This Mural Matters
efore the economic crisis, the future looked bright for the historic Arcade Building in downtown Riverside, Illinois – a National Historic Landmark District. The small village had even approved a promising restoration plan for the vacant building. However, the good news stopped when a bank foreclosed on the property last summer, causing all momentum to come to a grinding halt.
Students Saving Places
Check out this photo slideshow of the students five-week effort to help save the Village of Riverside's historic Arcade Building. All photos courtesy of Riverside Brookfield High School Art Department.
What followed was an outcry of communal concern to improve the look of the diminishing building, which was listed as one of the state's ten most endangered historic places by Landmarks Illinois in 2009.
In June of the same year, the Arcade was officially offered for sale, giving legions of fans new hope that the local landmark would be restored. After being approached by the Village of Riverside, the art students of Riverside Brookfield High School decided to take on the challenge of designing and painting a monumental-sized mural that would span over 2,000 square feet of the still-endangered building. There was finally some good news brewing.
Just as planning for the mural project was kicking off, the students and members of the mural committee noticed a National Trust for Historical Preservation This Place Matters sign in the Arcade Building's window. They immediately knew that it would be the perfect title for their project.
"We felt the slogan would express our strong feelings that both the Arcade Building and the Village of Riverside matter," said Riverside Brookfield High School Fine Art Chair Jonathan Grice, who oversaw the creation of the Arcade mural. "Since this was a community project capturing the beautiful and iconic buildings or motifs of Riverside, we felt the slogan was a perfect match."
Throughout the planning process, the students were interested in capturing the beauty and historic significance of the sweeping landscapes and iconic landmarks throughout their community. The mural committee felt it was important to express vitality and hope in the mural, so the students chose to represent children running with brushes painting explosions of color, which were influenced by the original art glass from the Arcade Building. The colorful swirls can also be seen radiating from other imagery, such as butterflies and a mythological phoenix. The students thought these symbols of metamorphosis would express the community's desire to have the building restored and back in good use.
Since the artwork would be displayed indefinitely on the building's exterior, the students also chose to depict the four seasons in the mural. Separating each season would be friendly gargoyles, which were inspired by the grotesques that adorn the top of the nearby Riverside Public Library.
As the project progressed, the students' enthusiasm grew along with their genuine concern for the Arcade Building and its historic significance. For many of the students, the Arcade Building has represented happy memories in their lives. Some had eaten at the former restaurant located within the building or had ice cream at the corner store that also once occupied the space. For these reasons, the mural was important to them. As one student put it, "This project has become part of the building's history."
Numerous groups and organizations also got involved. Junior high schoolers joined numerous clubs, organization, and staff from Riverside Brookfield High School in planning and executing the mural. Even people walking by the work in progress got involved. Thanks to strong community support, over 80 gallons of used house paint were donated along with countless paint brushes and bags of drop cloths. The Riverside Public Works Department donated their services by helping the students with deliveries. Another local company primed the panels, while another added a sealant to protect the completed artwork. Similar to an artist-in-residency program, artists from the Riverside Arts Center also dedicated their time to work with the students. They picked up supplies when needed, arrived early to mix paint, worked with the students to discuss painting techniques and designs, and stayed late to help clean.
The painting took place during school days, on nights, and throughout weekends. The students worked collaboratively, forming new friendships and developing confidence as artists. Though there were some conflicts (not everything painted turned out as planned), the process came with valuable lessons in communication and respect for shared work. The mural was completed after five intense weeks of painting. The panels were then installed by local volunteers and revealed on December 4, 2009 – just in time for the holidays.
While the mural certainly helps beautify the Arcade Building, the students and the community at large realize this is only a temporary fix to the endangered building. Hopefully, the students' work is the first of many steps in returning the landmark to its original glory.
Does your school matter? Are your students involved in saving a historic place? Take a class picture and share it with the world through the National Trust's This Place Matters campaign. No camera? No problem! Plant a flag on our interactive map.
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