When Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, executive director of the American Jazz Museum, wanted to develop a community project that would provide a contrast to the racial tensions and divisions in the news, she approached Michael Toombs, a local artist and muralist.
Toombs proposed a mural, and on Nov. 4, the museum unveiled “Harmony on the Vine: Spill Paint Not Blood,” an 8-by-26-foot painting representing weeks of work by more than 750 people who responded to a call for artists.
“Art is a connector. It is very important for everyone to feel like an artist and feel connected,” Kositany-Buckner said at the unveiling. “At the end of the day, we are all artists.”
Kositany-Bucker also wants to inspire Kansas Citians to realize the importance of jazz to people everywhere.
The completed mural combines a variety of illustrations highlighting the Jazz District, woven together in a kind of crazy-quilt of local history.
One objective was to identify experiences and people that would be familiar to the public. Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Jay McShann are just some of the musicians whose likenesses are represented. The imagery also includes signage for iconic jazz clubs of the past and depictions of the neighborhood, its inhabitants and landmarks. A green vine snakes its way across the bottom edge of the mural, a nod to the classic intersection of 12th and Vine Streets.
Photographs from the museum’s archives form the basis for the mural’s composition. The process of translation included altering color photos to black and white, and in some cases reducing them to details or partial images. These reproduced photos were arranged into a small-scale mural or collage, which was then re-photographed and enlarged to create the foundation for the large-scale mural.
Painting sessions were held two or three times a week. The mural, not unlike a gigantic coloring book, did not intimidate the enthusiastic recruits who came from as far away as Rwanda and Japan.
“(For) people who don’t feel that they can be very creative, this type of process makes art accessible to most people,” Toombs explained in a recent interview. “You basically give them a paintbrush, you give them a color of paint and direct them to paint a specific spot and they feel comfortable in doing that. They get into it and you have to rip the brush out of their hands.”
At the Nov. 4 unveiling ceremony, KC-based poet Glenn North honored the new mural with a stirring poem.
Above: Local artist and muralist Michael Toombs spearheaded the creation of the new “Harmony on the Vine” mural at the American Jazz Museum. Photo by Diallo Javonne French.