The Children’s Place Inspired, Lockton Loved, Hallmark Designed and Jet Pack Painted
A big white wall, overlooking a colorful playground. In the early days of the design of our new building, our architectural team planted the seed for our dream, identifying that this would be the perfect place for a mural.
Now years later, thanks to the collaboration of so many talented and generous people, a vibrant mural was completed in the spring of 2023.
Hallmark Corporate Foundation, a longtime corporate partner of The Children’s Place, approached us early in the process and was eager to be a part of this mural project. Hallmark helped identify one of their artists, Matt Kesler, to help design the mural.
Matt had designed murals before for Children’s Mercy and other organizations, but there was one differentiator with this project.
“I’ve never done a mural this big ever,” he told us. “The largest mural I’ve designed is maybe half of this size, and that was with a team. But I love this space—the size of it and how open it is, so that was an exciting part of the project.”
A Mural in the Making
Matt created several sketches throughout the process. He knew that he wanted to create a cheerful, colorful piece, but as he got to know The Children’s Place and the work we do more, his vision evolved. He started the process imagining a happy and cheerful mural, but as he learned more, he realized that the children who walk through the doors of The Children’s Place have often experienced really difficult things, and he wanted to incorporate that idea into the design too.
“I wanted to show that there are some really hard things that these children have gone through, but healing comes,” he said.
Ann Thomas, President & CEO of The Children’s Place, was closely involved in the process and resonated with this shift.
“At some point in our lives, we all go through the showers, the rain, the storms,” she said. “Acknowledging it but not making it so scary or identifiable as trauma was a conscious decision and made the mural more universal.”
Art that Tells a Story
The mural portrays the journey that some children may experience at The Children’s Place, with each symbol having meaning:
Waves and Curves
The design flows in a wave, with curves integrated throughout, to show that life is full of ups and downs.
The children who walk through the doors of The Children’s Place have experienced traumatic events, some of the darkest times of their lives. From abuse to neglect to loss of close family members, sometimes darkness comes in our lives. Through mental health therapy, these children have the opportunity to heal from their hurts and find hope.
Seedlings and Flower
Hope begins with just a seedling, small and weak at first. With the care of gentle raindrops and sunshine, the seedlings of hope grow taller and stronger. Throughout the mural is the symbol of a pair of shapes, one big and one little. For the young children we serve, much of the world is big to them and they are little. These symbols show that even though they are small, they are strong.
A nest is a powerful symbol at The Children’s Place, of safety, security and nurturing, with a nest incorporated on our own playground. Many of the children we serve are in foster care, so home can change often, but The Children’s Place can be a safe and consistent place for them. An intentional decision was made for the birds in the nest to be different colors, because we recognize that every family is diverse and individuals in a family do not always look the same.
The Children’s Place is here to walk hand in hand with children who have experienced traumatic events. A last-minute change was made when Matt noticed that he had originally designed both hands to be the same size. As another incarnation of the big and little concept, he changed one hand to make it child-sized.
Butterflies go through transformations, providing a symbol of change, which is something children at The Children’s Place experience often. Then, new life and hope emerges in the healing journey.
This friendly green bear greets everyone who enters The Children’s Place. The first hello and the last goodbye every day, Rudy Bear is a symbol of belonging at The Children’s Place. Each child even receives their very own plush Rudy Bear when they complete services, so this huggable bear will go with them on the next step of their journey.
“We can make good from the bad and grow from it,” Matt told us. “It can grow into something beautiful and something wonderful.”
Each day the children play outside under the backdrop of this mural, which can also be seen by the community from blocks away driving north on Troost Avenue.
“I hope it brings the children joy and it gives them hope,” Matt said. “I hope it gives them something to smile and laugh about, and in a way, I want them to own it. It’s theirs—it belongs to them.”
Executing the Dream
This project came together thanks to so many generous community members and partners.
We identified Evolution Mural to do the actual painting of the mural, a challenging task given the expansiveness of the space and the height of the wall. Plus, since it overlooks an active playground, they had to work around the Day Treatment schedule, meaning the painting took place beginning about 3 p.m. and carrying on overnight over a two-week period.
Murals of this height are often painted on a cherry picker, which wasn’t possible to navigate on the playground, or scaffolding, which presented a safety hazard since children still played on the playground daily. Instead, the two-painter team simply used ladders.
On the last day of painting, the painters arrived early to enjoy popsicles on the playground with the children in our Day Treatment program. The children got to meet the painters, learn about their process and ask questions. One child asked how they were able to get up so high, and, true to the playfulness of the entire project, the painter responded “Jetpacks!”
“They really were like superheroes to get this painted,” Ann said. “It was a pretty special experience.”
Bringing the Vision to Life
In addition to the Hallmark Corporate Foundation, who provided generous funding for this project, one other donor helped make it possible. Mary Lockton, a longtime donor to The Children’s Place, was touring our new building soon after it opened, and Ann gestured to the blank wall and explained the dream to cover it with a mural. Not long after that, Mary called to say how excited she was for the project and offering to help contribute to create a mural for the children to enjoy every day.
Thank you to Mary and the Hallmark Corporate Foundation for making this dream a reality. We look forward to it serving as a backdrop to play and an inspiration to future artists for years to come.