Arts News: New Tile Mural Beautifies Historic Northeast

Veteran Kansas City ceramic artist Rebecca Koop recently completed this tile mural on the façade of her studio at 3922 St. John Ave. in the Historic Northeast neighborhood.

Veteran Kansas City ceramic artist Rebecca Koop recently completed this tile mural on the façade of her studio at 3922 St. John Ave. in the Historic Northeast neighborhood. (photo by David Remly)

Artist Rebecca Koop has realized a goal she set years ago: Replace the rundown 58 by 13-foot-high façade of her Historic Northeast studio with an enormous tile mosaic.

She began thinking about the makeover in 1986, contracted someone to tear off the old stucco in 2017, and partnered with her community to install the art in the years between then and this spring.

Now, the completed project serves as the most recent step in her commitment to the community as well as a clear signal that artists and the arts are essential to the Northeast.

Hers is one of about 40 murals in that part of town, though all the others are painted, not tiled.

“There are good things that come from art on walls. For one, it covers graffiti,” Koop said. “It’s been long found out that if you put a mural on a regularly tagged wall, put real art on it, you see far less tagging.”

Koop, who grew up in northeast Kansas City and graduated from Holy Cross Catholic School, chose to make the area her home and workplace as an adult even as she saw peers setting up shop in more fashionable parts of town. That’s changing now.

“The Crossroads had its growth in the early ’80s, and it’s gotten to a point now where it’s not affordable for artists to work there any longer,” Koop said. “They’re either going to the West Bottoms, or they’re coming over here to Northeast to find places to live or work.”

She and others who’ve lived in the area for decades have laid the groundwork for a sort of renaissance which seems to be in process right now.

Koop earned a degree in ceramics from the Kansas City Art Institute in the late 1970s and taught ceramics, fiber and sculpture at William Jewell College for 19 years before becoming general director and then the events director at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce in 1999.

The chamber work has afforded her a closer look at the needs and interests of the neighborhoods she loves.

“I’m making an investment. I want an oasis. I want more art in this community. [The mosaic] was my way of doing this,” Koop said. She also manages a community garden next to her studio on St. John, which she calls “Gardens as Art,” which truly is an oasis.

Other steps she’s taken to enliven and beautify the area include spearheading an art project that aimed to cover the windows of defunct buildings. That started in 2011 with two buildings on Independence Avenue, and later one at 7th Street and Indiana.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if they were painted instead of just ‘dangerous building’ plastered on those boards on the boarded-up windows?” she recalled asking at a neighborhood preservation meeting. She called the art “window dressings.”

Northeast Arts KC, which she cofounded in 1996, hosts the annual Chalk Your Walk during which dozens of boxes of sidewalk chalk were distributed to neighborhoods May 24. The organization’s SummerDusk concert series kicked off in June and continues with Rex Hobart & the Honky Tonk Stardards, July 16 and Mundo Nouvo August 20.

Anne Kniggendorf

Anne Kniggendorf is a writer and editor at the Kansas City Public Library, author of Secret Kansas City, and co-author of Kansas City Scavenger. She has local, national, and international bylines, and produces the Fiction/Non/Fiction podcast for Literary Hub.

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