WculturalCultural Capital of Wichita, Kansas An overview of the “Air Capital of the World” by Sarah Leming
C u NeighborhoodsEthn l t C F u & Parks h e ri u s a Ac r r t lG c t i Cr h v ao a pu l ip s ts a l Art Church Cultural Capital Ethnic Groups Festivals
The historical McAdams neighborhoodwas once a thriving, predominatelyAfrican American neighborhood. Duringit’s peak, it was home to an all blackschool, the Dunbar theater, an ice-creamshop and other businesses. This area usedto have a sense of community and wascoined “the black downtown”.(webs.wichita.edu) Once desegregationcaused the neighborhood school to close,the neighborhood began to lose it’svitality. To this day it is still largelycomprised of lower income AfricanAmericans and work is being done torevitalize the neighborhood. New markershave been placed at the neighborhoodboundaries, Mennonite Housing has comein to help with affordable houses, andwhen I drove through the neighborhood aman was working on the Dunbar theateris on the National Register of HistoricPlaces and is in the beginning stages ofrenovation.
Businesses- past & presentMennonite Housing Dunbar Theater, at left
A predominately Latino neighborhood,which had been referred to as “LittleMexico”, is also undergoing revitalizationefforts. The city approved funding forthis area and it opened in 2011. Thisarea is home to restaurants, dress shops,and a new art gallery, “Dos Fridas”. Withthe addition of the Nomar name andopen market, the Nomar CommunityDevelopment Project aims to “transformthis already culturally vibrantneighborhood into an excitingdestination of authentic food, shoppingand fun in a safe, ethnically richenvironment.” (nomardc.com)
Most visitors to Wichita wouldremember this signature culturalstatue, “The Keeper of the Plains” byBlackbear Bosin was placed at theconfluence of the Arkansas and LittleArkansas rivers. This area hasundergone a complete renovation, withthe installation of foot bridges,historical and cultural sign markers, andthe statue now stands within a ring offire that is ignited nightly. The statuenow connects to the “Mid America AllIndian Center”, bottom right.
Wichita lies on the northwestern mosttip of the “Bible Belt” so it is onlynatural that church organizations are aprevalent part of the city. They play animportant cultural role to theirmembers and serve as a way to carryon the tradition. Wichita has a fairlylarge Lebanese population, some ofwhom attend St. George GreekOrthodox Church, at left. Each year theyopen their doors and host a LebaneseDinner available to the community.Similar experiences are to be had fromthe Vietnamese, Korean, Mennonite,and other churches. Other religions arealso represented through the IslamicSociety of Wichita, Synagogues, theBuddhist Meditation Center, The HinduTemple and more.
Orpheum Theater, left and Century II Concert Hall, below “Soda Fountain Sit-In” sculpture pays tribute to theDockum Drug Store sit-in thathappened in Wichita as part of the civil rights movement. Wichita Art Museum
Various forms of art and many museums can be found in Wichita, Kansas and all play an important part of the cultural capital of the city. A condensed list is below:ART- MUSEUMS-• Wichita City Arts • Kansas Aviation Museum• 1st Friday Music & Final Friday Art Crawls • Museum of World Treasures• Wichita Ballet • Exploration Place Science Museum• Wichita Center for the Arts • Old Cowtown Museum• Sculpture Walks • Ulrich Museum of Art• Individual Art Galleries • Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum• Century II Performing Arts • The Kansas African American Museum• Orpheum Theater • Great Plains Transportation Museum• Wichita Sympohny (The Museum of World Treasures is pictured in back, is located on one edge of the Old Town Farm & Art Market Square)
FESTIVALS-Festivals and celebrations are important events in Wichita, Kansas. The biggest, theWichita River Festival, gathers the town each year near the Arkansas River for livemusic, food, and various entertainment.Other events include: The Tallgrass Film Festival, Automobilia Moonlight Car Show andStreet Party, the Wichita Jazz Festival, Wichita Flight Festival, the Annual Asian Festival, American Indian Festival, Anime Festival, Cinco de Mayo, Renaissance Festival, and many more.
Wichita’s parks and neighborhoods are as varied as its people. In the city center somehomes are small and boarded up, while half million dollar lofts occupy what were onceabandoned warehouses. To the east and west, and suburban areas, large sprawlinghouses with tidy manicured lawns are the norm. On any given evening, in a park in alower income neighborhood one would find families gathered together for BBQs orpicnics or various children gathered for a pick-up game of basketball. On the suburbanedges, children are shuffled to various sports complexes for practices and lessons whileparents play on smart phones.
In conclusion, Wichita is home to a variety of tangible and intangible forms of CulturalCapital. Overall, priority has been given to the multiple ethnic groups that call this cityhome, as well to the arts and playing tribute to our past. However, despite being the “Air Capital of the World”, I feel that Wichita struggleswith its self image. It seems understandable given its Native American roots, Wild Westhistory, entrepreneurial and air industry upbringing and the diverse array of people whosettled here. The photos and descriptions in this overview illustrate there is an economic dividewithin the city. Despite the end of segregation, the city remains very compartmentalized,without much movement from area to area by different races. As efforts to improve and maintain upon the cultural capital of Wichita continue, I feelthat its varied past and lack of a unified image will operate to both unite and divide thecity. All photos taken by Sarah Leming