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DECATUR — Splashes of color on Decatur buildings, a feature in the downtown area for years now, are beginning to make their way into the further reaches of the city.

The Decatur Area Arts Council has partnered with local artists and property owners since 2012 on the Decatur Mural Project, which aims to spread public art and beautify the community. Seven have been completed so far, ranging from Bob Marley on East Eldorado Street to an elephant with butterfly wings created by renowned artist Ron English on East Cerro Gordo Street.

There are similar programs across the country, such as the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia and ArtWorks in Cincinnati. In Decatur, several businesses have followed suit with their own private endeavors, directly hiring artists to turn their businesses into an oversized canvas.

The most recent addition to the Decatur Mural Project is taking shape on the east side of Kurent Safety Inc., 3650 E. William St. Artist Jerry Johnson, executive director of the arts council, is crafting the mural in shades of blue and white. The design is still unfolding, but so far it features part of a man’s face, what appears to be a salute, and the words “Saluting Our Veterans.”  

“It shows pride in our town, and we are proud of our town,” said Chris Gadberry, Kurent Safety assistant manager. “When you are invested in a community you want to put things like that out there.”

Previous murals were created in or near the downtown area. The first was also painted by Johnson in 2013 and features Commodore Stephen Decatur, the city’s namesake, on the west side of the Central Illinois Title Co. building, 145 S. Water St.

Other subjects and locations include the Decatur Staleys and Chicago Bears football teams on East Main Street, a person with a computer monitor head on South Oakland Avenue, a design on West Main Street that represents a mathematical pattern, and a pastel depiction of a woman’s face on East William Street.

Each mural is funded by sponsors who partner with the arts council's Public Art Committee. Johnson said he submitted his proposal just as any other artist would, and he hopes to be done by Labor Day. “That may be a bit ambitious,” he acknowledged.

Johnson said the arts council has always planned to expand past the downtown area. When the owners of Kurent Safety offered the building for a mural, the committee decided the area would be a good location. “It’s heavily trafficked, it’s got high visibility, and it’s a nice, long, low canvas to work on,” Johnson said.

Since Kurent Safety owner Matt Kuzel is a veteran, the staff wanted an image that would represent their love for the country. The theme request presented to future artists was veteran or faith based.

“People don’t understand what it is going to be,” Gadberry said. “They are watching it unfold.”

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The other building set for beautification later this year is 531 N. Water St. Artist Eric Weatherford, who designed the Oakland Avenue piece and also painted several murals commissioned by private businesses, has been chosen for the task.  

“It will be different than what I've done,” he said. “It will have random forms and colors in a unique design.”

Weatherford believes the design will work well with location, which is across the street from the former Speakeasy Records and Oddities that was destroyed by a fire a few months ago. “The design is simple and eye-catching to the area,” Weatherford said.

The busy artist hopes to begin the mural at the beginning of September and anticipates the project to take two weeks. “The only factor is weather,” he said.

The artists selected for one of last year’s murals continue to work on their detailed piece.

Amy Rankin and Michelle Stephens are creating the mural, titled "Unstoppable," depicting vintage train wheels, on the exterior wall of Millikin University's wrestling facility. The stretches of rain Central Illinois suffered this spring delayed the project, which features an intricate design, but the artists have moved forward.

“We were able to paint non-stop for a couple of weeks and were really able to make a lot of positive progress,” Stephens said. “Right now, we are on schedule for completion by the end of summer.”

Stephens said the response from the public has been amazing. “We get to chat with the people who live and work in the neighborhood a lot and they're all really lovely,” she said. “People come by and say hello or honk as they drive by. We've gotten to meet lots of train aficionados too. Probably the most frequent comment we get is that they enjoy watching the wall grow and change.”

The arts council is already talking about next year’s murals. As they have since the beginning, the committee’s hopes are to create two murals a year. The 2020 plans are not finished, but Johnson hinted the focus may be on Macon County.

“It could be a broad collection,” he said. “Maybe a little grander.”

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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR

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