Union Station’s Graffiti Attic Enlivens First Fridays Arts Mix

Khirice Bowman with his art at Union Station’s Graffiti Attic (from the artist)

First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City has long been expanding in popularity and scope. What started as a monthly celebration of galleries and artist-run spaces has blossomed to include food trucks, street vendors and more. The advent of the streetcar in 2016 helped extend the festivities by offering a convenient shuttle up and down Main Street. Now, visitors can admire art as far south as Union Station, where the art gallery Graffiti Attic is inconspicuously tucked away in the labyrinthine structure.

Open only on First Fridays from 2 to 9 p.m., Graffiti Attic is located on the seventh floor of Union Station. The 11,000-square-foot space is accessible via the western elevator in the main hall, where a guide waits to send up visitors, free of charge. The rest of the month, the space serves as SurviveKC’s laser tag course.

Ellie Long, chief operating officer of the space, describes the gallery as something almost organic in nature. “We’re in a live art gallery, where it’s ever-changing and ever-growing,” Long said. Artists of any age or background can apply to display work in Graffiti Attic, which is run by Long, her “partner in crime” Hayley Jones and a rotating cast of volunteers. Graffiti Attic provides some materials, such as primer and rollers, free of charge to artists. For the application process, Long says a message through the gallery’s website will generally suffice, and in general they do not show work that includes nudity or profanity.

Jason Thompson works on their comic-book-style mural at the Graffiti Attic.  (Graffiti Attic)

Long, who is the general manager of SurviveKC, was part of the group who initially developed and launched the concept of a gallery in the space. She has worked at SurviveKC since 2019, but when the COVID-19 lockdown occurred, the space was suddenly a blank canvas. She and others decided to open it up to local graffiti artists who may otherwise run into legal trouble by practicing their art.

“They were looking for something to do, a sense of community, not being lonely,” Long said of artists participating in the gallery’s early days. “This really created a platform for them to get connected and create together. Many of them became friends and are doing their own gallery works now and things of that nature.”

The pieces displayed throughout the gallery loop are painted directly onto the walls and employ a broad range of styles and content. Some are realist portraits, some are brushy landscapes, others are bubbly spray-painted images and others still combine images and text to communicate directly with viewers. And throughout the gallery, there are tables displaying smaller works for sale by participating artists. At the Oct. 7 First Friday opening, local artists Khirice Bowman and Kiarra Jones had a table set up halfway through the immersive gallery walk to sell work. Bowman has many murals displayed throughout the gallery and Jones was visiting for her first time.

For more information, graffitiattic.com

Gloria Cowdin

Gloria Cowdin is a Kansas City-based writer. She is an alumna of Sarah Lawrence College in New York and an estate sale enthusiast.

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