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Constance Alexander: Murray Art Guild’s mosaic garden is inspired by hope and awash in color

When Murray Art Guild’s Hope Garden was officially unveiled last week, a gloomy, gray day burst into vibrant color. Eight participants from W.A.T.C.H., a day training program for developmentally and intellectually disabled adults, were on site to celebrate the installation of the community mosaic and marvel over the individual tiles they had made to create public art.

With guidance by dedicated volunteers and artistic direction from Debi Henry Danielson, executive director of MAG, the project stretched over nearly two years, with W.A.T.C.H. involved in almost every part of the creative process.

The project began early in 2016 with a grant proposal to the Kentucky Arts Council on behalf of the Murray-Calloway County Hospital Endowment for Health Care. Focused on increasing availability of arts activities and events to adults with disabilities, the Arts Access Grant featured partnerships with several local arts organizations and non-profits. MAG’s Hope Garden was one of the hands-on components.

Sustaining momentum for a long-term project was just one of the challenges. “So many people were part of the process,” Ms. Danielson remarked, sharing a high-five with one of the exuberant W.A.T.C.H. artists.

She outlined the tasks that went into the garden, starting with individual pieces of wood that Murray Lumber cut to the various sizes needed. Each piece had to be sanded, and W.A.T.C.H. came to the rescue, working outside to get the job done. After that, the pieces had to be primed and a color base added. Ms. Danielson and an assistant had laid out the whole thing before the painting began, painstakingly marking each block on the back to indicate the base color to be applied first. Green was for grass and blue, sky. Flowers would blossom against a backdrop of orange, yellow or red.

Everyone agreed that painting was the fun part, and the colorful tiles in the mosaic are a testimony to the joy that inspired in the artists. Next, each piece had to be varnished, and then hundreds of individual artworks were mounted on an 8 by 8 frame.

From a distance, Hope Garden features four fabulous flowers rising from spunky green stems. Up close, colors, shapes, images, words, and numbers catch the eye. “I’m important,” one of the tiles declares.

“I’m capable. See my potential,” another one says.

Right in the middle of the unique garden is a series of math problems that can be recited like a poem: 1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 2 = 4, 4 + 4 = 8, and so on.

Colors and shapes collide in some of the tiles. There are faces, houses, a cross, even a cheerful sun wearing shades.

“Oh my goodness. We are good. We are all here,” one of the W.A.T.C.H. artists explains as he gestures toward the mosaic.

The artwork speaks for itself with an array of simple declarations.

Like a lion, brave.

Like a bear, strong.

Believe in me.

I’m just like you.

Currently, Hope Garden is on display by the MAG entrance on North 4th Street in Murray. Since the mural was designed to be portable, there is the possibility that it could be showcased indoors and outdoors around the community.

Debi Danielson is already thinking of more projects with W.A.T.C.H. and others as part of MAG outreach. “If I could do it again,” she said, “I would do some things differently, but now it’s all finished and I really like it. I loved watching it happen. People can do a lot of things when you give them a chance.”

“We did a good job,” a W.A.T.C.H. artist chimes in.

He stands next to a piece painted with a simple poem: “like a lighthouse/ bright/ my spirit is unstoppable.”

High fives all around to celebrate Murray ’s thriving mosaic garden of unlimited possibilities.

For more information, log on to murrayartguild.org. MAG is located at 500 N. 4th Street in Murray. Email murrayartguild@gmail.com or call 270-753-4059.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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