunately. Fizell was pleased to speak about the organization’s plans for participation in an international art project taking place in Europe.

“ArtsConnect is trying to make a deal with the state department that would lead to a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Fizell. “We were noticed because of our work on the Brown v. Board mural. We could be going to Sarajevo which is really exciting.”

For more information on ArtsConnect, feel free to visit their website or contact Sarah Fizell at [email protected].

Edited by Hannah Alleyne, Adam White, Jada Johnson