Group hopes for city council approval to begin mural

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COLUMBIA - Local non-profit group Resident Arts and Columbia's Office of Cultural Affairs will hold a final public meeting Wednesday for the public mural planned on the Elm Street underpass of the MKT Trail. 

We previously reported on the privately-funded public mural, which was originally planned along South Old Highway 63, but the city found concerns with the location.

"While we've done murals with them in the past as city commissioned projects and there have been other non-profits who provided private funding, this combination of circumstances have never come together before," said Madeleine LeMieux, founder of Resident Arts and lead artist on the project. 

The group originally planned for the project request to be on the Sept. 4 city council agenda, but it was hit with a list of requests from the city's legal and special events departments. 

Elise Buchheit, the program specialist at the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, said this was because the city had never dealt with a group painting a mural alongside a roadway. It wasn't sure what procedures to take, and kept finding new safety issues to tackle.

"We had been going through the processes if it was like a trail mural, and then once we got into it we realized there were going to be a lot more approval processes that were necessary just to make sure all of the artists who came for the community painting day as well as the Resident Arts crew would be safe along the roadway," she said.

LeMieux said every time she would submit a city request to the city, it would supply her with more requests, from hiring an engineer for a professional traffic plan to designing a registration process. Buchheit said this back and forth of requests was because of both the new process of painting besides a roadway and it being a busy time of year for the city.

"It's the end of a fiscal year and beginning of a new fiscal year, so you're asking a lot of different departments to participate and it just takes time. That wasn't on our side in this situation," she said.

LeMieux was then working toward the Sept. 17 city council agenda. But right before the due date for this meeting, she said she was asked to amend her contract with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who awarded her the grant for the project. She did so, but the special events risk management assessment did not get back to her in time.

"That ultimately made it impossible for us to produce a mural at the Old 63 retainer wall site in time in line for our grant requirement. The grant has to be fulfilled by the end of this year, and that just means we have to have completed the mural before it gets to a regular temperature of 50 degrees outside because acrylic paint won't dry properly below 50 degrees," she said.

LeMieux said that puts the deadline at the first week of November if temperatures are normal. So, the group looked for a smaller alternative location.

LeMieux said she and Sarah Dresser, the manager at the Office of Cultural Affairs, have submitted all documents needed to be on the Oct. 1 city council agenda. Now, LeMieux is waiting to hear final word on whether or not the project at the new location is officially on the agenda.

LeMieux said the mural will still focus on the city's Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, and faces a "sister" mural the group previously painted on the MKT Trail. 

"I love the MKT Trail. We've been doing murals there for the last three years. It's a great location for murals," she said. 

The MKT Trail spot is significantly smaller than the South Old Highway 63 location. It is almost 300 feet less in width, and three feet less in height.

"The design had to be adjusted to fit in that location, so now instead of the text going all the way across like a sentence, it's fit more imaginatively together," she said.

LeMieux hopes the project will be approved immediately at the city council meeting so painting can begin in a timely fashion.

"We've done a significant amount of legwork towards this project, and gone above and beyond any project we've done in the past with the city to provide assurances that we have the right mechanisms in place for safety and liability," she said. "This is on a same trail that we've been painting on with previous permissions in place so I'm hoping that they'll look at that and say: 'okay well they've already done this several times in this area and we've already approved that in the past, so there's no reason to say no to this one.'"

Buchheit said even though Resident Arts wasn't able to paint at the Old Highway 63 location in time this year, it could happen in the future.

"We look forward to in the future pursuing maybe a mural on the Old 63 site. Now that we understand those challenges better, we could maybe think those through and address it," she said.

The meeting will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Walton Building, located at 300 S. Providence Road.