A permanent public art installation is in the works for Lykins Square Park memorializing victims of human trafficking. The memorial will consist of four lighted panels of painted Venetian glass created by artist Hasna Salam.
Salam got the idea for the installation about two years ago when her friend told her about Christine McDonald, a blind survivor of commercial sexual exploitation in Northeast, who now works to bring awareness through telling her story.
Salam hosted a luncheon to meet McDonald, who had sparked her interest as an artist, Nicole Gerken from HALO Foundation, Development Director Lindsay Hicks from Habitat for Humanity (HFH) and others.
“She’s a lovely, lovely person, very bubbly and full of life,” Salam said of McDonald. “When Lindsay told me that they’re doing this big revitalization project in the Lykins neighborhood, I got to thinking about it and I said, ‘you know, here is a local hero, right?’ Christine McDonald is a woman hero that, despite her blindness, she is still able to do social work and said she goes to different places and she talks to women about empowering them and things like that, and I said, ‘she needs a larger voice,’” Salam said.
McDonald opened Salam’s eyes to the issue of human trafficking, prompting her to begin research, where she was surprised by the magnitude of the “social disease.”
“It’s a pandemic that is growing, has been growing forever and ever, and United States is one of the highest consumers of human trafficking, and then I found out there is a whole hill in my city, it’s called Hooker Hill, and as an artist, as an architect, I felt like I needed to do something,” Salam said.
After hearing McDonald’s story, Salam was reminded of a project she worked on when she sat on the board for HFH in Topeka over a decade ago. At the time, she was working as an architect, and had designed a concrete and glass house for HFH, which she visited years later to find completely destroyed.
She set out to create something that would bring attention to this issue and help survivors tell their stories.
“If I can do something that brings attention to this issue and help women like Christine McDonald and [Veronica’s Voice founder] Kristy Childs who are doing profound work in their spheres to try and empower women, why can’t I do my part and use my knowledge, my expertise, to create something powerful that can create a larger conversation at a national level, at a global level?” Salam asked herself.
From her own experience and learning from research on urbanism, Salam believes that if neighborhood revitalization includes art, people will take better care of their communities.
“You have to give the people a sense of belonging,” Salam said.
Salam approached HFH of Kansas City last summer, wanting to again get involved after her time with HFH in Topeka.
“She originally contacted us about another project, then she heard about this thing that we’ve been a part of that’s called the Lykins Neighborhood Revitalization Project, and she’d been involved in anti-human trafficking efforts, and she wanted to do this art memorial for survivors and victims of human trafficking as part of the redesigning and redevelopment of the park and the neighborhood and whatnot,” said Jude Huntz, Outreach Manager at HFH.
Salam then met with McDonald again, who walked with her down Independence Avenue and through Lykins Square park, which both played a huge role in her past.
“I walked down those steps, I turned around and there was graffiti that said, ‘help me,’ ‘save me,’ ‘where is God?’” Salam said. “You know it was as if the voices of the unknown were calling out to me and it felt like they wanted representation, like they were saying to me, ‘help us.’”
Salam was determined to create a meaningful representation of the people who had passed through that park. She created a small model of the project to present to the Lykins Neighborhood Association board, which was met with strong support.
The project was funded through the generosity of community supporters and Salam, who is working pro bono. She was overwhelmed with gratitude by the financial support of her friends and others who saw the importance of her project, raising $10,000 in one afternoon. HFH acted as the fiscal agent for the project.
“We had to go through a lot of city approvals, so we started out with the Arts Commission because the Arts Commission would be ones who will receive the gift, and so they wanted the glass to be protected from weather and all sorts of things,” Huntz said. “We said we’ll provide whatever protection. So after they approved the project, we then went to the Parks Department and from there they sort of gave us a criteria in terms of what they needed in order for it to be according to their standards.”
The Lykins Neighborhood Revitalization project will be a mixed-use, mixed-income development for the neighborhood, creating between 75 and 100 new homes in the end.
“We’re part of a larger coalition of nonprofits and for profits that are going to be building new housing in the neighborhood,” Huntz said. “So we’re going to provide our standard houses, affordable housing, for families in there. And then I think there are a couple of six-plexes and whatnot that are going to be redone for affordable renting. And then there’s going to be some more market rate housing in the neighborhood, as well.”
HFH builds homes for families in need of shelter, but during this project will also be doing work for families in the neighborhood who need help with minor and cosmetic home repairs to avoid code violations through the home preservation program.
Though details are still being determined, the groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for October 24, 2020.