With work underway on the redesign of the Chester I. Lewis Reflection Park in -downtown Wichita, the City Council voted last week to increase funding and contract with artists for the project The redesigned park will serve as an entry plaza for the Kansas Health Science Center-– a new Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine school being constructed in downtown Wichita. Troy Houtman, the city’s director of Park and Recreation, believes the new renovations will create a more vibrant outdoor space in the heart of Downtown Wichita.
Lewis, a native of Hutchinson, Kansas, graduated from Hutchinson High School and served in World War II before attending the University of Kansas where he received an undergraduate degree in 1951 and a law degree in 1953. Back in Wichita, he became president of the Wichita branch of the NAACP and used his legal expertise to help desegregate restaurants, swimming pools, aircraft companies, and local government agencies.
In 1962, Lewis was among the leaders of the “Young Turks,” a national movement within the NAACP that sought to expand the organization’s traditional focus of seeking change through court action and legislation to include strategies of nonviolent protest and direct action. Vice Mayor Johnson stated this exciting project d has been a great learning experience l, and that he has enjoyed sitting with the family of Chester Lewis, the local NAACP, and other community leaders to learn more about the role Lewis played in history.
Construction crews broke ground on the redesign project last summer, and plans are to unveil the newly renovated park in summer 2022 to coincide with the opening of the Osteopathic Medicine building. Renderings for the new project are expected to be released within the next month.
As part of the additional funding for the park, Downtown Wichita and the Wichita Parks Foundation will provide a donation of $250,000, and the city will provide $150,000 for the project, increasing the project budget from $1,300,000 to $1,700,000.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council approved contracts for an art consultant and two artists to create and install public art in the redesigned Lewis park.The primary focus of the art will be to honor the legacy of Chester I. Lewis.
The artists were selected after a national request for proposal with a focus on art integration into the park’s infrastructure. Two artists were selected: local artist Ellamonique Baccus and national artist Matthew Mazzotta. Anthony Joiner, will serve as art consultant on the project.
Baccus’ scope of work is for the floor plan of the park which includes features such as decorative tiles at the ground level. Mazzotta’s scope is for the overhead plane which includes features such as lighting.
The lunch counter statue, which still remains at the park, will be wrapped and put into storage until a new location for it is found. According to the Park & Recreation Office, they will work closely with the Wichita NAACP to determine a new location for the statue.
At the City Council meeting, Jessie Gemma, a Hutchison resident, shared that the City of Hutchinson has also recognized Lewis with a plaza off Main Street across from the Fox Theater. Gemma suggested the two cities explore ways to connect the two parks in some way.