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Charles City wants mural project to help it become ‘town of colors’

Charles City wants mural project to help it become ‘town of colors’
This mural in Dubuque by artist Gaia is one of many adorning buildings in that city. Gaia and another artist, Erik Burke, will be painting murals on the First Citizens Bank and Snap Fitness exterior walls next month as part of a Charles City project that promoters hope will result in murals covering many of the business walls in this community. Submitted photo
By Bob Steenson,

“Town of Colors” is the goal.

The colored LED lights for one of the city’s water towers was a step in that direction, and two murals to be painted on the sides of businesses on Main Street next month could be the start of a large-scale public art project that keeps that theme expanding.

“It’s something that makes Charles City stand out,” said Mayor Dean Andrews.

The artists selected for the first two murals are Gaia and Erik Burke. Gaia has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Art and Style list, has been a Fulbright beneficiary, and has work on display on six continents. Erik Burke has worked throughout the United States as well as South America, Asia and Europe.

The prospective murals have the themes “Floral Explosion” and “Bodies in Motion.”

Although the actual designs won’t be revealed until they start to take shape under the artists’ hands, Andrews said the concepts the artists came up with have been approved by the Towns of Color Committee and the two businesses selected for the murals — First Citizens Bank and Snap Fitness.

“First Citizens and Snap Fitness are very excited. We have signed off and the building owners have signed off on the design and are very excited about them, particularly the brightness of them and the vibrancy of them,” Andrews said.

Andrews said he started thinking about murals after visiting Dubuque, where there are more than 45 of them on the sides of businesses and public buildings.

He talked the idea over with Emily Kiewel, director of the Charles City Arts Center, and soon others became involved.

Andrews got in touch with Sam Mulgrew, chairman of Voices Production, a volunteer non-profit organization in Dubuque that started the mural program there and that now reaches out to artists around the world.

“We started visiting with him about how we go about doing this, who would you suggest as artists, so he’s kind of helping us along with the process. He got us going and he’s mentoring us as we’re going,” Andrews said.

The two artists selected know each other, and are working together so their individual murals complement each other.

“One artist is going to probably arrive on July 17, and the other one will probably be here on the 20th, and their plan is to have them complete by the 28th of July,” Andrews said. “They think it will be about a week to 10 days worth of work to do it.”

Although the committee picked experienced artists with some degree of fame for the first two murals, the goal is to include local and regional artists for future murals, Andrews said.

“We wanted to make this big splash initially, and these guys have done murals all over the world. We wanted to get something that was going to be a real wow factor. They are going to be very colorful,” he said.

The mayor stressed that the project will be funded entirely through donations and grants.

The committee has received a city hotel-motel tax grant and a Cultural and Entertainment District grant. It has also applied for an AARP grant that if received could pay for a third mural.

A fundraising letter was sent out last week urging donations and promising VIP perks for various levels of giving, such as VIP seating at an artists night where the artists will work on their projects and explain their processes, or a special meet-and-greet of the artists at the Arts Center.

But Andrews said people don’t have to be able to give hundreds of dollars to contribute.

“If someone wants to give $25, great. Any size donation is certainly appreciated. You can contribute $10 if you want,” he said. Donations should be sent to the Charles City Arts Center.

The first murals have a budget of about $10,000 each.

“We are contracting with each artist $8,000,” Andrews said. “We aren’t paying for travel. They’re coming from New York and Reno, Nevada. They’re supplying all their own paint. They’ll ship the paint in. We’re not paying for any of those expenses.”

They are paying for other incidental costs with the first two murals, and are paying Mulgrew a fee to help get the process going.

There is no cost to the two businesses for these first two murals, Andrews said.

“We wanted to have them be the kickoff and so we said there would be no cost to them,” he said. “As we go forward we’ll have to develop some criteria as far as who pays for what and all that. This first kick-off we were just glad they allowed us to use their walls.”

The Town of Colors Committee consists of Andrews, Kiewel, Charles City Arts Council President Linda Wolff, Charles City Development Director Mark Wicks, middle school teacher and City Council member Phoebe Pittman, and high school vocal music teacher and director Derek Sturtevant.

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