- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - School projects can often be frustrating. The lesson learned can be that not everyone pulls their weight, but in 2008, when a group of Bloomington students worked together to raise money for an Art Across the Americas trip, it was a positive experience.

The plan was to take a group of Bloomington students to Guatemala to create a mural, then bring a group of Guatemalan kids to Bloomington to create a mural here.

“The intent was to have an international art exchange among the kids here and the kids in Guatemala. It was about the mural, but it was more about connecting the kids and then learning and interacting in each other’s cultures,” Gracia Valliant, a retired school administrator who helped organize the trip, told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1FFEw2g ).

But now, the Bloomington mural’s fate is uncertain.

Plans have been made to tear down the building where the mural hangs along the B-Line Trail between Kirkwood Avenue and Sixth Street. That means the artwork needs a new home.

Sara Irvine was a teacher at Templeton Elementary School when the mural was created. She and Valliant had traveled to Guatemala, and that trip is what led them to come up with the idea of making the murals.

But the murals were never just about the students. In Guatemala, residents were invited to pick up a paintbrush and help. Others left their handprints in the mural, as well as thread that symbolized not only the textile business that housed the mural but the small connection it had to the wider world.

Bloomington’s mural had a similar feature. While it was being painted, walkers along the B-Line Trail were encouraged to leave a thumbprint and initials on the border. Some prints were made into people, some into animals.

“We wanted it to be community involved as well,” Irvine said.

Irvine remembers that the mural was designed to help end the graffiti that constantly popped up on the wall. In fact, old photos of the mural as it was being installed show remnants of the spray paint.

Miah Michaelsen, the city of Bloomington’s assistant economic development director for the arts, said there weren’t a lot of options for places to install the mural because of its size. So the large wall on the side of the building that houses Cornerstone Information Systems was selected.

When the building will be torn down has still not been decided, but the owners have been in constant communication with Irvine and Michaelsen, with a promise that there will be time to remove the mural when it becomes necessary. The new building wasn’t designed with the mural in mind.

But finding it a new home is just one of the problems. The paint has started to chip, and the wood has started to warp.

“The last muralist that we talked to said it would be about $6,000 to repair it,” Valliant said.

There was a little money left over from what the students raised years ago. Valliant said it was donated to another art project in Guatemala.

The mural has become a bit of an icon along the B-Line Trail. In 2012, an ABC book called “B is for Bloomington” was published with the mural featured on the cover.

The mural was an important part of the lives of the children - many of whom are now adults - who worked on it.

Jessica Flanigan was 17 when she traveled to Guatemala to work on the mural. She turned 18 while on the trip.

“It was just an overall amazing first experience of the world outside Indiana for me,” she said. “And then, to know that we would bring them back, too, was great.”

Flanigan remembers the people, the culture and the food of Guatemala. Since she was one of the older members of the group, she found it rewarding to befriend kids who were 10 years younger. Many are still her friends today.

Flanigan never considered herself an artist, but she had fun trying to paint. Along with awakening her artistic side and trying to speak Spanish, she also developed a love of travel.

“I have loved traveling since Guatemala. It’s scary to go alone, but Guatemala was a great experience. I’ve been to Hawaii by myself to live for a few months. Exploring Ireland was amazing. I’m an explorer and an adventurer, and it started with Guatemala,” Flanigan said.

When the group from Guatemala visited Bloomington to paint the downtown mural, Flanigan remembers the happiness she felt being able to visit old friends and show them the highlights of Bloomington.

But there was also work to do. Flanigan remembers the efforts to design the mural and what it was like to work on a piece of art in such a public place.

And she distinctly remembers what part of the mural she painted.

“I did the IU Auditorium - very carefully,” she said.

Flanigan was sad to hear of plans to take the mural down. “It’s such an emotional piece for me. It’s really meaningful to know that it might go down,” Flanigan said.

But she also understands that change is imminent in more ways than one. The Guatemalan mural Flanigan worked on has also undergone a change. The original artwork at the textillery included two small murals created by Mayan artists, and one of the smaller Mayan murals was recently replaced with a window.

And life moves on for Flanigan, too. Now 24, she’s preparing to move to Anchorage, Alaska, to work at a pediatric clinic.

“I can’t take it with me, but it’s hard to think that it won’t be there,” she said.

Irvine thinks there might be a way to install the mural at the Project School, but the wall surface is different in many ways, which means it may not look the same at the school.

Valliant knows of one place behind the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center that may be a good home for the mural. “If the mural could be repaired and hung there - and repaired so it doesn’t deteriorate - that would be lovely.”

Because of its fragility, though, Valliant said it might be better if the mural were installed inside a building.

“I would like it to go somewhere inside with someone who would want it and protect its meaning. And for me, it’s sad it is coming down, but the lasting legacy is in the kids. Neither group of kids will ever forget that experience. For me, in many ways, I would love to see that it’s a symbol of what the kids did,” Valliant said.

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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