IOWA CITY — Local teens have turned an empty brick wall into a message for the community to “coexist” with one another.
Nonprofit United Action for Youth, or UAY, connected 12 teen artists with supervising artist Sayuri Sasaki Hemann to work on a piece for the Iowa City Downtown District’s mural project. The group debuted its mural, called Coexist, at 220 E. Washington St., during a public reception last week.
“It can fill out a space that nobody else would really think to put something there because it’s just blank. But not it’s like ‘oh there’s something there.’ There’s something interesting,” said Malix Prosper, a 14-year-old artist. “I guess you feel like it really just pops out because usually with this sized city, it’s all the same color palette. It’s all the same thing. And then all the sudden you just seen this and you’re like ‘oh, that’s a lot of color!’”
Coexist, made up of brightly colored bugs, flowers and animals, is the fifth of seven planned for the Iowa City Mural Project, said Thomas Agran, the district’s director of public art. He said Coexist is the tallest mural in Iowa City.
“I think that in the current political climate and everything, I think that kids are aware of that and more perceptive sometimes than adults. And so I think to have a positive message about unity and interdependence and everything is a really powerful message to have downtown and a powerful message to have come from the voice of kids in our community,” Agran said.
To choose participants, UAY put out an application for teenagers to apply for artists’ positions. Sasaki Hemann then held a workshop to brainstorm ideas for the mural before the artists began painting.
The wall’s 45-foot height was a particular challenge. To keep the artists on the ground, Agran said the team used a method where the mural is painted off site on fabric, called Polytab, which was then adhered to the wall.
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“It kind of absorbs the texture of the wall so it really becomes embedded in the matrix of the paint and is as permanent as any other kind of mural,” Agran said.
Agran said he modeled the project off a similar one in Cincinnati that employed teens to make murals. He said funding from Johnson County and other sponsors were secured to pay the teens for their work and otherwise pay for the project.
Clayton Lindhorst, a 14-year-old artist, worked on a one-eyed green and yellow bug at the bottom of the mural as well as a few other small parts.
“I really wanted to be a part of something like this. Throughout it I got like just a really interesting experience and sense of community,” Lindhorst said, adding that the mural provides a natural element in a more industrial environment. “I can’t deny it was a stressful experience ... It turned out so much better than I thought it was going to. It’s so satisfying.”
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