Exceeding The Vision
Photos by Emma Highfill, Rose Wheat Photography
Picasso’s words, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” ring true for this once-forgotten industrial part of town, sadly neglected for decades. Now, the beautiful soul of a community re-emerges.
Barbara Waterman-Peters was one of the first to be a part of creating the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District. Along with several other visionaries, she explored the old buildings and deserted blocks in the North Topeka area. Some of the places were full of dead pigeons and others were so dark they needed flashlights to see inside. The flood of 1951 had left water damage and a thick layer of mud in the basements of most of the buildings. But Barbara saw beyond the dust and damage to the potential this area held.
“I was very passionate about the whole concept,” she says. “The timing was perfect for me. And Topeka was ready.”
Barbara decided to move her art studio and gallery space into the NOTO area almost nine years ago. The building at 831 N. Kansas Avenue is one that she and some of the early volunteers came out to paint, the first of many beautification projects in the district. Friend and fellow artist, Lois VanLiew, joined her in the space. Since then, a number of artists have shared Studio 831 with them. There is always a waiting list of other artists who want to join if space opens up.
“I am fortunate to be here,” says Barbara. “I feel I have done some of my best work here.”
Studio 831 is just one of the “storefront” businesses in NOTO with studio space that also offers items for sale to the public. People can walk down the block and right into art galleries and shops brimming with amazing and interesting pieces. The arts district gives people from all walks of life access to various expressions of art.
“We have broadened the opportunities for people to interact with art and artists,” Barbara says. “We can have a dialogue about art. It has led to the most interesting conversations.”
From a call for volunteers to a call for artists, the people of Topeka have responded.
Private investors and monies have always funded the area, not governmental entities or large corporations. Every business, every investor, every artist, every shopper—each in their own way doing their small part for the benefit of all.
“I think the development of NOTO provided the spark for other areas of Topeka,” Barbara says. “At the very root of it is the enhancement of our city. I am so excited to see how the city is recognizing its value.”
Working with downtown partnerships and collaborating with other entities, the area maintains its unique ambiance as it continues to grow and evolve. Barbara is proud to have been part of the catalyst for this evolution.
“I did a painting of how I envisioned the NOTO area would look, and it did not begin to capture all the wonderful things happening down here,” she says. “It has—and is—exceeding our wildest dreams.”