Reclaiming Home: Remembering the Topeka Bottoms

University of Kansas
  • María Velasco, Professor, Visual Art, University of Kansas
  • Valerie Mendoza, Independent Public Historian
  • Matt Jacobson, Professor, Film and Media Studies, University of Kansas
  • Donna Rae Pearson, Local Historian, Kitchen Table History

“Reclaiming Home” will tell the story of Topeka’s Bottoms neighborhood through oral history, a documentary and art. In the 1950s and ’60s, more than 3,000 Topekans were forced to leave their homes and businesses in the Bottoms district in downtown to make way for new real estate development as part of the Urban Renewal Project. The area, covering more than 20 blocks, was the heart of a thriving Black business district and robust Latinx community. “Reclaiming Home” aims to reclaim the stories of these displaced communities through the use of oral histories, community mapping, a documentary and an exhibit that recreates the neighborhood through art — all at a critical time when the city is planning another round of urban renovation in the same area.

Project News

Padget, M. (2021, November 30). KU Faculty, Community partners to advance racial equity through newly funded projects. KU News.

Partner Details

  • María Velasco

    Professor, Visual Art, University of Kansas


    María Velasco is a Spanish-born artist who has been living and working in the US since 1991. Her work exists at the intersection of art and social practice, where dialogue, process, and participation lead to new insights. She creates site-specific installations, urban interventions, and participatory projects to investigate spaces, architecture, history, and, foremost, the human interactions intersecting them. Her artistic practice is an opportunity to connect with a community, examine cultural conditions, and question assumptions about the structures of authority surrounding our lives. She has shown her work nationally in notable venues such as The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, MN; the Contemporary Arts Forum in Santa Barbara, CA; the ARC gallery in Chicago, IL; the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, KS and the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, in New York City. Internationally, she has exhibited in Salón Tentaciones (Spain), Museo Del Barro (Paraguay), Paradise Gardens Biennial VI, (Germany), Mexico, Argentina and Morocco. Her work appears in prestigious publications including Art In America and Sculpture Magazine, and has been reviewed by The Kansas City Star, Art Focus Oklahoma, The Village Voice, and the Chicago Reader. Her recent curatorial project Making It Work: Art + Parenting will debut at the Lawrence Arts Center in May 2022.

  • Valerie Mendoza

    Independent Public Historian


    Valerie M. Mendoza received her Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the history of the Latinx community in Kansas and the Midwest. She is a Topeka native with community roots in the Bottoms. For the last year she served as host of the Big Idea, a monthly discussion sponsored by Humanities Kansas featuring African American scholars from around the state. Her talk, “Beyond Brown: Mexican Responses Before and After Brown v Board” was recently chosen to be part of the Humanities Kansas Speakers Bureau. In addition, the Kansas State Historical Society contracted with her to conduct focus groups with the Latinx community throughout the state as part of their Engaging Communities project. Dr. Mendoza was recently invited by the Kansas Oral History Project to serve on the Advisory Panel for Diversity in Public Policy Making.

  • Matt Jacobson

    Professor, Film and Media Studies, University of Kansas


    Over the last five decades, filmmaker and professor Matt Jacobson has worked on more than 50 feature film and media projects. Originally from Los Angeles, he graduated with an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema/Television in 1991. After working most of the next decade as a film and media professional and instructor in Los Angeles, he accepted a position teaching film and media production at the University of Kansas in 1999. For more than twenty years, he has worked as Director of Photography with his primary creative partner, Academy-Award-winning writer and director Kevin Willmott, on a dozen major narrative and documentary projects. These include two feature films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival: CSA: Confederate States of America (2005) and The Only Good Indian (2009). Other projects include working as Director of Photography on the 2020 web series The Square Root, for which he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Cinematography with his collaborator Jeremy Osbern.

  • Donna Rae Pearson

    Local Historian, Kitchen Table History


    Donna Rae Pearson received her Master’s in History from Wichita State University and considers herself a radical historian. Her research focuses on the history of African Americans in Kansas and Historic Preservation.

    She highly values participatory research projects that give underrepresented groups agency to tell their stories in the most accessible way possible. Ms. Pearson has conducted and participated in numerous community engagement and oral history projects as a result of this focus. She has over 10 years of experience in the museum field as well as an additional 10 years in archives management. During the past 20 years, she has developed the skills to create community-driven exhibitions. Her presentation, “Redlining in Kansas” was recently chosen to be part of the Humanities Kansas Speakers Bureau. Her consulting work has included conducting focus groups with the African American community for the Kansas State Historical Society throughout the state as part of their Engaging Communities project. Ms. Pearson serves on the Kansas Oral History Project Advisory Panel for Diversity in Public Policy Making, the ArtsConnect board, and the Local Landmarks Commission in Topeka, Kansas.