If you'd ever chanced to look down the alley-cum-parking lot behind martial arts center and art studio before this summer, you'd hardly recognize it, now. And soon, the walls of more Southwest Minneapolis businesses will follow suit.
Instead of bland cinderblock, the wall is now host to a technicolor explosion. A stylized young woman stands to one side, an orange star arcing over her head. Beside her, a field of sharp, abstract plants and flowers surge eastward towards . At the center of it all sits a giant eye, with a peace sign for an iris and swirls of primary colors instead of a sclera.
The mural, to be finished this month and officially unveiled with a party on August 25, is the work of a small gang of budding Tangletown artists. Mentored by the famous St. Paul artist Ta-Coumba Aiken, the group labored through the heat and the rain of July to design the mural, pitch their idea to Simply Jane owner Jane Elias, and execute it.
While the idea started as a way to fight graffiti and give new artists real-life experiences creating public art, Aiken said, some of the painters were high school jocks—the last people to expect working on a mural. Many of those same jocks wound up coming day after day, sometimes with two or three of their friends in tow.
"This isn't just a way to 'keep the kids off the street,'" Aiken told Patch in an interview. "This is a way to enliven and enlighten the community."
The mural's overall design was a group effort among the teenage painters, Aiken said, hopefully helping them build their creative skills by letting them bounce ideas off each other.
"Even if they don't become muralists, this mentorship might help them see their own art more clearly," Elias told Patch in an interview. "To see one creative process at work helps you envision another."
With the teaching canvas of Elias' wall under their belts, the same crew of youth artists will move on to two other area businesses, including Blue Cross Animal Hospital and an as-yet-unnamed third. The Blue Cross mural will be directed by artist Tjody Devall, while the third will be the charge of artist Shea Bartel. Beyond money and organization from the Tangletown Neighborhood Association, the project also relied on donated paint, power washers, and scaffolding from , , and Valspar Paint.
"Businesses see the murals as 'free art,'" Aiken said. "But it's also a free taste of joy. Every time they go out back to grab a conduit or a rope, no matter how grouchy they are that day, I hope they'll lighten up a little when they look at that mural."