NOTO Creating Thriving City Through Vibrant Arts District

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Coming from humble beginnings, the NOTO Arts District started with just 2 businesses in 2011, and today, is now growing to more than 30.

The supporters and artists behind NOTO strive to create a vibrant city its residents will be proud of. And that's precisely why NOTO was nominated for a 2014 Topeka Chamber Small Business Award.

"We have SOTO in New York, and we have NOTO in Topeka!"

Anita Wolgast, co-founder of NOTO, wants the name to be one people remember.

"NOTO quite honestly had been a negative word when you referred to that part of the city, and we have turned it into a positive."

Wolgast said after her and her co-founder John Hunter came up with a plan, backed by board member Jim Ogle, who is General Manager at WIBW, and many others, decided on Northern Topeka. The rent is cheaper, which is appealing to artists. Studying other cities' arts districts, they found that art districts usually settle in places that were dilapidated and run-down. They wanted to reverse that immediately and began the makeover process.

A historic district, paired with spacious buildings with gorgeous reclaimed interiors, and a quaint, old-time feel, makes any NOTO visitor connected to the past while exploring new art and businesses.

Wolgast said the first artist to commit was renowned artist Barbara Waterman-Peters, who gave the place credibility. Then, many more began wanting a space on the block. The attention grew.

"It's a trust established with the community, and we're fulfilling a need that Topeka said they wanted, an arts district. We see a turnaround in the way Topekans are feeling about themselves."

30 businesses show off their work every week, and at the First Fridays events, which have become a successful way to incorporate the whole community. They've attracted vendors, musicians and other entertainment.

Wolgast says that's not where it stops.

"We are in the middle of the arts district now," she said, standing in the NOTO Arts Center at NE Gordon Street and Kansas Avenue, "because we're going to continue to grow for at least 2 to 3 blocks to the north. At the same time we'll be growing toward the river."

NOTO partners with Heartland Visioning, the organization that gave it its start, neighborhood improvement organizations from North Topeka, Quincy Elementary School, Washburn University, Topeka 501 school district, Community Resources Council, Kaw Valley Bank and many other supporters and donors.

"It has been a true grassroots project. We could not have done it without the support across the board of the community."

The grand opening for the NOTO Arts Center was held on May 2. To see what programs are being offered there and some upcoming events, artists and businesses featured, go to

NOTO and 11 other small businesses will be recognized on May 13th at Washburn University's Memorial Hall.