Muralist Vania Soto is showing scenes from KC’s rich Mexican heritage

Photo by Natalea Bonjour.

Downtown Kansas City is lined with murals. Some celebrate sports victories and iconic Kansas City symbols while others tell a deeper story. KC muralist Vania Soto has a hand in both. Soto has been a full-time artist in Kansas City for fourteen years, working in what she calls “the industry of storytelling,” and is deeply invested in sharing stories of Mexican culture on the walls of Kansas City. 

Soto was born in Ciudad Juárez and grew up in the small Tennessee town of Kingsport, where she started painting at age ten. By thirteen, she was selling pieces to the owner of the only Mexican restaurant in town, attempting to replace the outdated artwork on its walls with new paintings that better represented her culture.

Soto is now working with Visit KCK on a project that will tell the stories of ethnic groups that settled in Kansas. Visit KCK will have an app where users can follow informational trails on these stories, and those who follow the Latino trail will receive a print of Soto’s work.

For that project, Soto did much research on Mexican-American workers on the Kansas City railroads. She’s working with the University of Nebraska Omaha to pair audio stories with her paintings.

It’s a continuation of the work Soto did on a mural in the West Bottoms under the I-670 bridge. That collaboration with SprayKC shows the story of the area decades ago––a rural area filled with cattle and farmland before Mexican-American workers built the railroad.

“I can represent us in just some lighter sense of our community and how hard we work,” she says. “What we create is important, and not just for us, but for the collective of the United States.”

Soto’s artwork is not limited to people with sight. In 2021, Soto created a tactile mural for the Kansas School for the Blind in the courtyard where preschoolers play. Many of the school’s younger students are in the process of losing their sight, which makes “The Color of Oz” one of their last visual experiences.

The mural is inspired by The Wizard of Oz, with vibrant yellows, greens, blues and pinks. The characters and settings are vividly painted with sharp lines and dimensions. To make the experience interactive, artist Lydia Knopp added mosaic pieces to Soto’s painting, making it so you can “follow the yellow brick road” through touch.

“It was really special,” Soto says. “I made it super bright because if it’s the last thing to be seen, I want the bright colors to be remembered.”

Soto’s passion for both art and teaching comes from her upbringing. She didn’t have access to art classes aside from a watercolor class for senior citizens at the local community center. Now, Soto makes sure art is available to the kids in Kansas City by spending the last six years teaching art classes to kids at the Police Athletic League of Kansas City, Kansas. 

Soto has students who have gone to college and majored in art, started mural jobs of their own and are currently showing their work in different galleries.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine, to kind of share and grow little artists,” Soto says. “Not so that they can become full-time artists like me, but they can at least find an outlet for them to express themselves.”

See Soto’s Work

Chiefs Mural in front of the T-Mobile Center

For this mural in the heart of the Power and Light District, Soto stayed up all night in the cold with her colleague Alexander Austin before the day of the 2020 Super Bowl Parade.

“Nuestra reina, Virgen de Guadalupe” at La Posada Restaurant on Southwest Boulevard

This mural paints a detailed portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose image has become a popular religious symbol in Mexico.

Vanessa Guillen Mural at G&V Multiservices y Asociados

Specialist Vanessa Guillen was a soldier at Fort Hood who was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered. Five families in the Kansas City area commissioned Soto to create this piece on Park Avenue in KCK as part of the movement for systematic change within the military and its handling of sexual assault and harrassment reports.

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