In 2006 artist James Woodfill and el dorado inc worked with the Missouri Department of Transportation, KCMO Public Works and a group of bridge engineers to create a major public/private set of artworks integrated into four bridges over I-670 that connect downtown Kansas City and the Crossroads Arts District. Comprised of the Main Street, Baltimore, Wyandotte and Grand Boulevard bridges, this work became known as Pedestrian Strands. In 2012, anticipating the need for an upgraded bridge to accommodate a new streetcar line, we were commissioned to re-work the Main Street portion of Pedestrian Strands. This work became known as Main Street Redux. Structural cracks were discovered in the Grand Boulevard bridge in May of 2016, and the bridge was closed immediately. Once again, we were commissioned to re-work another portion of Pedestrian Strands. Set to be complete by year’s end, we’re deeming this latest phase of work Grand Boulevard Redux.
It’s a great honor to have earned the trust of so many state agencies, city departments and community groups over the time we’ve been working on this series of bridges. This work being seen equally as infrastructure and art is one of its great successes. It’s inspiring to know that the leaders of our civic community value the contribution of artists and artisans in shaping the public realm. After almost 10 years, Pedestrian Strands continues to be an authentic response to the forces that shape the complex urban conditions of downtown Kansas City. Author Andrew Blum captured this sentiment perfectly when Pedestrian Strands was first completed. In re-reading his essay from 2008, “Pedestrian Stands Response Number 9,” while gearing up for this current round of re-engagement, we found it as illuminating and true now as it was then.
“This is the quiet thrill of Pedestrian Strands. It takes in its surroundings and bounces them back out, only slightly altering them in the process. It amplifies the possibility of a living city, open to interpretation and participation … it ‘orchestrates the dissonances,’ a phrase that seems to strike at the meaning of cities. They are where people gather to exchange ideas and generate new ones, to address their different perspectives, and to come face to face with what they’re not. In that sense, Pedestrian Strands is more of a mirror than canvas.”
“It’s easy to imagine a nighttime traveler driving in out of the plains, past the billboards for roadside hotels and radio stations, and cutting through downtown on I-670. On the bridges above would be what appears to be billboards. But they never resolve themselves into logos or slogans. Instead, they remain smudges of light, perplexing and profoundly engaging.”
—Andrew Blum, “Pedestrian Strands Response Number 9,” 2008
The purposes of Public Art are many. The specific course that our collaborative work takes always builds on the idea that we should slow down to more fully experience the places that we inhabit. By tapping into the pragmatic languages of form and function within a site, our intent is to compose frameworks that allow unexpected relationships to reveal themselves in the encounter. We are not trying to separate our work from the everyday, we are trying to enrich the experience of it.
Within the collaborations that we have worked on over the years, this attitude often manifests within a philosophy that we call “incremental urbanism” – an attempt to keep pace with, respond to and provoke contemplation within the ongoing changes that are inherent to a dynamic city. We are both responding to place as it is, and acting upon it with invention. This iteration of work includes a deeper focus on the acoustical experience of the site, the role of public art in conveying the elevated standing of Grand Boulevard within the I-670 corridor and the introduction of new multi-modal facilities into downtown public space.
The next time you’re on the streetcar, hop off at the Kauffman Center or Power & Light stop, and walk the I-670 corridor with a new emphasis on an East/West experience.