Graham Ripple admits it. He could hardly have picked a worse time to unfurl his flag idea.
Last summer Ripple and some partners announced a metro-wide effort they dubbed “One City, One Flag.” They launched a website to stir enthusiasm for a contest to produce a flag that could flap throughout the 14 counties that officially make up the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Unity, get it?
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The national narrative as elections approached was all about discord — it still is — and along came Ripple, 33, saying area residents should show their togetherness by rallying around a regional flag.
Never mind the political divide, the state line, strained race relations and feuding over the proposal to redo Kansas City International Airport. Never mind Missouri and Kansas wrestling for companies to locate in one state versus the other.
Ripple and friends are not giving up. After sputtering for months to gin up excitement for “One City, One Flag,” they recently brought together three dozen local artists and fellow entrepreneurs to get the design competition rolling. The deadline for submissions is July 2, and anyone 18 or older is eligible for the $1,000 prize for the winning flag (or $500 for second place and $250 for third).
In 2016, “the problem wasn’t just our timing, coming during that election. Our execution was off, too,” said Ripple.
As startups often do, the One Flag organizers sought donations to Kickstarter, an online site that raises funds for creative projects. That netted a few thousand dollars, but Ripple said the early focus should’ve been on people — the arts community — not seed money.
The people who attended a One Flag powwow June 8 at a downtown distillery were quick to warm to the challenge.
“I really like the idea,” said graphic designer Sarah Burns, who wound up discussing potential flag colors with a stranger, freelance technologist Melanie Haas. A Kansas City metro logo could catch on not just for a flag, but on coffee cups, T-shirts and other local products, she said.
Contest rules and tools for designing a flag are on the OneFlag.co website.
“Kansas City has every reason to be divided,” the site acknowledges. “We have geographic and political differences, even a history of division.”
We have the Missouri River, north and south. We have east and west of Troost Avenue, suburbs drawing from the core, and endless debates over the city earning tax. Our town grew out of Missouri Bushwhackers killing Kansas Jayhawkers, and vice versa.
But Ripple sensed nothing but love in November 2015 when he stood among hundreds of thousands of people downtown for the Royals’ World Series victory parade.
His inspiration dates to that moment. He also recalls a pleasure trip to Colorado, where he and other members of the One Flag team marveled at the ubiquitous display of the state flag — big red C with yellow inside — in homes, shops and recreation areas.
“A flag should be aspirational,” said Ripple. “This isn’t only about what Kansas City is, but what we could be.”
Ripple will shrugged at the nation’s political polarization: “Let D.C. do its thing. K.C. is going to try to stick together.”
When the One Flag team of 30-something entrepreneurs unveiled their OneFlag.co website in August, first blushes were mixed.
In little Hamilton, Mo. — at the northeast edge of what government statisticians consider the Kansas City metro area — Caldwell County News co-editor Stephanie Henry told The Star: “We don’t consider ourselves part of the metro at all. We’re a rural farming community.”
At the opposite corner of the metro sits Osawatomie, Kan., population 4,300, where abolitionist John Brown once chopped up people.
The director of that town’s chamber of commerce, Diana Neal, said shopping districts in Olathe and Kansas City steal customers from local businesses.
Still, when her husband’s softball team, KC Classic, travels the country for senior tournaments, the players say they’re from Kansas City. Or thereabouts.
“Some might say we’re from south of Olathe,” said Neal. “But I wouldn’t mind a regional flag. There is a definite bond with the Kansas City sports teams.”
Johnson County Commissioner Ed Eilert broke out laughing when asked about a metro flag. “Who would decide...?” he said before switching to a more positive gear.
“My suggestion is you make a flag with logos of the Royals, Chiefs and Sporting Kansas City,” Eilert said. “That’s my best thought ... if you’re looking for a cross-community identifier that unites everyone.”
One Flag co-founder Jason Domingues said community togetherness should reach beyond professional sports.
“Achieving this takes baby steps,” he said. “If you strongly believe in people being united as a community instead of thinking divided, slowly they’re going to believe it.”
Adam Seitz of the marketing agency VML, who is organizing the flag competition, noted that geographic divisions will never go away.
“I live in Kansas and work in Missouri,” Seitz said. “But for me a place is about the human beings between those barriers, the relationships we form despite everything.”
A panel of flag judges consisting of civic, business and non-profit players will narrow the design entries to about a half-dozen. The winner will be chosen in an online public vote beginning July 23 and announced in a “One Flag reveal party” scheduled for Aug. 17.
The competitors have their own ideas about what a 14-county flag must convey.
University of Missouri-Kansas City art instructor Paul Tosh prefers simplicity over a clutter of images reflecting area landmarks. Avoid bold reds and blues — the common colors of government flags — and choose oranges and watercolors that reflect a diverse metropolis, he said.
“Ambiguity,” suggested urban planner Jason Brody.
With the best flags as in great art, he said, “we don’t want it to be too defined. We want it to be suggestive.”
Think the Mona Lisa’s smile, he said.
Contestants Burns and Haas agreed that the flag be slogan-free. A phrase that attempts to define the region would come off as promotional and could further divide.
The One Flag endeavor, though for-profit, will direct a portion of revenues to grants for area charities and foundations, Ripple said.
Indivisible — that’s the spirit. “We may not be perfect,” he said, “but we’re together.”