COLUMBIA — Five foam panels sat neatly on a table Friday evening amid the gardens of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. The panels were in different states of completion as members worked together to finish the group's pieces for a new mural.
They are among 72 panels being painted by a variety of Columbia groups and organizations for a massive, community-made mural. The completed mural, the theme of which is the solar eclipse Aug. 21, will be 6 feet high and 64 feet long. Access Arts, the project's organizer, will unveil the mural early next month.
Lori McCurdy and her 12-year-old daughter, Maia, carefully mixed paint to get just the right shade of pink. McCurdy thinks the project will build community.
“Anyone can be an artist,” McCurdy said. “You can be a child, an adult. Uneducated, extremely educated. All walks of life. Different colors. You don’t have to speak the same language. It’s a way of bringing people together.”
Access Arts is a nonprofit organization that has provided workshops and classes to the community since 1971. Founded on the idea of “integrated classrooms,” executive director Shawna Johnson said, Access Arts classes are inclusive of those with disabilities and those without.
“We really try to reach everyone,” Johnson said. The mural is one way the group is working to do that.
The longevity of the Access Arts program has allowed it to work with many Columbia groups, but opportunities to conceptualize a massive community project like this have been rare.
“We’re always doing things with different groups, and we really wanted to bring all of them together somehow," Johnson said. "This was the way we came up with where not everyone has to be in the same room at the same time, which would be practically impossible.”
The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture came together during one of its potlucks to work on the mural. While they munched on homegrown fruit and vegetables and devoured pulled pork, they discussed gardening, upcoming plans and art. Local farmer Dan Kuebler talked about what art meant to him.
When Kuebler does art, he doesn't reach for a paintbrush and pallet. He grabs some seeds and a gardening hoe.
“Art is anything that you create,” Kuebler said. “Art is creation. I’m a farmer, so I’m out in the field doing all kinds of stuff and doing it for 27 years. That’s my art.”
Ideas for a community project had been in the works for a while at Access Arts, but nothing had come to fruition until now. The upcoming eclipse presented the opportunity.
“We also wanted to celebrate this unique event,” Johnson said, “and celebrate the fact that no matter where you are in this community, you have the opportunity to witness this thing.”
The groups can paint as many of the panels as they like. Some groups are painting only one, but others are painting more, such as Grant Elementary School, which painted six as part of an outreach event with Access Arts.
Because there are so many groups participating, there had to be some strategy behind planning the mural.
Only organizers know what the finished mural will look like. The mural image was broken down into a grid, and Access Arts drew on each panel the outline of that portion of the image.
“We tried to make it as simple as possible,” Johnson said.
A small guide was also sent with each panel.
“We give the groups a little picture that shows what it’s supposed to look like so they can match their colors and do basically a paint-by-number sort of exercise,” said Johnson.
Johnson hopes the groups will have a sense of camaraderie while painting the panels and benefit simply from participating.
“There’s been a lot of division amongst people,” Johnson said, “and we wanted to champion the thought that art can bring people together and give them a safe place to maybe explore their differences.”
Adam Saunders, development director for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, sees this diversity in gardening.
“Gardening is both arts and science," Saunders said. "The science of gardening is the bean seed knows what to do. You put a bean seed in the ground, and it turns into a plant. The art of it is there is no one right or wrong way to orient the beans in a row."
Like the seeds growing into a full plant, eventually the panels will be put together and become the entire mural.
The fully assembled mural will be unveiled at a public reception Access Arts is hosting at 1 p.m. Aug. 6. Besides the mural, the reception will feature artwork from students, veterans and summer campers in Access Arts programs.
The reception will be in the Montminy Gallery of the Boone County Historical Society, 3801 Ponderosa St.
Missourian reporter Gina Balstad contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.