Over the summer, an unsightly expanse of concrete on Bloomington’s downtown fringe has blossomed into a colorful, multicultural, personal and yet very public expression of an inclusive community, thanks to downtown planners, a youth-based education effort, a local artist, and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal.
The newly completed Diversity Mural on Olive and Albert/East Street facades, will be dedicated at 5:45 p.m. October 10 at the Bloomington Police Department Osborne Room. Mayor Tari Renner and the Bloomington City Council then will recognize the work of seven young McLean County artists and their supervisor/mentor, Vince Brobosky. Bloomington First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker and Moses Montefiore Temple Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of NIOTBN's Faith and Outreach Subcommittee plan to "bless" the mural at 5:15 p.m.
Downtown Bloomington Association (DBA) Executive Director Tricia Stiller has been instrumental in shepherding murals aimed at beautifying the downtown district. She reacted enthusiastically when NIOTBN approached her last fall with the idea of a new al fresco work designed to broadcast its message of diversity and understanding.
Armed with DBA Design Committee approval, Stiller contacted her friend Brobosky, a Twin Cities artist responsible for previous works on downtown facades. At the same time, she organized a series of educational workshops at the Bloomington Center for the Creative Arts Creativity Center in cooperation with the McLean County Diversity Project and its director, Jeffrey Schwartz.
“I have always enjoyed collaboration and involving young people,” Stiller related. “I had had five prior seasons with the Diversity students, and I knew this would be wonderful for them, because, truly, what Not In Our Town represents is them.
“They are from very diverse backgrounds, and through their exercises, they figure out how to get along together and celebrate one another. We should take a lesson from them, and model our behavior from them.”
During four two-hour workshops beginning in June, young artists with NIOTBN assistance honed in on their interpretation of the phrase “not in our town” and discussed their own experiences with bullying or discrimination. “Tragically, many of these young people, who are in seventh grade through high school, had heartbreaking stories to tell,” Stiller said. A student crew emerged from those discussions: Oskar Urquizo, his sister Olivia Urquizo, Abhiru Raut, and Ved Lombar, all of Bloomington; Colfax brothers Richie and Max Beck; and Molly Klessig of Downs.
Beyond its fundamental message, the mural offered the opportunity to address what Stiller deemed “one of our top candidates for beautification” – an “ugly” retaining wall for a funeral home parking lot that faces the Bloomington Public Library. The wall’s Olive Street facade provided ample space for Brobosky and his seven young artists to express a variety of personal messages about tolerance, respect, understanding, cooperation, and compassion, as well as a landscape of Twin Cities landmarks, while the East/Albert Street side of the wall was dedicated to the message “Let Our Light Shine,” accompanied by that phrase in a variety of languages and Braille (a series of braille plaques also will communicate that message) .
A few months after project launch, the perennial eyesore according to Stiller is now a “magnificent” addition to the library/Bloomington City Hall corner, at the threshold of a key Bloomington residential neighborhood. She is hopeful about “the connections that can be made from that, behaviorally, socially."
“The message of the mural is to be shared,” Brobosky said. “The work that is going into the celebration and everyone that will see and read about it will be touched and inspired.”