When most people see a wall, they see structure or stability: a way to keep the elements out and the people in. When Roger McCrummen, founding partner of McCrummen Immigration Law Group, looked at the back wall of his North Kansas City office, he saw a canvas.
"I've actually wanted a mural for a couple of years. My wife, who works at the firm with me suggested that we go to the school and do a design contest. I thought it was a great idea," says McCrummen. Another colleague connected McCrummen with Chico Sierra, the muralist that completed the work.
Instead of just commissioning a piece, McCrummen decided to see what creativity could come from his community, specifically, North Kansas City High School. Northtown, as it's colloquially called, is said to be the most diverse high school in the state of Missouri. With roughly 40 different languages spoken there, the school was the perfect place to launch a competition to find an artist to create a piece that spoke to the diversity of North Kansas City. As incentive, McCrummen was willing to award $1,000 to the first place winner.
Fine arts department chair and art teacher Josie Farrentelle thought that it was a great idea. She used it as a class assignment for her students, made a flyer to post around the school, and shared it with fellow teachers. The competition was open to anyone that wanted to create. Farrantelle said that she withheld the size of the finished space so as to not intimidate her students.
"I think it would have been a little more overwhelming had they seen the size of the wall before they started. But I just asked them what diversity means to them, to us, to North Kansas City, how do you experience with your classmates and your peers? But we worked with Chico to figure out how to translate it to the wall," says Farrantelle.
Approximately 40 students submitted designs. McCrummen says that he was somewhat surprised by the positivity that he saw in many of the designs.
"Thematically, we wanted to emphasize the positive aspects of diversity and immigration. With all that's in the news, I would have expected students to put kids in cages and being separated from parents, and we didn't want those kinds of images. We wanted this to last for a while and show the positive sides of immigration.
The winning design, featuring an indigenous face with hair flowing into a map quilted with the flags of countries represented in Northtown, was created by incoming senior Abiagael Parks. Parks wasn't a student of Farrantelle's, but found out about the contest through a scholar bowl teacher and decided to submit.
"For a long time, I've been wanting to do some sort of art project for the school, something that shows what Northtown prides itself on: diversity and inclusion. When I saw what the contest was about, I instantly had an image of what I wanted it to look like. Normally, when that happens, it's a sign for me to go ahead and do it," says Parks.
Once chosen, her design was given to Sierra to execute. No stranger to large canvases (he recently completed a mural memorializing George Floyd in the Crossroads area), Sierra added his own unique touches to make the art fit the space.
"I made a few tweaks. I wanted to add the whole world map, whereas the original design cut off at one point. Then I just made it fit the space. The design was great. Each flag was its own challenge, and then we put the map on top," says Sierra.
Sierra says that he's normally more of a freehand artist, but he was happy to interpret Parks' design.
"It was cool to do. It's different than the stuff that I normally do, so it was a good challenge. And writing the words that she had put on there and translating them was fun and interesting. I've never written in Korean before!" Sierra says that he double checked some of the phrases with friends that speak the language to make sure he had everything right.
With its completion, McCrummen hopes that this won't be the last mural to find its home on his walls. "I know that North Kansas City is looking to add more street art. Maybe they need one of the other walls," he chuckles.
The piece resonates with locals as it celebrates the many facets of living in North Kansas City. McCrummen says that since its completion, people have been throwing shoes up to hang on the power lines in front of the mural, as a tribute or appreciation. With this colorful addition to the NKC landscape, the city is wearing its diversity proudly.
View the mural on the back side of the McCrummen Immigration Law Group at 2005 Swift Avenue, North Kansas City.