COLUMBIA — "Y’all looking to paint?"
Orlando Smith, 16, greeted people as they approached the site of a new mural in Flat Branch Park under Locust Street. Smith is one of 17 teenage artists employed by the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department's Career Awareness Related Experience Art Gallery for the summer.
The group began painting the mural Saturday during an event called Community Painting Day. Around 30 members of the public helped fill in sections of the mural.
The teenage artists plan to finish the mural in time for a public unveiling on Aug. 2.
The mural has been in development for more than a month. The project began when the Parks and Recreation Department approached the C.A.R.E. Art Gallery to help create a mural corridor along the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail. Department officials are interested in producing several murals as a deterrent for the graffiti they say is common in underpass tunnels.
For the teenage artists employed by the C.A.R.E. Art Gallery, though, the mural represents more.
"It’s a summer job, so it’s most every teen’s dream," Smith said.
For Community Painting Day, his job was to distribute paint. He checked each color against a scale drawing of the mural to ensure accuracy, then placed a small amount in a paper cup for participants to take to the wall.
The C.A.R.E. program was established in 1982 to help give job experience and opportunities to at-risk youth. Participants work for companies and organizations around Columbia, and their wages are paid by the C.A.R.E. program. On this project, the young artists worked with several organizations in the area near the mural, including the Parks and Recreation Department, Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri and The District of downtown Columbia.
"We asked (the organizations) all about their missions and their work and asked them all of them about the challenges they’ve faced," Jamila Batchelder, coordinator for the C.A.R.E. Art Gallery, said. "We pulled imagery out of the words they were saying. If you look in the mural you’ll see things that come from all of them."
This collaboration is important to the project. The teenage artists provided sketches and imagery of their own, much of which is included in the final design. Madeleine LeMieux, a local artist with more than a decade of mural experience, unified the individual pieces into a cohesive work of art.
LeMieux called the project, and especially the Community Painting Day, a chance to talk about diversity and community building in a very public way.
A major theme in the mural is addressing issues and growing as a community.
“Part of what makes Columbia special is that we do confront our issues,” Batchelder said. “I feel like we talk about things and we put it out there and we don’t just try to bury it.”
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