By Kevin Collison
To the uneducated eye, when it comes to the explosion of street art brightening the alleys and buildings in the Crossroad Arts District in recent years it’s hard to know the difference between a “tag,” a “throw up” or a fully realized “burner.”
Much less who some of the better artists are behind the expressive, vivid works including Sike Style, Lucid Flows, Hevanpaints and Scribe.
James Carlson, a native of Springfield who now lives in Denver, intends to change that.
Beginning this Saturday, he’s launching the “Kansas City Graffiti Tour,” a guided walk around the Crossroads where participants will learn not only about the area’s street art but how the district has evolved in recent years.
It’s a continuation of a graffiti art tour Carlson and his wife, Erin Spradlin, started in the Denver RiNo district a year ago.
“I still have family in Kansas City and Springfield and I’ve watching the area grow,” Carlson said over coffee recently at Messenger. “Some things going on here have been similar to Denver.
“The street art murals here have really expanded and boomed, not only in volume, but in quality and content.”
The walking tour costs $20 and begins at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the northeast corner of 17th and Grand across the street from Messenger Coffee. It winds up about noon. Special group tours also can be scheduled.
For two hours, participants will first comb the backways of the East Crossroads then walk over to the west side of the neighborhood. It’s an occasionally rugged trek, so participants are advised to wear sturdy, closed-toe footwear.
In between learning about the techniques and the etiquette of the street art world, they’ll hopefully enjoy the vivid beauty and creativity of works that are quickly executed and often of limited life span–depending on the artist.
Carlson said more than 20 of the artists whose works are part of the tour as well as other research went into preparing information for the guided walk.
By the way, a tag is generally someone’s scrawled initials, a throw up is a more refined balloon-style lettering and a burner is a fully realized mural.
“There are unwritten rules including if you go over someone else’s piece, you’d better improve upon it, you don’t tag over it and you don’t touch certain people,” Carlson said.
One of those revered street artists is Scribe, who’s work is not only seen in the alleyways, but the halls of Children’s Mercy Hospital as well.
One of Scribe’s works that features expressionist images of a rhino and a heart is Carlson’s favorite.
“It’s technically beautiful, detailed work,” he said. “He did it in three hours with spray paint which is insane.”
Carlson was first took notice of street art as more than background, urban visual noise when he visited Bogota, Colombia two years ago.
He started the weekend tours in Denver last May. It covers RiNo aka River North Art District, a gentrifying, former industrial area near downtown Denver.
The Crossroads is similar to RINO and provides a relatively compact area for the new tour. In August 2017, a five-day street art celebration called Solanoir added many new murals to the area.
“I wanted to find great art in a two-mile walking area and also a route that gives us opportunities to talk about the growth of the area,” Carlson said.
“We enjoy using the street art as a vehicle to tell a story about a changing area.”
Seventeenth and Grand was chosen as the start because it offers views of the different components of downtown’s revival including historic rehab projects such as Messenger Coffee, and big, new developments such as the Power & Light District and the Loews Convention Hotel.
The tour winds up a Parlor, one of the latest additions to the evolving East Crossroads area.
“People can experience the new food hall concept,” Carlson said.
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