Artery: Community issues and public art meet in new documentary

Nicholas Ward, 35, and Amber Hansen, 31 are artists and documentary filmmakers.
Nicholas Ward, 35, and Amber Hansen, 31 are artists and documentary filmmakers.

Amber Hansen, 31, and Nicholas Ward, 35, didn’t begin their art careers with the intent of becoming documentary filmmakers.

The two met at the University of South Dakota while pursuing undergraduate degrees in art and painting. When they moved on to the University of Kansas, still studying art and painting, Ward was making short animations, and Hansen was making short performance films. But even then, the longest piece they had created was a three- or four-minute film.

Then they met David Loewenstein. Loewenstein is a muralist from Lawrence who had seen a mural the duo had created in Junction City, Kan.

“He called us up, I think the next day,” Ward says. “And he asked if we wanted to go out for lunch that day.” The result of that lunch was a three-year project creating murals in six states throughout the Midwest. The result of that project was Hansen and Ward’s first documentary, “Called to Walls.”

The film is an ode to community-based art that focuses on murals created in Tonkawa, Okla.; Joplin, Mo.; Newton, Kan.; and Arkadelphia, Ark. Loewenstein, Ward and Hansen enlisted the help of each community to create works that reflect each town’s spirit. The task forced each locale to confront issues such as racism or how to best recover in the wake of an F5 tornado.

They raised $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, received grants through the Mid-America Arts Alliance and supplemented the costs of the film with other smaller projects, but producing a feature-length documentary isn’t cheap. “Called to Walls” is screening at Liberty Hall in Lawrence on Saturday to raise money for the film’s distribution.

A panel discussion about the film and community-based art in general will follow the screening, as well as an afterparty at Decade coffee house that will feature two bands, No Magic and Invisible Public Library, from the documentary’s predominately local soundtrack.