In June 2016, Faith Kellermeyer, MA ’15, went to her first LGBTQ pride celebration. She stayed in Indianapolis for the closing weekend.
“I was driving back, listening to (Pulse nightclub shooting) news coverage on NPR. I remember crying as I was driving. As I pulled into Muncie, I saw the city building had rainbow lights on it. It was a symbol of solidarity, and that really meant a lot to me. It made me feel like I was coming back to somewhere safe and that was a supportive community.”
Kellermeyer, then a project manager for Ball State’s Center for Emerging Media Design and Development, wanted to create something permanent that celebrates inclusiveness for everyone.
After envisioning a mural, she took her idea to artists Braydee Euliss, ’11, who was active in Muncie’s arts community; JoAnna Darda, then a digital archivist at University Libraries; and Jannell Summers. The four soon created the We’re Trying Collective, which works to continue building an environment of inclusion and creative expression.
None of the four women knew about creating a building-sized mural or had ever coordinated such a large project, which grew to include a class of Ball State students and scores of Muncie businesses and residents.
Getting the mural started
The women saw the perfect canvas: the outside south wall of the Mark III Tap Room, 306 S. Walnut St., which was unadorned save for a long blue arrow pointing to the nightclub’s entrance. Kellermeyer spent hours creating a five-page initial proposal with a budget, timeline, and examples of other public art projects. They presented it to building owner Michael Wolfe.
“At that point, he could’ve said no, right? He took one look at the front, and he didn’t even flip through the pages. He said, ‘I’m in.’” From there, he worked with members to improve the plan.
The collective then met with the staff at the Mark, touted as Indiana’s oldest LGBTQ nightclub. “The final design has a lot of their suggestions in it,” Kellermeyer said, including pink and blue from the transgender pride flag.
As planning continued, she talked with one of her former communication studies profs, Kristen McCauliff. They decided that the project matched a new rhetoric and activism class that McCauliff would teach in spring 2017.
On the academic side, McCauliff said students learned about “feminist art, feminist activism and community-based art projects.” It included “reading about feminist/pacifist groups who would put together really awesome cookbooks, for example, that were artistic and pragmatic.”
For the community, students used a Building Better Neighborhoods grant to pay for items from fundraising letter supplies to Jeanne Vaccaro, a feminist writer and researcher who spoke at a big dinner they created. Dinner profits helped pay for a hydraulic lift used for much of the painting, paint, brushes, tables, and pizza for painters. Other things were donated or discounted.
Additionally, Spectrum, the campus group for LGBTQ people and allies, donated about $2,000 from its spring drag show toward the $10,000 total.
Highs and lows for students
McCauliff’s students loved the mural’s purpose and lauded the class’s academics. “The talk about public art and how it functions as activism was really cool,” said Mariann Fant, a comm studies senior. She also enjoyed learning about Muncie’s art history.
Mariann, Spectrum’s president last school year, wasn’t so keen on fundraising. “It didn’t really relate to my major, but I knew (the collective was) doing something really good,” said the resident of Columbus, Indiana. “I suppose that’s how it is in the actual work force: You do some things that are related and some that are not.”
McCauliff noted that faculty members do fundraising by talking to alumni and donors, something she never thought of in grad school. And students’ discomfort gave them a chance to examine why they felt that. “Do we expect artists to provide that gift for free? Do we expect them to do things in the community off their own backs, out of their own pocket? I don’t know.”
Another comm studies senior said it was great to work as a team and with the collective. “We had to come out with final deliverables that we all could be happy with,” said Stasia Merkel of LaPorte, Indiana.
Senior Josh Ratel-Khan of Chesterton, Indiana, liked working on fundraising and event planning, plus learning how to balance internal and external communications and what it takes for nonprofits to get things done. The experience was wonderful, said the public communication and political science double major, and he thinks the real world knowledge will help when he applies for jobs or grad school.
“This really helped me grow as a person.’ … I also learned how important community is, and I think I’ll want to get involved in more nonprofit work and help community partners out more.”
That pleases Kellermeyer and McCauliff. “I would love to see students get involved in the Muncie community and propagate their own ideas,” Kellermeyer said.
McCauliff said she and her students came away as collective fans. “Who wouldn’t? They’re funny, and they’re witty, and they’re politically engaged, and they’re smart, and they’re creative. I just love my students being able to see that they can go forth and be 20-somethings who also make huge changes in their communities.”
The end results
Weather delayed the big community paint day until May 13, a week after spring commencement. Still, nearly 50 people from campus and the community, including students and families, took up paintbrushes.
The mural is both art and celebration, Euliss wrote in a blog, emboldening Muncie as it supports and accepts people of all backgrounds.
And it’s proof, Kellermeyer said, that small communities can rally around big ideas.
“The beauty of murals is that they are such an accessible, equalizing art form. They provide a barrier-free art experience to diverse communities. You don’t have to pay an entry fee or have a formal art education to appreciate a public mural.”
A leading force in creating a downtown mural was Braydee Euliss, ’11. As the new executive director of Muncie Arts & Culture Council, Euliss said she strives to enhance the role of the arts “as a community builder, as an economic driver, as a kind of glue that helps hold smaller communities like ours together.” Read more about Euliss, her big plans for the council and connecting with Ball State.