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New mural 'Creates Safe Space' for youth in Miller Park

A crowd forms a circle around five dancers who are performing hip-hop solos. Behind the cypher is a colorful mural wall displaying the portal between dystopia and utopia. The wall, from left to right, goes from blue and purple tones to yellow, orange and red.
Lauren Warnecke
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WGLT
Community members form a cypher around the BCAI Cultural Arts and Humanities Dance Team, performing as part of the public unveiling of a new Youth Mural Project in Miller Park on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

A crowd gathered in Miller Park over the weekend to celebrate a new public art piece created by local youth. The project was a joint effort between Illinois Art Station, Artolution, the NAACP Youth Council and Western Avenue Community Center, among others.

More than 40 youths worked with Twin Cities native Joel Bergner, who leads the nonprofit global art initiative called Artolution, to design the mural around a theme of Creating Safe Spaces. In prepared remarks, Bergner said a main goal of the project was “to get all kinds of people in the community together to connect with each other and to form positive relationships.”

Bergner and several local teaching artists worked with youth to develop their artistic ideas, simultaneously focusing on community building.

Participant Mackenzie McCray explained various aspects of the large, colorful painting near the park’s north entrance. The mural’s four distinct sections include community portraits in the center, a peacock representing peace, a “dystopian unit," housing "feelings of depression and all the bad things going on in the world currently,” they said, and “a portal going to the utopia, where things are better and there’s a bright side.”

The piece is signed by the young artists and stamped with their handprints. On the back of the permanent wall structure (created with support from the City of Bloomington), facing Miller Park Playground, are a collage of smaller paintings framed by the mural wall’s support beams.

Twelve Bloomington police officers contributed to the painting as part of BPD’s community engagement program.

Two people wearing Illinois Art Station t-shirts smile for the camera in front of a blue, purple, green and black mural wall. In the background, two youth and a white fluffy dog admire the mural.
Mike Matejka
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Illinois Art Station
Bloomington Chief of Police Jamal Simington poses with a young artist in front of the new mural they helped create in Miller Park.

“The Safe Space project is one I and the Bloomington Police Department police officers will cherish forever,” said Chief Jamal Simington. “We place a high value on working with those who serve to have a safe community which allows a safe space for our children — tomorrow’s future — to grow, be empowered, build confidence, collaborate, learn and thrive, free from bias, harm, violence, fear, conflict, criticism and mistreatment.”

In the run-up to his appointment in October 2021, Simington identified building trust and community engagement as key aspects of his vision for the police department.

This latest Youth Mural Project adds to a growing collection of permanent public art pieces around Bloomington. Previous projects resulted in murals on Constitution Trail near Washington Street, and at the intersection of West Market Street and Morris Avenue.

The initiative was first conceived by Illinois Art Station founding director Laura Berk, who serves on the boards of both Artolution and the Illinois Art Station Foundation. Berk visited the mural almost daily during its two-week development and offered remarks at the unveiling.

"Now, we have this beautiful, powerful, complex, permanent reminder of what a safe space is," Berk said. "So much to take in, and so much to do in our every day lives to translate these ideas into reality."

The ceremony ended with the crowd forming a cypher surrounding youth dancers from the BCAI Cultural Arts and Humanities Dance Team — and community Cupid Shuffle.

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Lauren Warnecke is a correspondent for WGLT, focusing on arts and culture.
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