Feature Story

Delaware Mural Project

September 24, 2019 – by Cole Hatcher

Community Collaboration Results in Public Art with a Purpose

Ohio Wesleyan’s Erin Fletcher, director of the Ross Art Museum, and artist Brett Cook discuss their hopes for the Delaware Mural Project. They also spoke at a Sept. 22 open house at OWU. (Video by Allie Hausfeld)

For professional artist and educator Brett Cook, art is more than the paintings, drawings, or other physical items that result from the creative process. “The art,” Cook says, “is the part where the transformation happens.”

In Delaware, Cook’s latest transformation began a year ago, when he came to the city at the invitation of Erin Fletcher, director of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Richard M. Ross Art Museum.

Fletcher wanted to install public murals to integrate art more visibly into the community. And, like Cook, she wanted the creative process to be the emphasis of the project and the relationships forged to be the lasting masterpiece.

‘Memory and Inspiration’

“It’s the process,” Fletcher said of the Delaware Mural Project’s significance, “people coming together and people building bridges. … The art is memory and inspiration of the process.”

After a series of public meetings and workshops that invited participants to discuss the concept of community, Cook designed three murals intended, in his words, to celebrate “the people of this place now … giving them a voice and sharing the great things they do.”

The California-based artist installed two of Delaware’s three murals from Sept. 15-22 – one at Andrews House, 39 W. Winter St., and one at the Second Ward Community Center, 50A Ross St., overlooking Ross Street Park. The third mural is being planned for Common Ground Free Store, 193 E. Central Ave.

Developing People

Cook and Fletcher discussed the Delaware Mural Project during an open house Sept. 22 at Ohio Wesleyan’s Beeghly Library. The event included an exhibition of images and documents tied to the creation of the murals as well as bus tours of the mural sites. The exhibition, “Making the Delaware Mural Project,” will be on display through Dec. 12 in the library’s Gallery 2001, 43 Rowland Ave. (Gallery’s hours coincide with library hours, available online at http://library.owu.edu/hours.)

During their presentation, Cook and Fletcher discussed the challenges of getting approvals, funding, and buy-in for the “arts integrative learning” project, when the end products and expected outcomes weren’t fully known.

While many grants are awarded based on outcomes, Cook said, “if what you are developing is people, we can’t tell you what the outcomes are. … It’s faith in the community. It’s really about redefining power and voice in the community.”

A Welcoming Addition

Fletcher thanked everyone who made the leap of faith and supported the Delaware Mural Project, including the city, university, and community participants. In the end, she said, she was gratified to see meaningful connections, indeed, were made and new discussions began about Delaware’s present and future.

“That’s what I care about,” Fletcher said, “who this place wants to be.”

Among those attending the open house were residents of the city’s Second Ward who said the collaboration celebrated “community with unity” and made them feel more welcome in and connected to their hometown and Ohio Wesleyan.

For Melissa Harris and daughter, Ava Johnson, the mural-making process holds special significance. Their faces are featured on the Second Ward Community Center mural under the single word “COMMUNITY.”

“I’m deeply honored to be on the building because growing up that’s not what we saw,” Harris said, adding that previously she wouldn’t have thought about visiting the Ross Art Museum or borrowing books for schoolwork from Beeghly Library, “but now the door is open.”

Daughter Ava said being depicted in the mural is “pretty cool,” and she hopes it inspires the community to work more earnestly and effectively toward true equality for all.

A Gift to the Community

Mural masterminds Cook and Fletcher said they hope so, too, and they are feeling optimistic about the potential of the living, breathing artwork they have helped to create.

“I’m using this work to magnify people’s voices,” Cook said, of the meetings, workshops, and resulting murals. “This is an engine to bring people together.”

And it already has helped to do just that, Fletcher said, noting the Delaware Mural Project has been supported by the Ohio Arts Council, Delaware County Commissioners, the Delaware City Promotions Grant, the Ross Art Museum, and private donors. It also aims to honor the history of Delaware, Fletcher said, and encourage momentum for public art in downtown, as described in the city’s masterplan.

“This is intended as a gift to the community,” she said.

Also intended as a gift is the Second Ward Community Initiative’s 13th annual Community Unity Festival. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept 28 at the center and will feature food, games, live performances, and more.

Learn more about Cook at www.brett-cook.com, more about the Second Ward Community Initiative at www.swcidelaware.org, and more about OWU’s Ross Art Museum and its upcoming exhibits and events at www.owu.edu/ross.