Century 21 RVR

Sending a Message

Madison area artists gather
to celebrate finished murals

A large crowd turned out for the dedication ceremony


(November 2021)
Read previous Don Ward columns!

Don Ward

Madison, Ind., area residents for months have watched as several local artists painted giant murals on the walls of two buildings surrounding the Second Street parking lot next to Mulberry Street. On Oct. 23, nearly 200 people ­– many of them donors for the mural project — gathered in that parking lot to celebrate the project’s completion and officially dedicate it as yet another asset to the downtown.
Most of the more than 20 artists who painted the murals attended the two-hour event and were recognized before the crowd during a ceremony that included several speakers and followed by a solo performance by singer Rusty Bladen and then the Bluebird Alley band.

Mural artists

Photo by Don Ward

Madison Area Arts Alliance Executive Director Kim Nyberg (at podium) on Oct. 23 introduces the artist who created the murals on Second Street in Madison, Ind.

The project took the cooperation of building owners Lisa Lumpford and Steve Lyons and a successful fundraising campaign that surpassed its initial goal to reach $28,640 in just two months using the fundraising platform Patronicity and earning a matching grant of another $26,500 from the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority. In all, more than 160 individuals, corporate and nonprofit organizations contributed.
Then it required the talents of the artists to envision and create the murals through many hours of work. The result is an impressive display of color with a central message of “kindness.” Some of the money raised was also used to renovate the interior of the SPOT (Supporting People of Talent), a small storefront on Mulberry Street to house meetings, small performances, teaching and office space for the arts alliance. 
“Madison is a community where you can dream it and then make your dreams come true,” said Kim Nyberg, executive director of the Madison Area Arts Alliance, the principal group behind the “Kindness Mural” project that began four years ago.
Just earlier, Bill Barnes, executive director of the Community Foundation of Madison & Jefferson County, spoke at the podium and praised Nyberg for her work to make the project happen. “It took a lot of cooperation, vision, drive and leadership, and it took Kim Nyberg to guide it through.”

Kim Nyberg

Photo by Don Ward

Artist Patty Cooper Wells (left) is recognized for her work on several of the murals. With her is Kim Nyberg.

In addition to Barnes of the foundation, representatives from the other participating organizations either spoke or attended. This included the Indiana Arts Commission, Patronicity and the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority.
Nyberg introduced the artists and speakers during the ceremony and told the story of how the project came about. She held up a painting of a heart by artist Jane Vonderheide that she bought at RiverRoots Music & Folk Festival. This was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Later, after the Madison Area Arts Alliance formed, Nyberg formed a Public Arts & Spaces committee that previous to the Kindness Mural project completed two rounds of canvassing ARTsy switch boxes and installing Main Street banners around town.
When it came time to begin the Kindness Mural project, Nyberg formed a design team consisting of artists Eric Phagan, Don Clapham, Margo Olson, John Nyberg and Vonderheide. The group tasked artist Steve Bickis to create the concept for the primary mural by incorporating Vonderheide’s heart image and the word “kindness.” Bickis then teamed up with artist Kevin Carlson to create the 180-foot, 2½ story mural on the wall of Lumpford’s building that many years ago housed Hentz Bakery.
In addition to the Kindness Mural, there are other murals that encompass the parking lot. Patty Cooper Wells is the mastermind behind the colorful “Local Color” mural depicting Madison author Edward Eggleston riding his tricycle. Continuing the celebration of local color on the long wall, several area artists have created familiar area images in a series of orbs. Participating artists include Marshall Falconberry, Beejay Elles, Brenda Shropshire, Hannah Peddie Miller, Cindie Underwood Vanderbur, Jenny Straub Applegate, Cheryl Byers, Mary Heath Bischof, Dallas Gambill, Russell Vossler, Teresa Waller, Debi Black, Carolyn Lopez, The Creatives, Bella Heath, Aaron Spears, Phagan, Cooper Wells, and Carlson. The Community Engagement Wall was a combined effort by residents, students and visitors alike.
Local artist Jacob Louden’s contribution to the project, the Living Color-Selfie Wall, features a colorful living tree with a swing for selfies. “Local color celebrates Madison’s natural beauty, its spirit of community and the artists past and present who have been inspired by this place,” Cooper Wells said. 
Meantime, Cooper Wells took on the challenge of creating the large “River of Life” mural on Lyons’ building that faces west. This mural is a tapestry of sorts and features well known Madisonians, such as local photographer Harry Lemen, Roy Gentry, a local musician, and the iconic photo of Darby and Bertha Davis sitting on the Ohio riverbank. The center section also honors Madison artist Lou Knoble in style.
The mural consists of five scenes that transition from recent history to the earliest history of Madison. The City of Madison riverboat and the Rueben Wells train engine are both prominently displayed. 

Mural plaza rendition

Photo by Don Ward

This rendition shows what the future mural plaza might look like when it is completed next year.

“Madison is truly a place that is not only beautiful but also has people who write, sing and paint beautiful things about it,” Cooper Wells said from the podium. “We have to remember that Madison is not just a music city, but it is also an art and history city.” She said the mural project transformed the parking lot with “fewer broken bottles here to more butterflies now.”
Cooper Wells was presented with a bouquet of flowers from Nyberg and was serenaded by Bladen with the Don McLean song “Starry, Starry Night,” which was written as a tribute to Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. Cooper Wells is big fan of the Dutch artist.
Cooper Wells then concluded her remarks by saying she spent “many hours working on it, but it’s been worth it and a lot of fun.” She then quoted van Gogh, saying, “What is done in love is done well.”
The mural project has caught the attention of city officials. They have plans to turn the parking lot into a mural plaza to further enhance the area, according to Madison Mayor Bob Courtney, who also spoke at the ceremony. He told the crowd that the mural project is another piece in the ongoing investment in Madison’s quality of life and economic growth. “The creative talent we have represented here is what is going to help make Madison explode over the next three years.”
Courtney said that up to a quarter of a billion dollars would be invested in Madison in various projects over the next three years. He said the city plans to let the bid for the future mural park sometime in February 2022. A Ratio Architect rendition of the future park was on display at the October event.
“It’s these kind of things that make Madison so special, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Courtney said.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at info@RoundAbout.bz.

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