A water lily mural colors the resident entryway at Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead. It’s one of five murals designed by Project Art For Change participants, including MSUM students and local artists such as Brad Bachmeier, Lauren Starling and Franklin Ugochukwu. Contributed photo/The Arts Partnership
What do you do with $20,000 in Lake Region Arts Council grant money to help raise awareness of homelessness in the community?
You paint walls with glimmers of hope.
For the past several months, Minnesota State University Moorhead’s School of Art has partnered with Churches United for the Homeless on Project Art For Change, a collaborative effort that furthers awareness of housing needs throughout Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo.
“We wanted to get students and community members involved in a community service project that would call attention to the issue of homelessness,” Project Art For Change’s coordinator, MSUM Arts Education Professor and local ceramic artist, Brad Bachmeier said.
MSUM received a $20,000 Lake Region Arts Council Legacy Grant to fund the project in an effort to amplify issues of homelessness and also to broaden the school’s commitment to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Our intent in partnering with Churches United was to help transform the physical spaces of their shelter into a more hopeful, uplifting and healing environment, and to also support DEI efforts and social change,” Bachmeier said.
More than 200 students, staff, faculty and community volunteers have participated in creating the five murals during the eight months since the project kicked off, Bachmeier said.
Hannah Young, Churches United’s Chief Operations Officer, said the project has really brightened up the hallways inside the shelter.
“We’re so thankful for the added color in our shelter areas,” Young said. “What was going to be three murals turned into an even bigger project, thanks to extra funding, so it’s more than we could have asked for.”
Young said the initial intent was to get art up on walls in publicly accessible areas of the shelter, but future renovations plans shifted the focus to sleeping quarters and children’s play areas throughout the shelter.
“The shelter looks 100 times better than it did before the art,” Young said. “Everybody’s just done a really great job.”
Lead artists Lauren Starling and Franklin Ugochukwu spent countless hours at the shelter creating murals throughout the space. Both are emerging local artists who often work on large public art projects.
Ugochukwu said the project has been both creatively inspiring and emotionally difficult.
“It’s been a lot of work. Lots of design meetings, brainstorming, dozens of painting sessions with volunteers, and feeling burned out on some days. But a lot of people at the shelter are currently going through a crisis,” Ugochukwu said. “Having some heartwarming artwork on the walls can bring a sense of hope and calmness during these tough times. The work matters, that’s all that’s important.”
But in the end, Ugochukwu said, it was all worth it to be able to bring hope to people who use the shelter, as well as to raise students’ and community members’ awareness of homelessness in the region.
“Art breaks down barriers in the sense that it gives us something to connect to, something to identify with and identity that we can share,” Ugochukwu said.
Starling said she learned a lot spending time in the shelter, talking with residents and families who use the facility. “Most of the funding organizations like this get are for necessities, and so the look and feel of the shelter often gets overlooked,” she said.
MSUM students created yet another mural during Homecoming Week in early October, this one located in the Art Annex inside MSUM’s Roland Dille Center for the Arts. The Dragons Unite! Mural Painting was also part of Bachmeier’s vision for the project as a whole and brought students together to get involved as part of coursework.
WATCH: Timelapse of MSUM students painting mural as part of Project Art for Change
And while the art project doesn’t eradicate homelessness, it does what art is supposed to do: lift up the heart and fill the soul.
“There will always be people in crisis,” Ugochukwu said. “But we community members can always volunteer, donate to, and spread awareness for. No matter how little we can help as a community, it goes a very long way.”
Starling said she felt similar to Ugochukwu and is eager to continue working on the project until it wraps up in December. “It’s been cool to visit with the families and guests at the shelter and learn about them and their stories. I’ve seen how the murals can change the moods of the kids and families over the time,” she said. “Unless you have lived in spaces like that, you can’t understand how impactful being comfortable is to your well-being.”
About the author
Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.