In other places, spotting a large gathering of youth in an alley, armed with paint brushes might be a sign of trouble.
But Saturday during Chadron’s first-ever Paint the Town event, the nearly two dozen kids who gathered in an alley between Main Street and Chadron Avenue didn’t have mischief on their mind. Rather, they were part of a larger effort to create a mural on the back of Bloom’s building to generate momentum for establishing an Art Alley in Chadron.
“Oh, I love it!” said Bloom owner Cori Brennan after seeing the finished product. She’d seen a mock-up of the design, which features the outline of Nebraska surrounded by bright, colorful flowers, but the life-size mural that now inhabits the entire back wall of her building is better than she imagined.
Brennan was the first to volunteer her building for a mural after a conversation with Chadron Chamber of Commerce Director Gabby Michna. The discussion began after Brennan saw Michna posting photos of herself on Facebook in front of a variety of murals and mentioning that she someday wanted to paint one.
“I said ‘I have a wall, have at it,’” Brennan said. The idea for a larger Art Alley experience grew from there, and Bloom and Brennan Electric, owned by Brennan’s husband, donated the first $200 toward the effort.
Art alleys have become popular interactive tourist destinations, providing spaces for photo opportunities for visitors. Rapid City, S.D., began creating its Art Alley between Sixth and Seventh Streets in 2005, and the Gallery Alley in the Haymarket area of Lincoln is another popular artist-inspired stop for visitors.
Chadron will have two murals to debut at this year’s Fur Trade Days celebration, said Michna, who is also on the steering committee for Paint the Town.
“Art districts have really taken off,” Michna said. “There is a lot of culture here that isn’t represented in a way tourists or guests know.”
The steering committee, which also includes Whitney Tewahade, Teena Redfern, Mary Donahue, Travis Hencey and Kit Watson, approved Michna’s two designs for the initial works of art, but have plans to create a process for artists to submit work for consideration. Businesses interested in having a mural can also suggest ideas or work with artists to design something that fits their vision.
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“We are really happy with everything,” Michna said after Bloom’s mural was complete. “It exceeded our expectations 100%.”
The mural was completed over the course of several days, with artists working Friday to paint the upper portion of the wall and sketch in an outline for children to follow during kids’ day Saturday. The mural wasn’t without its challenges, with the artists quickly realizing their planned use of a projector to cast the design onto the wall to sketch wasn’t going to work. Instead, they had to free-hand the outline, working from Michna’s mock-up.
More children turned out to take part in the Paint the Town event than expected Saturday and made quick work of filling in the mural as adult artists provided direction and tips.
“We had help consistently all day Saturday,” Michna said, adding that local businesses provided snacks and drinks for the kids.
Organizers planned to have kids painting all day, but they tackled the project so quickly that the mural was mostly complete within a couple of hours. They moved on to some other arts and crafts, as well as touch-ups and some detail work instead, Michna said. Sunday, local adult artists continued that process, cleaned up the alley and added the #ChadronMade hashtag that the group plans to use across social media for the local art scene.
The mural was then sealed to protect it from weather Monday afternoon.
A second Paint the Town event is planned for June 21-23 in the same alley, this time on the rear of the Service Barber building. It will follow much the same schedule, though the committee will likely allot a bit less time for kids’ painting now that they realize how fast the young artists work.
Once the first two are completed, Michna hopes they will build momentum to expand the project throughout the entire alley, and even throughout the rest of town, especially in the downtown district. That seems to already be taking place, as several people stopped by to watch the progress Saturday morning, and many of them inquired about how to get involved with the project, offered donations or discussed hosting murals of their own.
The steering committee has established a Go Fund Me account for donations for Paint the Town, and is also accepting in-kind donations in the form of items like brushes, paint and drop sheets. Businesses interested in hosting a mural can contact the committee; there is no cost associated with doing so unless the business would like to make a donation to the cause.