Janice Thacker is a talented artist who paints beautiful pictures. When you hear her talk with excitement about Ruby’s Cultural Campus, she excitedly paints pictures with her words. She paints the picture of a wonderful place where Black culture is taught, showcased and appreciated, right in the heart of central, northeast Wichita. For now, Ruby’s Cultural Campus is just six empty storage containers, but if you listen to her, it’s not hard to get excited about her vision too.
You may have noticed the beginnings of her vision. For several years, there have been six storage containers lovingly placed on a lot on the south side of 13th and Green. Even with the opening of ReVolutsia, a retail and restaurant center built from storage containers just two miles away, along that part of 13th, it’s far easier to see the containers as junk, rather than the beginnings of something grand.
Thacker and board members of her non-profit Art That Touches Your Heart have plans to use the site and the containers to make a positive impact on Wichita’s community.
Thacker’s original vision was for the site to be an artistic center, but she decided her vision was too narrow.
“If you don’t like art, you would figure there was nothing there for you,” said Thacker.
So now, more than art, the vision is for the campus to serve as a cultural hub for the community.
“It’s about selling Black culture: music, dance, all of the things that are about us,” said Thacker.
She hopes the campus will attract people from across the city, but she’s adamant about the campus teaching African American youth about their rich cultural heritage.
“It’s important for them to know how valuable we are,” Thacker said. “I don’t think they know that.”
At the campus, visitors and “participants” can learn about Black culture.through the many vendors, programs and products offered at the center. One of the early containers she hopes to see open is a Black bookstore, “Books and More” where children can come and hear storytellers and people of all ages can gather for discussions.
In just a few examples, she speaks about crafters who teach jewelry making and artists who use their container as a studio, but also display and sell their art and teach art classes. She sees the campus as a place for special weekend markets and with one of the containers equipped with a fold-down stage, she sees the campus as a place for live theatrical, dance, musical or spoken word performances. There would be green spaces for people to gather with friends and just enjoy it all.
This past semester, Thacker worked with advanced engineering students at Wichita State University who helped complete a feasibility and business plan for the campus. They proposed using solar panels for electricity and installing central air and heat units — similar to those in hotel rooms — into each of the units.
Another thing she learned from the students, is that for her vision of 16 containers, she may not have adequate room for parking. She also learned she needs to secure a lot of funding. While the containers are far more affordable than constructing buildings, additional costs like site preparation, utilities, and site improvements such as paving, landscaping and signage, add up.
As a nonprofit, Thacker hopes to apply for and secure grant funding and city, state or federal arts or humanities funding would be a dream come true. However, she really hopes to get individuals who understand her vision to contribute, a dollar or even $1000 dollars, so stay tuned for her gofundme campaign.