Jackson County, Missouri has over 15,000 vacant properties. Jake Wagner and Yozo Suzuki will develop a counter-narrative to the notion that vacant properties have no value, using a hybrid methodology that includes public art, urban planning and documentary film. Their imagery will draw on local histories of jazz, civil rights, and everyday life in Kansas City’s eastside neighborhoods.
Vacant properties in Kansas City are often viewed in terms of financial values, code violations, nuisances or mortgage foreclosure. Rarely are these vacant properties seen as assets and historic resources that hold within them the memory of our city and region.
Public Service Announcement: KC Endangered is a project developed by the Society for the Prevention of Un-necessary Demolition (s.p.u.d.) to highlight vacancy, abandonment and the erosion of place, through a creative partnership with local neighborhoods. Wagner and Suzuki seek to fill the void of vacancy with the histories and memories of local residents, by connecting vacant homes – as physical places – to the lives of Kansas City’s residents – past and present.
Their process will involve several steps including research and site selection, public engagement and design discovery, design development and visualization, and publication/exhibition. Each step will include interactive components in which the project team will work directly with local residents of neighborhoods, facilitated by a network of partnerships with local neighborhood leaders. Wagner and Suzuki expect to select about 26 sites near 27th and Prospect and south of the 18th and Vine Jazz District, to highlight through film, photography, mixed media, oral history and sound recordings.
Research and site selection will include work at local archives and the examination of government records, including visual and audio materials. The team will use these materials to develop a visual vocabulary for the project, and to select the top locations for site intervention.
In the public engagement phase, Wagner and Suzuki will seek broader participation, through a process in which residents can “nominate” an important vacant structure for consideration and inclusion in the project.
Wagner and Suzuki will then conduct site visits to select vacant structures across the city, document these structures, and connect historical resources and archival materials to their film and photographic documentation of present day conditions. A central aspect of their process is the idea of creating community events in which people can share personal histories, memories and even family photos with the team.
The final phase of the project will include the production of mixed media art works, and their exhibition in venues that are open to the public, including the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center and the Bluford Library. The project team will also develop a mixed media catalog of the significant sites and cultural heritage of forgotten places in the eastside neighborhoods of Kansas City. The real “product”, however, will be the process of art as community empowerment – giving value to untold stories by cultivating relationships, documenting personal and local histories, and creating a means to visualize these stories for a larger audience.
The Society for the Prevention of Un-necessary Demolition (s.p.u.d.) is a temporal arts collective developed for the purpose of revisualizing vacant housing and the challenge of neighborhood stabilization in Kansas City. Through the combination of visual arts, urban planning, historical research, and community engagement, s.p.u.d. seeks to bring a new understanding of the condition of vacancy to eastside neighborhoods. Traditional models of community development have broken down under the weight of housing vacancy and financial disinvestment. The visual arts combined with oral histories, documentary film and photography provide a means to raise awareness and change public perceptions about urban neighborhoods and vacant structures. S.p.u.d. seeks to evoke local memory, inform participants about hidden histories through participatory public art, and stabilize the historical assets of inner city Kansas City, Missouri.
Wagner and Suzuki were both born and raised in the Kansas City area. Both are musicians and artists who move easily between the visual and audible arts.
Jacob A. Wagner is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Design at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His work is focused on Kansas City and New Orleans, including issues of sustainable food systems, vacancy and neighborhood stabilization, and community planning for equitable development His applied work in urban planning and design has been funded by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Audubon Society. Wagner serves as a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Urban Design.
Yozo Suzuki was born in Kansas City, Kansas from a Japanese father and a Swiss mother. He holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the College of Santa Fe. Under the guidance of Martin Horowitz, Goldleaf Framemakers, Yozo became a master gilder and frame maker. He is an educator in the production of period picture frames and contributor to Picture Framing Magazine. He is a founding member of High Mayhem experimental arts collective and member of multiple bands including “The Late Severa Wires.” He has been working as an artist and musician in Santa Fe, New Mexico since 1993.