A new downtown mural project brightens the southside, brings youth together while apart

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to many activities in Clark County communities, but one thing it has not been able to stop is the momentum to revitalize the downtown Springfield area.

By thinking outside the box Project Jericho and The Conscious Connect, Inc., have safely and successfully partnered to bring yet another mural to downtown Springfield.

Project Jericho, a nationally acclaimed youth outreach program based at Clark State Community College, provides in-depth visual and performing arts programming to youth and families across Clark County. The Conscious Connect focuses on reimagining and redeveloping underutilized spaces for the purpose of education, culture, health and peace.

“While, we've known of The Conscious Connect's heart for our community since their founding, this is the first community collaboration we've worked on together,” says Lauren Houser, director of Project Jericho. “We share interests and values, including our Little Libraries and Houses of Knowledge that are dispersed throughout the community to offer free and available literature to youth throughout the community. We celebrate and admire their mission statement.”

The new mural will be located at 1615 Woodward Ave. on the South side of the city.

“It is geographically located in our Children's Equity Zone,” says Karlos Marshall, co-founder of The Conscious Connect. The zone also includes a reading park and basketball court.

The new mural is a colorful, geometric design that includes words of encouragement. Columbus-based artist Studio Cera Marie, a teaching artist for Project Jericho since 2015, is the lead artist who developed the design. She is guiding the 25 Project Jericho teenagers and additional youth from the surrounding neighborhood in the execution of the mural.

“We will paint over the course of a week and a half and will paint in small groups,” Houser says. “We believe we can complete this mural in a safe and cautious way. The size of the court allows us to physically distance, and we will vigilantly monitor temperatures, wear masks, use hand sanitizer and sanitize after each participant leaves.”

The mural is expected to be completed by Aug. 21, prior to the start of school for most participants. Houser says this project is distinctly meaningful, as it gives Project Jericho a chance to bring art to a community and neighborhood that already operates as a family.

“We are building off this evolving idea of ‘creative placemaking,’ which is centered around bringing arts, culture and creativity to neighborhoods,” she says. “Woodward Avenue is already a place where people are and where they want to be. We are just adding to the vibrancy and energy of this South Springfield neighborhood.”

Houser says the mural provided a chance for Project Jericho to build off of the work that The Conscious Connect has already invested into this neighborhood and family park through color, collaboration and relationships.

“In brainstorming and developing a design, we knew we wanted this court to be a space of encouragement and a reminder that joy and hope are available to us even during difficult times,” she says.

Houser added that the youth currently working on the mural are eager and excited to be out of the house and to be together with their Project Jericho family. She says while virtual programming has been offered and utilized, Project Jericho youth have expressed how good it feels to be creating something together, even while distanced.

“Our approach to outdoor public art has always been to paint in small groups to foster conversations and meaningful interactions, so painting together feels really familiar, safe and refreshing,” Houser says.

The Conscious Connect’s geographical focus is on South Springfield neighborhoods and residents, Marshall says. It seeks to address access and opportunity gaps related to place and space, cultural experiences and education.

The Conscious Connect has always admired the work of Project Jericho in making artistic experiences and expression available to all youth regardless of their background.

“Their public murals across the city speak for themselves, and we thought this was a unique opportunity to bring additional vibrancy to one of Springfield's best kept secrets,” he says.

The Conscious Connect has been recognized globally for its youth literacy efforts, but Marshall believes the efforts to revitalize vacant properties into neighborhood parks and green spaces on the South Side are equally deserving.

“Everything our organization has ever done has been in collaboration with others in the community, and we think this collective impact project will amplify voices to beautify this side of town, as well,” he says.

Read more articles by Darci Jordan.