An Ulrich Museum of Art public art project created at the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic has been honored with a Special Project-Group Award by The Arts Council. The Ulrich was named among 12 outstanding local individuals, cultural organizations and businesses that were recognized for their roles in furthering the growth and development of arts in Wichita. The award will be presented to the Ulrich staff at the 2021 Art Awards ceremony in November.
The Ulrich + Artists + You Community Billboard Project took place from July to November 2020 and consisted of 20 billboards featuring prominent pieces from the museum’s permanent collection. The billboards were placed in various locations throughout Wichita and the surrounding area, from busy intersections to typically overlooked neighborhoods. The result was a public art project that made art accessible to Wichitans at a time when the museums were closed to the public.
Ulrich Director Leslie Brothers, who created the concept for the unique project, said it was a way to transcend the challenges imposed by COVID-19.
“We are thankful for the nomination and thrilled to receive the award,” Brothers said. “The billboard project was a way to stay connected to our patrons while reaching out to all our communities. We anticipated that many might not know of the Ulrich as an educational resource with an amazing collection open to everyone, so, for six months, we placed billboards in neighborhoods all over the city to send a message that they matter.”
In selecting works, the Ulrich focused on three categories: pieces by established and highly respected Wichita or Kansas artists whose works are in the museum’s collection, including Patrick Duegaw, Terry Evans, Ann Resnick and Larry Schwarm; works by artists in the collection with strong Wichita or Kansas ties such as Kevin Mullins and Gordon Parks; and works by a culturally- and racially-diverse array of both American and international artists from the collection, including Benny Andrews, Alice Aycock, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Romare Bearden, Gajin Fujita, Robert Indiana, Zhang Huan, Louise Nevelson, Alan Rath, Faith Ringgold, Hank Willis Thomas, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Matika Wilbur and JeongMee Yoon.
Along with placing the billboards around Wichita, the project also partnered with the popular museum app Smartify to give visitors in-depth information about the billboards at the location and curated Spotify playlists to listen to while driving to the billboards. The project also featured an online programming series, called Ulrich Virtual, which provided free Zoom talks by many of the billboard artists that viewers could watch from the comfort of their own homes. Those talks are now available on the Ulrich Museum’s YouTube channel.
The shutdown has been lifted and the billboards are no longer up, but their popularity remains. Given their effectiveness in reaching new audiences and generating excitement about art, the museum isn’t ruling out the possibility of creating another billboard project sometime in the near future.
“It’s something we’ll definitely consider,” Brothers said. “It would have to be something slightly different, a new angle, but now we know it’s a great way to represent the museum among our community.”