COLUMBIA — People lined the north side of the old Heibel-March building, waiting in the cold mid-morning shadow of the structure. Some were on roller skates. Some held microphones. Others held sporting equipment. All were two-dimensional.
Though the building has been unoccupied for several years and its interior is not yet inhabitable, the exterior was abuzz with activity Saturday morning. Students and artists transformed sketches into a vibrantly colored mural as part of the “Voices from the Corner” project.
The Corner Action Committee is trying to turn the Corner, located at the intersection of Wilkes Boulevard and Range Line Street, into a community resource center to serve members of the North-Central neighborhood. For “Voices from the Corner,” an after-school project, students interviewed community members about their memories of the Heibel-March building. The mural, designed by Central Methodist University art professor Gennie Pfannenstiel, depicts scenes relating to their stories and uses students and families as models.
“There are pictures of kids in the group in the mural, both acting out and in the actual interviewing process,” said art student Ashley Hix as she mixed paints while waiting for the kids to arrive.
The Moody family got to the Corner shortly after that. The Moodys acted as models for a family depicted on the left side of the mural. Pfannenstiel worked with them as they started filling in the blanks.
“We’re going to have two jobs,” Pfannenstiel said. “One job is to outline, one is to fill in. Ashley or I will outline, and you’ll paint in between. It’s a team effort. You get to decide what color you want to paint. ... You always have to think about the big picture.”
“In other words, don’t paint nothing until you ask,” Carolyn Moody told her children.
A table filled with paint cans, brushes and Styrofoam bowls was ready to see some action.
“What color do you want to be?” Pfannenstiel asked 11-year-old Xavier Moody. He shook his head. She tried again, asking Quintrel Moody.
“Red,” Quintrel, 7, replied.
“Aww,” sighed 16-year-old TeVon Moody. He settled on painting his vest orange.
To create the mural, Pfannenstiel took pictures of the students doing everything from roller skating to shooting a basketball. She then worked with the students to outline the figures on the wall, and now it was up to the kids to paint them.
Xavier and Tahashana Moody, 6, peered over Hix’s shoulder as she outlined a sketch of Tahashana on roller skates.
A few feet away, Taira Aguilera, 14, and Emma Wyble, 11, were trying to decide what color they wanted their clothes to be. Pfannenstiel reminded them to outline their areas before they started painting.
Jeannie Wyble, Emma’s mother, stood back, watching as they tried to make a decision, gently suggesting that a camouflage jacket wouldn’t be historically accurate.
“This is really neat,” Jeannie Wyble said. “This has been a really good thing for kids to do. They’ve learned a lot. It’s something to be proud of.”
Pfannenstiel stopped over to check the progress of the Moodys.
“What happens when you make this white, this white and this white?” she asked Quintrel.
Quintrel hadn’t left any definition between a white sleeve that crossed over a white shirt.. She recommended leaving a space, and TeVon demonstrated on his own painted figure.
Pfannenstiel moved on to check on Aguilera and Emma Wyble.
“Emma, you’re doing well,” Pfannenstiel said. “Taira, you’re doing well, too.”
An hour or so after he started painting, Xavier Moody was taking a break, bouncing on a green ball in the grass of the park. He said he enjoyed tracing the house because he got to get on a ladder, but he likes painting, too.
“I like to see what happened before I was born, see what it was like,” he said. “I like posing, too.”
Xavier was waiting to paint more of his yellow-shirted doppelganger, but Aguilera and Wyble were in the way.
“Can’t do nothing else but wait,” he said. “Everybody wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for me.”
He said he received a flier in school about the project and then got his family involved. He was excited to see what the Corner might turn out to be.
“It’s going to be all-out art,” he said. “Famous art people are going to be in there.”
He got up abruptly and ran over to the wall to talk to Emma.
Carl Edwards, a member of the Corner Action Committee, was sitting on the ground, watching as the mural began to take shape.
“I bought auto parts here myself 30 years ago,” Edwards said. “I think it’s just a great idea, to put something together that kids can use.”
Edwards says the building has a lot of possibility.
“The door needs to be open so people can do what they need to do in it,” he said.
Dan Cullimore, the project manager for the Corner, said the next step is putting together a fundraising committee. He is waiting to hear back about a grant from the Missouri Department of Economic Development for tax credits, which would help offset some of the project’s costs. Cullimore estimates the total cost of the project to be around $250,000.
“The construction is not that difficult,” Cullimore said. “It’s getting the money to do it.”
Cullimore said he doesn’t have any prior fundraising experience, but community members and organizations have offered invaluable support.
Peter Beiger of the Corner Action Committee estimates the group needs to raise $150,000 to gain occupancy and bring everything up to code.
“Though the building’s distressed and dilapidated, it doesn’t mean it can’t be a phoenix,” Beiger said. “You can’t plan for it — you’ve just got to have faith.”