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Artist uses native flower paintings to highlight KC neighborhood issues

Flowers for Marlborough first house
Posted at 4:30 AM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 08:34:01-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City, Missouri, artist is using her talents to draw attention to the economic and ecological blight in the Marlborough neighborhood.

Julie Farstad, a painting professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, was awarded the Rosser Biennial Faculty Fellowship Endowment last year. Now, she is using that money for her project, "Flowers for Marlborough."

She paints pictures of native plants and flowers, then hangs them on vacant homes and buildings in her neighborhood.

The project has two focuses: the historical and current neglect of the neighborhood and the destruction of the native flora that should be growing in Kansas City to sustain a healthy ecosystem.

"I thought I could draw attention to the neighborhood blight, using these images of native plants as signs of hope and signs of repair, and also to get people familiar with and to appreciate what these plants are," Farstad said.

Her goal with the project is to highlight how past harmful practices, like redlining, have led to unequal treatment and outcomes for certain neighborhoods.

She finds vacant and rundown homes or buildings, then contacts their owners and asks permission to hang her paintings there.

She started with a home on East 77th Terrace.

Flowers for Marlborough first house
First "Flowers for Marlborough" home on E. 77th Terrace

"I see these paintings on the windows as both a way of encouraging people to plant native plants and pollinators, but also as a sign that we care about this house, and we care about the neighbors who will move in and we want to welcome them," she said.

For the second home, at East 79th Street and Virginia Avenue, she teamed up with two other artists, Adam Crowley and Anna Goodwin, who she met through the Marlborough Arts and Culture Task Force.

Flowers for Marlborough second house
Second "Flowers for Marlborough" home on E. 79th & Virginia

After putting up the paintings on the second home, they received a surprise – a mystery artist had added their own painting depicting native plants.

"We came over and somebody else made a new work of art on there, and I just love that," Farstad said. "I don't know who they are. I would love to know who they are and say hi, and maybe invite them to work on the next one with us."

Her next location will be the old Marlborough Elementary school building on East 75th Street. For that project, she hopes to get children involved. She plans to host several pop-up painting sessions this spring and summer, where neighborhood children will be able to learn about native plants and paint pictures that will be hung on the school building's boarded up windows.

Farstad said she hopes this project can be a catalyst for change.

"I really think that the completion of this work will be in community development," she said. "That's when it will come full circle."

While the ultimate goal is to address these economic and ecological issues, Farstad said she also just wants to add some beauty to her neighborhood for others to see.

"Everyone should have a Large-Flowered Bellwort in their yard," she said.

To help restore some of the native plants to the neighborhood, Farstad is creating native plant kits, which include seedlings of plants that are naturally supposed to grow in this area.

Anyone from the Marlborough neighborhood can contact Farstad through her Facebook or Instagram pages to get one of the free plant kits.