Empty Earthen Vessels - CODAworx

Client: City of Kansas City Public Art Commission / Kansas City Police Department

Location: Kansas City, MO, United States

Completion date: 2015

Artwork budget: $550,000

Project Team


David Dahlquist

RDG Dahlquist Art Studio

Public Art Agent

City of Kansas City Municipal Art Commission


Kansas City Police Department

Art Consultant

Arts Tech


Brian Frederiksen

RDG Dahlquist Art Studio


Kate Chandler

RDG Dahlquist Art Studio


Don Scandrett

RDG Dahlquist Art Studio


Mike Chambers

RDG Planning & Design


JE Dunn Construction


Rick Stewart


Glenn North


Kansas City Steel


The site-specific public artwork entitled We Are a Bowl: “Empty Earthen Vessels Waiting to be Filled” is located at the new Kansas City Missouri Police Department’s Leon Mercer Jordan Campus that houses the East Patrol Station and Regional Crime Lab. The sculptural installation, over 63’ long by 18’ tall and 14’ wide, is a ceremonial community entrance to the new KCPD facility, intended as a meaningful bridge with the surrounding neighborhoods. It is the third largest Percent for Art Commission in the city’s history.


The project was centered around a comprehensive cultural engagement with hands-on workshops that touched nearly 1,000 people and 15 area schools, held in collaboration with ArtsTech, a local arts outreach organization dedicated to at-risk and adjudicated youth. Local students and neighbors of the campus were invited to join a “Throw Mud” event at several sessions in April 2015 at ArtsTech. Public artist, David Dahlquist, facilitated the week-long event with volunteers from the Kansas City Art Institute, the KC Clay Guild, and other arts groups that helped participants learn to throw bowls that would be incorporated into the installation. David also collaborated with local author, Glenn North, to commission a poem that uses the bowl as a metaphor for community. The pergola or arbor-like structure integrates cross-cultural symbols in terra cotta relief and custom glazed bowls, weaving together a story of peace and reconciliation in the aftermath of Ferguson. The integration of the artwork is critical to the development of the neighborhood. It has already served to build relationships and contribute a significant economic impact on Kansas City’s eastside citizens and businesses. The campus represents an unprecedented investment in the Third District of Kansas City, Missouri.


From a functional perspective, collaboration was at the heart of innovation and experimentation. It led to new materials and techniques employed in the fabrication and installation of the project. But collaboration played a much greater role with respect to the site, its purpose, and its transformation. Public art is about people. A project of this nature depends upon bringing people together, first in a meaningful dialogue and then throughout the process. Communication becomes critical to building relationships. In this case, the public artwork and the role of the artist served as the bridge between the city, the police, the surrounding community, the myriad of professional design disciplines including architects and engineers, as well as fabricators and contractors, all working together to reach a successful and meaningful installation. The project took nearly three years to evolve. It would not have had a chance without design collaboration, without design thinking to address many different agenda and policies, respectful of diversity within the community.