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Margie J. Reese, Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture

“Don’t Fence Me In” started out as a simple, hands-on art making opportunity for young artists to create designs and paint them on donated and recycled wood fence posts.

This really simple concept for kids in Summer Art Camps has grown into a full-blown community public art project. But along the way, artists, families, schools, sororities, doctors, architects and all kinds of non-profit organizations jumped on board and have created a larger scale “sculpture!”

Our goal of 200 painted pickets suddenly became 1,200 as neighbors from all over the community shared visual expressions; resulting in an assorted tapestry of individual pickets that exemplify our collective stories.

Picket fences have typically served as iconic boundaries to demarcate class and social status – or to provide “privacy” from next door neighbors. This summer, we have witnessed engaging conversations between kids and grandparents, artists and children, and even between coffee drinkers at Frank and Joe’s, as Wichitans came together to co-create this work of art – underneath the western skies in Wichita Falls,Texas!

Simple as that.

The response to this summer fun activity just proves what “community spirit” means in Wichita Falls. This project not only challenges the notion that there’s nothing to do in downtown Wichita Falls, but it also challenges traditional models of public art as a tool for community development. We didn’t try to limit community participation with prescribed definitions of what the “art” should look like or who could participate. We didn’t overthink a planning process with meetings and committees. Instead, we allowed the project to develop organically. And, it has become an unexpected vehicle embodying a broader artistic expression of the public.  In my mind, the “Don’t Fence Me In” project serves as a successful symbol of collaboration and storytelling.

“Oh, give me land – lots of land underneath the western skies!”

I’m not so sure what Cole Porter’s lyrics meant to me before we launched this project, but they were indeed the inspiration behind this activity. What new ways might we think about the open range — lonely spaces like the median between Kell East and Kell West near downtown Wichita Falls? (Property, by the way, that is under the control of the Texas Department of Transportation.) The area is an eyesore to many who travel the route daily, and I’m sure we all have wondered what could be done to enhance the entrance to our downtown. This project makes me wonder no more!

The “Fence” was assembled by a talented cohort of local artists from our 2017 Teaching Artists Learning Lab. We have dubbed the space, The Nexus Art Park.  Join us this Saturday, July 15, at 10 a.m. and see what Wichita Falls has created.

I’m proud to be a part of this community.

Margie J. Reese is the executive director of the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture,