Ty Tabing plans to make campus a place to play, meet

  • Wichita State graduate Ty Tabing wants to use art and music to invite people to linger on campus.
  • Tabing is a "place-maker" who spent much of his career in Chicago activating public spaces.
  • Wichita State's potential to use the talents of students and faculty to draw in visitors is appealing.

Ty Tabing is a native Wichitan and a 1989 Wichita State graduate who admits he rarely lingered on campus after classes. 

Now it is his job to inspire people to linger, meet, talk and create in public spaces on Wichita State's campus. He starts at Braeburn Square, the on-campus retail area near 21st and Oliver, as a “place-maker.”

“I'm really excited about the opportunity,” he said. “It's really kind of this fun canvas, a blank slate that I'll be working with others on campus and stake-holders to create something that's going to attract students and faculty and also people from the community.”

That fits with the “Learn. Work. Live. Play,” part of President John Bardo's vision for the campus and its connection to the community.

wichita Alyssa Calbert
Ty Tabing


“Now that the first three are well in motion, Ty is helping us with play,” said Lou Heldman, vice president for Strategic Communications. “Ty is helping activate the whole campus, beginning with the newest part.”

Tabing sees the potential to mix Wichita State's academic and cultural assets with shopping, food, water and walking. It is an area of campus where people are not used to lingering and Tabing wants to change those habits.

“My biggest aspiration with this project is to do something no other shopping destination in this city could do, which is showcase really cool programming that you could only find here,” he said.

Tabing, whose parents live in Wichita, served as executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance and executive director of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. With the Chicago Loop Alliance, he helped revitalize Chicago's State Street with projects such as Looptopia, Pop-Up Art Loop and Art Loop Open.

He spent two years in Asia running Singapore River One, working to activate and market the area around the river that runs through Singapore's central business district

How do you define place-making?

It's creating spaces that respond to the natural attributes of their location, and that includes the physical sites as well as people. So often public spaces are created and the visitor experience is not top of mind.

Place-making really makes the visitor experience and the creation of community and these inter-disciplinary collisions important. 

You might have a chance to start talking to someone you might not otherwise speak to. It's a place where there's mash-ups coming that lead to interactions and create community, if it's done right.

I'm trying to create some new platforms to showcase all the cool things that happen at Wichita State, whether it's in the fine arts program, the engineering program, business.
Ty Tabing, 
Wichita State graduate and place-maker.

What programs are you dreaming about for Braeburn Square and the Innovation Campus? 

One of the things I'm looking to do is activate the water. As a good example of inter-disciplinary partnerships, I think it would be fantastic to have someone from the engineering department partnered with an artist and they create some kind of a remote-controlled boat.

And at the end of the year, we have a regatta and there are all sorts of boat races on that body of water. 

There are interesting ways to activate water, just like the DNA sculpture on the (Arkansas) river last year. I'd love to see that kind of thing placed on this water. We're looking at some competitions, some end-of-school-year kind of celebrations. That's part of the conversation right now.

What we're trying to focus on is to really showcase what we think are some of the unique selling points of this site. What distinguishes this retail offering from other parts of the city is the water, the fire pits and, most importantly, Wichita State.

I'm trying to create some new platforms to showcase all the cool things that happen at Wichita State, whether it's in the fine arts program, the engineering program, business.

There are so many interesting things that happen on this campus that in many ways, I think, have been taking place behind walls, inside buildings. We're trying to bring that out and have that become, not only great ways to distinguish this shopping center from others, but, more importantly to provide those adaptive learning opportunities to students and get some eyeballs on the type of stuff they're creating.

This is going to be a big point of entry for new audiences coming to campus in the future. You can reach a new audience if we can showcase some of the things that are happening.

One of the examples that I've been using:  A competition in band to be the first chair in playing the tuba. We'd like to be able to create a platform that allows the person who won that competition to really be able to showcase it. So maybe we give them 20, 30 minutes to be showcased at Braeburn Square.

There's no place else in town where you could see that youthful, emerging art and performances.

What are your roots in Wichita?

I grew up in Wichita and went to North High and went to Wichita State and got an economics degree. I left pretty much right after that and was gone for 25 years until I returned last year. Most of the time I lived in Chicago. I also lived in Asia, in Singapore, for a couple years.

For me, there's Wichita State at the micro level. At the macro level, Wichita is really undergoing a real renaissance. I would come back here in between projects and spend a few months with my parents and hang out. 

The last few years, as I've come back, I've thought ‘Wichita is better than I remember.' I've been kind of running away from Wichita most of my life.

Since I've moved back, I've been doing a lot of things. I serve on the (Board of Park Commissioners). I've done a couple of new initiatives to try and use art as a means to raise Wichita's visibility. Last summer, I worked with a couple of artists to put a floating sculptural piece in the Arkansas River, the DNA sculpture. Several months ago, we started a program to activate vacant storefronts downtown. We created this program called OpenStudios, which turns vacant storefronts into functioning art studios. 

More than anything, I've tried to immerse myself in the city and make some things happen from there.

What's changed about Wichita that impresses you?

There's a hopefulness. Young people are demanding more of leaders and saying ‘Why don't we have that here.' The (James) Chung (research and presentations) really identified the situation and hit the nail on the head. The perception challenge is getting a little better.

I do think that there are a lot of things that need to be done in Wichita to really recruit and retain talent. I want to try to be a part of those initiatives. To me, if Wichita doesn't do something in the next several years and really exploit this moment that it's experiencing, it will have missed a great opportunity to get some things done.

How can place-making help a city such as Wichita attract and retain young people?

There's a lot of research that shows there are two criteria that cause young people to choose a place. One is great social opportunities, so bars, restaurants, a great social life. The other is beauty of place. Wichita, in its own unique way, I think, is beautiful, but, of course, we don't have mountains or an ocean or those kinds of things.

I think it's important to really identify what our natural assets are, which I happen to think is the river downtown. Create a new identity for the city. In a lot of other cities . . . art and culture have played a real driving role in achieving that. I would just like to see more of that in the city. Wichita is a great place to raise a family. We all know that.

I don't think it's a great place to be single. I do think that needs to change for the city to recruit the young people that it needs to in the future.