Photo courtesy of photographer Staci Vandagriff, Jonesboro Sun.
Driving over the bridge on Union Street, a splash of vibrant new colors greet you. The abstract pieces flow beautifully with three massive lion heads, a nod to our architectural element on Main Street. The mural, spanning over 80 feet on the north facing wall of 209 Union, was designed by artist and A-State professor Melissa Wilkinson, and painted with the help of her extremely talented art students. The project, part of a public art initiative called ‘Fearlessly Brilliant‘, is the first artistic collaboration between the Downtown Jonesboro Association, a 501c3 not-for-profit, and Arkansas State University’s Fine Art Department.
About the 209 Union Mural Project
In the early winter of 2016, the Downtown Jonesboro Association Design Committee wanted to create another piece of public art, similar to what had already been installed on Church Street in 2015 by the EAST program at Douglas MacArthur Junior High. The DJA Design committee met with Melissa Wilkinson and Joe Ford, art professors at Arkansas State University to pitch the idea for a summer mural collaboration. After finalizing the details for the project, Melissa Wilkinson signed on to be the artist for the mural, all the while creating ‘The Painting Course’ for Basic Painting, Intermediate and Advanced Painting offered in the Summer I session. The location of the art project was chosen by the DJA Design Committee, one of many potential project sites. Rob Kline, owner of the building 209 Union, was immediately supportive of the project and eager to work with both organizations to see it through. The location was scouted for its visibility, pedestrian activity, and being a major gateway into Downtown Jonesboro.
The mural project was estimated to take about four weeks as a summer curriculum for art students, supervised by Wilkinson. Students met on May 31st to begin preliminary work, receive renderings, and scout the location. By Wednesday, June 1st, they were up on ladders, scaffolding, and a scissor lift using a 600-year-old technique to lay out the grid of the mural. Students spent every morning from 8am until 11:30am working on their assigned sections of the tremendous eighty-foot wall while learning color theory, professional public practices, even grant writing. On completion day, the mural spanned fifteen by forty feet, and created a gorgeous focal point right at the intersection of Union and Burke Avenue.
About the Artist
Melissa Wilkinson received her BFA in painting from Western Illinois University in 2002, and ultimately her MFA in painting from Southern Illinois University in 2006. Her work has been featured in wide-reaching publications throughout the country, including two editions of New American Paintings. She has shown in various galleries nationally and internationally including South Korea, India, and has won numerous awards throughout her career. Melissa is also the recipient of fellowships and grants including the Arkansas Arts Council Fellowship in Painting in 2012. Her work is amongst private collections throughout the country and abroad. Melissa currently serves as the art associate professor at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
In addition to Melissa’s vision and leadership on the project, several A-State art students were involved in the implementation and painting of the mural at 209 Union Street. The students were: Monica Norman, Jessie Sturgeon, Rachel Goldammer, Abby Ruiz, Kimberly Dunivan, Tessie Greiner, Jacob Pipkin, Cait Tribett, Kylee Westerman, Holly Johnson, Darian Steward, Marion Glenn, and Jordan Stubblefield.
Community Stakeholders: The Downtowners behind the scenes
When the idea emerged of creating new public art in Downtown Jonesboro, the DJA Design Committee jumped right into researching grants, finding community partners, and gathering supplies from local businesses, including the all of the paint (forty-five gallons!) for the mural being donated with support of the manager of our local Sherwin Williams, Jeffrey Wright. Thanks to a Walmart Community Foundation Grant, the project was secured for summer of 2016. Several other local organizations and individuals showed their support for the public art initiative by helping to gather funding, supplies, and equipment for the students, which were generously donated by West End Neighborhood Association, NEA Coin, Dr. Lowery & Teresa Beck, and Susan Pan. Safety equipment, including scissor lift for the artists, was donated for the students by Steve Davis and his crew at United Rentals.
Future Murals & Community Art Projects
Public art initiatives, such as 209 Union, are springing up all over vibrant communities across America. Want to help create more beautiful community art? The Downtown Jonesboro Association welcomes volunteers, community organizations, and individuals seeking to help make Downtown a better place to eat, shop and live by beautifying public spaces. Of course, we always look for partner opportunities, but your time, expertise, and possibly even a building space for a canvas are always needed. If you’d like to be a part of the art movement here in Downtown, give the Downtown Jonesboro Association a call today at (870) 919-6176, or submit your questions or ideas here. We’d love to have you on board!