If you’ve driven through Wichita’s District One, you’ve most likely seen her work. Now, you get to meet the artist who has turned the walks, benches, sidewalks and even train overpasses in Wichita into beautiful art pieces that tell our history and promote our culture.

Meet Ellamonique Baccus, a Wichita blessing since 2015. While she’s done public installations outside of Northeast Wichita, her community-based work includes the huge collection of art along 9th Street from Interstate I-135 to Hillside and the 13th Street train overpass.

Ella – as she’s most often referred to – was the artist consultant on the 9th Street project, a role that gave her creative control over the project, plus responsibility for hiring contributing artists, being part of the design team, working with engineers and meeting with members of the community to make sure the project reflected the culture and history of the community.

The project, which involved hundreds of artists and community members, took more than two years to complete and includes – from west to east – the interstate gateway, the Kwanzaa Plaza, the Adinkra sidewalk panels, the Knowledge Bus Stop and the “Cultivating the Seeds of Our Future” mural.

Start in Art

Originally from Nebraska, she and her family, which includes a husband and two kids, moved here from Chicago in 2015 to get away from the city’s dangerous streets. She earned a master’s degree in art therapy at the Art Institute of Chicago. Before, she completed her bachelor of fine arts degree at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She also studied renaissance oil painting at the Atelier New Medici in France.

Oil painting was where she thought she’d focus as an artist, but she fondly recalls it was a friend who influenced her to try public art.

“To me, that was like construction work. I didn’t want to be getting dirty; I was used to oil paintings – painting with oil, you could get cute and everything,” said Baccus.

Her first public art project was in Chicago. She worked with 15 youth to create mosaic benches.

“It was great; the kids were paid apprentices and their work got displayed,” said Baccus. “It showed me how to do art therapy.”

That’s exactly what she studied at the Art Institute – art therapy, which means she’s licensed to create art and to counsel students in a way to bring healing into their lives. While she was in high school, art proved to be therapeutic for her. Even then, she knew that was her purpose.

In Chicago, she turned art therapy into a business called Wisdom Tree Arts. She became a vendor for the Chicago Public Schools and used public art as a way to help health youth. Along the way, she and the students successfully completed 30 projects before relocating to Wichita.

Wichita Gains a Blessing

When she arrived in Wichita, Baccus went to work for DCCCA, a behavioral health service and worked in child drug prevention. There, she collaborated with City Arts and helped develop an art therapy internship at Wesley Children’s Hospital using Emporia State University art majors.

Her education and love for public art helped her current position as executive director for Arts Partners of Wichita, a comprehensive PreK-12 arts-in-education organization. The program works with more than 30 visual and performing artists who present in-school programs that integrate their art forms with other areas of the curriculum, such as math, science, social studies, technology, and history. Each year the instructors encounter at least 20,000 students.

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A public mural created with community participation and spearheaded by Ella Baccus in Wichita.

More Art

This summer Baccus has two new projects in the works. As part of the new baseball stadium development in downtown Wichita, she’s creating an optical illusions installation. Her lenticular art is to be installed on the fence along Sycamore Street. As part of a citywide decorated “Keeper of the Plains” project, Baccus is designing and completing a “Keeper” installation for Fairmount Park. Her installation is sponsored by the Wichita Chamber of Commerce.

Next up, she’ll begin work on a Jackie Robinson-inspired piece for the youth baseball fields near 17th Street in McAdams Park.

Much of Baccus’ work has been aimed at cultivating a better future for the next generation, she said, “Encourage the young artists in your lives. Teach them to use their creativity to solve problems – it will make them healthier and happier, and they’ll be more successful in the future.”

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Ella Baccus (left) and local artist Janice Thacker during Wichita’s 9th Street Art Design opening in late 2019.

Thank You

A gracious collaborator, Baccus asked to acknowledge three great local artists who’ve supported her in the 9th Street Project and beyond. She thanks: Janice Burdine Thacker for showing her 9th Street’s history and connection to Kwanzaa; Tina Morano for fabricating benches; and Quintis Pinkston for painting the pillars on the highway overpass.

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