Local artist Dave Loewenstein to host introductory workshop for new 'Kansas People's History Project'

Dave Loewenstein, the local artist whose colorful murals enliven public spaces in Lawrence and across the country, is embarking on a new project that he hopes will re-engage Kansans with bits of our state identity that we may have forgotten or unknowingly overlooked.

It’s a lofty goal, to be sure, and to make it happen, he’s going to need some help. Loewenstein will host a workshop at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Watkins Museum of History to introduce the Kansas People’s History Project, a collaborative effort between the Douglas County Historical Society and five arts and educational organizations across the state, including Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence.

Funded by grants from the Mid-America Arts Alliance and the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, the project aims to illuminate some of the lesser known figures — from Native Americans to suffragists to civil rights leaders — and events that have helped shape Kansas’ history.

“The impetus for this is to recognize that a lot of the ways we understand the place we live is shaped by experts, people in power, the winners of wars — the most obvious example is that Columbus discovered America,” said Loewenstein, the project’s lead artist and coordinator. “We all receive that knowledge growing up, but most of us now know there is at least another side to this story.”

There’s another side to Kansas’ story, said Loewenstein, and he’s hoping his fellow Kansans will help him find it. Everyone — young and old — is invited to participate in the Kansas People’s History Project.

As far as the definition of “history” in this case, Loewenstein said he’s open to anything from “yesterday … to all the way back.”

Thursday’s event falls in the middle of a weeklong tour of similar workshops throughout the state, including stops in Kansas City, Overland Park, Pittsburg, Wichita, Newton and Salina, to provide prospective participants with basic information. Later this fall, Loewenstein and his team will revisit each site to collect anecdotes, doodles, artifacts and other research materials.

If you go

What: Introductory workshop for the Kansas People's History Project

When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.

Cost: Free

All contributions — including those received via snail mail or email for folks unable to attend the workshops — will be incorporated into a series of screen-printed broadsides with text narratives, a comprehensive website and a Watkins Museum exhibition slated for spring 2016.

Loewenstein will collaborate with Topeka printmaker Justin Marable on about 20 broadsides, which will tentatively be sold “at a low cost” through Lawrence’s Wonder Fair gallery, 803 1/2 Massachusetts St.

“These posters will be first-person accounts, basically, by what I’m calling citizen historians or citizen artists,” Loewenstein said. “As opposed to deferring like we do most of the time to vetted experts or the people who write the textbooks.”

He’s also planning on giving folks a downloadable version for free on the project’s website, as well as distributing the posters to schools, arts centers and other nonprofit organizations.

It’s only the beginning of the Kansas People’s History Project, said Loewenstein, who hopes to eventually incorporate other art forms such as poetry, music, dance and theater.

“This is an organic, grassroots project. We’re doing our best to collect whatever people want to submit, but we’re going to miss most of the stuff,” he said. “The hope is that the project will continue. If there’s support for it, we can bring it to the many communities that we won’t have the capacity to reach this first year.”

For more information on the project, visit kansaspeopleshistoryproject.com.

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