After a decade, a community service mural finally gets a new home
For more than a decade, a small community mural project languished unfinished. It was housed in the old Osceola Recording Studios before the studio relocated to its current Capital Boulevard location. The new owner, Riley-Lewis General Contractors, was in the process of renovating the building when they stumbled across the incomplete mural, an eclectic collage of various musical performers across different musical genres. Instead of demolishing the wall, Sean Riley and Dave Lewis salvaged it and put the mural into storage.
“We always had the intention of having an artist come in and add more depth,” says Riley. After construction on the new building was complete, it was left to Project Manager Amy Adams to figure out how to accomplish Lewis and Riley’s goal. First, though, she wanted to know the history of the piece and after a little sleuthing she tracked down those responsible for it.
In 2006, professional writer Judith Guest was leading a free summer youth enrichment program called the Jambalaya Project through her work as the Executive Director of the Latta House Foundation. The focus of the project was to enhance reading and writing skills through a journalism program; many of the kids came from underserved communities, group homes or shelters, she says. As part of that effort the kids, ranging in age from 12 through 17, would have an unbelievable opportunity—to interview then 16-year-old R&B star Chris Brown.
Dick Hodgin, the owner of Osceola, often let Guest and the students use the recording facilities, and so she fashioned a team-building project with the kids to say thank you to the music producer. She enlisted the help of local artist Gregory Paige, and they set about working with the kids to create a mural that showcased the diversity of music. Paige met with the teens to choose artists who would represent the spectrum of musical genres—from Johnny Cash to Michael Jackson.
“They would come in and paint and participate, but it had to be carefully orchestrated. We put 30 to 35 hours into the painting,” says Paige. “I like to expose kids to art because it expands their mind and lets them know what they are capable of.”
Though the group spent a significant amount of time on the mural—and in fact Chris Brown attended the ribbon cutting for it—the project was never fully finished. However, more than 10 years later, Riley-Lewis would commission artist Dan Nelson, known for his live event painting, to finally complete the work.
“We were really honored and taken aback to learn that [they] were interested in preserving our mural and its backstory,” says Guest. “It was refreshing to learn that they share in our passion for music and the diversity that it brings.”
Nelson, for his part, was intrigued by the purity of the project and the fact that it was both visually and historically stimulating. “It was sincere and authentic,” he says, adding that he was also impressed that Riley-Lewis salvaged the work. “It was an extremely fine gesture.”
Left with the task to complete the montage of musical icons, Nelson did his best to track down the images Paige and the teens used for the renderings, and in most cases he was successful. But there were instances where he had to resort to using a different pose; however, he succeeded in retaining the original intention of the work.
In mid-February, Riley-Lewis invited the various individuals involved in the mural to see the finished result. The gathering was a casual tribute to how artwork can bring together communities while also preserving the story of these young, aspiring journalists.