In 1951, North Topeka, Kansas suffered a devastating flood from which the area never fully recovered. Until only several years ago, the downtown area was a wash of vacant storefronts and private residencies that had fallen into disrepair. Despite the Governor of Kansas’ decision to de-fund the arts, in 2010, a group of volunteers came together to try and revitalize North Topeka through the arts. Observing that the town’s total lack of recreational and cultural activities was affecting their ability to attract new business, the local Chamber of Commerce started paying attention to volunteers’ vision.
Today, the Historic North Topeka Arts District (NOTO) works with the landlords of long-vacant storefronts to make capital improvements to their infrastructure so that they can subsidize the presence of artists and other creative entrepreneurs. The group’s popular “First Friday” events have grown to gatherings of over one thousand people who come to visit galleries and other businesses on the first Friday of each month. Additionally, the NOTO afterschool program is the only organization providing local youth with arts education.
A collaboration of Washburn University/Mulvane Art Museum, Topeka Public Schools and the NOTO Project Management Board, NOTO continues to stimulate the cultural and economic life of the area by helping artists secure work space and by providing relocation incentives for qualifying artists from Kansas and throughout the Midwest.