The team behind the redesign of Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park has released conceptual plans for the new park this week. The park will serve as an entryway to the new Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine School while highlighting the life and legacy of one of Wichita’s most prominent civil rights leaders.
Each aspect of the park will honor pivotal moments in Chester Lewis’ life, incorporating a stage with a rendering of a map of Wichita’s redlined districts on the floor and turf field suitable for sitting or laying down. Lewis, an African American civil rights lawyer, was among the first to fight red-lining in Wichita, which had one the nation’s worst percentages of redlined districts.
Next to the stage will be six steel panels highlighting Lewis’ civil rights advocacy, including desegregation of housing, schools, restaurants, and railways.
“Coming into this project. I looked at parks around the United States, especially parks dedicated to our heroes and our leaders. I looked at how they were constructed and how the story was told, and something that I realized was that a lot of the parks were one-dimensional,” said Anthony Joiner, an art consultant for the project. “We knew that Chester Lewis was pivotal in so many things that he did, so we wanted this park to tell that full story.”
Joiner, the founder of Mulberry Art Gallery, wanted to choose artists who could connect with Lewis’ story and the African-American experience in the United States. The artists also needed to demonstrate an ability to story-tell through their work.
In the end, two artists were chosen, Matthew Mazzota, a nationally recognized artist from New York known for creating structures, and Ellamonique Boccus, a local artist responsible for several projects like Jackie Robinson Park at the entry to the League 42 baseball fields in McAdams Park and the Ninth Street Art Project, between I-135 and Hillside. .
“All of the designs really are from the minds of the artists. One of the most important things in regards to what they’re creating is the story itself, the mood, the emotion, and that comes from having conversations with the Lewis family,” said Joiner.
LK Architecture, a Wichita design firm, will be responsible for creating the actual design elements for the park.
After conversations with the family, Joiner and his team decided against keeping the Dockum Drug Store lunch counter sit-in sculpture in the park. Although this was a significant event in Wichita history, The family felt the sit-in was merely one moment in Lewis’ long life of activism. A new location for the lunch counter sculpture is still being carefully considered.
The redesign will also incorporate several features to accommodate the needs of future medical students, community members, and tourists. Joiner wants the park to serve as a communal space where people can fellowship while learning and honoring Chester Lewis.
“The previous park was not activated, and people were not connected to So coming into it this time. We want it to be something that people look to engage with,” said Joiner.” When new people come to Wichita, it becomes that space where people say, hey, we need to go look at Chester Lewis Park, similar to the way people said we need to see the Keeper of the Plains.”
The redesign team estimates Chester I. Lewis Reflection Square Park will be completed in Summer 2022.