LAWRENCE — Lawrence artist Ashley Laird says working on the Great Mural Wall of Topeka and other mural projects around the globe makes her a better person.
“Part of that is due to learning about the world and empathizing with others who I didn’t know before, and especially who come from different backgrounds,” she said.
Laird, who grew up in Topeka and earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Washburn University in 2011, is the lead artist for the Kansas Women’s Mural, the next panel for the Great Mural Wall at S.W. 20th and Western.
She will conduct an informational meeting and discussion about the women’s mural at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. The meeting is open to all ages. No art experience is necessary.
During the meeting, Laird will give a presentation about her previous work and the community-based process she uses to create murals. Afterward, attendees will be asked to provide input and ideas about the history and accomplishments of Kansas women, as well as current issues facing them.
“It’s collaborative, so we need and want people to help us,” she said.
Community meetings and design workshops will be scheduled throughout March, with the design being developed in April. Painting will start in early May and is expected to be completed by early June.
“We will have community paint days the first weekend of painting,” Laird said, adding previous paint days have drawn from 100 to 150 people.
Laird has been involved with the Great Mural Wall in the past, having served as lead artist K.T. Walsh’s assistant in 2009 and 2010 and as the lead artist herself in 2011.
The Kansas Women’s Mural will be the eighth panel created for the Great Mural Wall, a project facilitated by the Chesney Park Neighborhood Improvement Association to celebrate “a people’s history and vision for Topeka.”
Previous panels have focused on community leader Grant Cushinberry, Central Park, the Kansas Free Fair, Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case, the Elmhurst Neighborhood, endangered species of the region and the local arts scene.
Laird has worked on numerous public art projects since graduating from Washburn. Within the past year, she and Lawrence muralist Dave Loewenstein have traveled to South Korea, South Dakota, Texas and Nebraska to help with community-based mural projects. In 2012, she received the Arts Advocate Award from the Topeka YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment.
Laird said the process she uses to create community murals involves historical research, interviews and field research, community organizing, presentations, fundraising, and collaborating with city officials and others.
“The stories we tell (with the murals) are often ones that are looked over or left out. So, this gives us a chance to claim some public space to share, remember and celebrate these important aspects of our culture,” she said. “In the end, it feels like a real accomplishment and gives me hope in a civic process.”