In April 2014, a gunman perpetrating a hate crime killed Teresa LaManno at Village Shalom and Dr. William Corporon and his teenage grandson Reat Underwood at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. Ironically, none of the victims was Jewish. Dr. Corporon and Reat were attending a singing audition, and LaManno was visiting her mother, a Village Shalom resident. Outpourings of grief and support included financial gifts to both organizations. After consulting with family members of the shooting victims, the institutions decided to dedicate the funds to a memorial.
A memorial task force was formed consisting of leaders from the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom, family members of the victims, and members of the Kansas City-area art community. A call for artists was circulated by the Jewish Community Center. The task force chose three artists as finalists, and Jesse Small, a widely-collected Kansas City Art Institute alum now based in Los Angeles, was selected in fall 2015 to create the memorial.
Small has titled his work Beacon. Fabricated at Zahner in KC and dedicated in April, the linear sculpture spreads across an exterior wall at the Jewish Community Center, adjacent to the entrance to the Lewis and Shirley White Theatre, near the location of the shootings there. Three slender, lace-like and dramatically bent stainless steel elements make up the work. Each stainless steel portion features concentric circles and radiating lines, suggesting drops of water and intersecting ripples. As the sun shines through the work, dramatic and intricate shadows play across the wall.
Small visited Kansas City to gather information on more than one occasion. As he spoke with family members and Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom staff members, there was significant discussion of mass shootings as a nationwide problem. Consequently, the panel members and the artist envisioned this work as a national memorial — a beacon to others throughout the nation who seek healing and peace as a result of such tragedies. In this context, the concentric rings and radiating arcs in the work bring to mind classic graphic images used to signify antennas and radio towers.
The concentric rings and ripples in the work relate closely to an initiative begun by the families of Dr. Corporon, Reat and LaManno called SevenDays. According to Mindy Corporon, the daughter of Dr. Corporon and the mother of Reat, the mission of SevenDays is “To spread the word about love, discovery and living purposefully.” For seven days each year around the anniversary of the shootings, Corporon and participants strive “to touch the entire Kansas City metropolitan area…with education, kindness and song.” The initiative uses an image of concentric rings as a logo, and the concept of ripples radiating out from the seven days of activities figures prominently on the SevenDays website.
The lacy appearance of Beacon brings to mind other public art works by Small in the Kansas City area, such Cloud Gate in Leawood and Sunflower in Olathe. However, the forms in Beacon are much simpler in comparison, which the artist attributes to “keeping my visual language out of it” in deference to the collaborative spirit of conceiving the work.
Above: Beacon, a public memorial to the shooting victims at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom, has been installed on the west side of the Jewish Community Center campus, where two of the victims were killed. Commissioned from artist Jesse Small, the sculpture was funded by contributions in memory of the victims. Photo from the artist.