Peoria is definitely not the only major city in the region that’s using street art to beautify its streets and boost civic pride.
But Soy City is going about it in a more systematic way with the Decatur Mural Project, which was launched in 2012 by the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County and is administered by the Decatur Area Arts Council (DAAC).
2019 is turning out to be a particularly productive year for the project. Eric Weatherford, a Decatur native and Millikin University graduate, is working on the year’s third mural. Here’s what it looked like when we stopped by downtown Decatur last weekend:
The colorful, abstract mural is set to liven up a block that lost its luster when The River Coffee Company, Speakeasy Records and Oddities and a couple of other businesses were leveled by a fire in April. Weather allowing, it should be completed within the next week or so.
Another mural was recently completed after more than a year of work. Local artists Amy Rankin and Michelle Stephens got started last summer on “Unstoppable,” which depicts a speeding steam engine on the side of the Millikin Wrestling facility.
The 128-feet long mural is based on an actual locomotive located at the Monticello Railway Museum. The artists aimed to pay homage to the wrestling team as well as to the rail industry that played a key role in Decatur expansion.
DAAC Executive Director Jerry Johnson created the first mural to be completed this year. Painted on the side of the Kurent Safety building in the Lakeview neighborhood, this salute to veterans is Johnson’s third work for the project, and is also the one that extends the project’s reach farther from downtown.
“Our process is that we either find a wall and speak to the building owner, or the building owner says ‘I got a wall, I’d like you to use it,'” says Johnson. “The last couple of year’s we’ve asked building owners, ‘is there a theme you’d like to suggest to the artists?'”
In the case of his most recent mural, the owner of Kurent Safety is a veteran, and he suggested a veteran-focused work. A public request for proposals yielded several designs, of which some were veteran-themed and some weren’t.
“Then we have a committee of artists and others that sort of vet the initial wave of design submissions, and then we usually present three to five to each building owner,” Johnson goes on. “So they do have an element of involvement, but they don’t get to dictate what they want. If that is their interest, then we suggest these artists that they can contact and we commission that work. So we like both the artists to be comfortable with what it is they’re creating, and the building owner to be happy with what’s being created.”
No money exchanges hands between the building owner and DAAC; funding and materials for the murals are provided by area businesses, organizations or individual donors.
Here are the other murals already completed as part of the project:
The project’s first mural was, appropriately, a tribute to the city’s namesake, Admiral Stephen Decatur, a Revolutionary War hero. Johnson painted it in the summer of 2013.
The second mural, painted by Johnson in 2015, is a tribute to another city icon — the football team that would later head north and become the Chicago Bears.
Painted in 2016 by local artist Shani Goss and her husband Tronnie Goss, this mural elicits good vibes with the legendary reggaeman’s likeness, along with the song title “One Love” (stylized as 1Love) and the lyrics, “Let’s get together and feel alright.”
Ron English, a Decatur native who earned international renown and coined the term POPaganda to describe his mashups of low- and highbrow cultural icons, including brand advertising, came home to paint this mural in the summer of 2017.
Remember the mural Eric Weatherford is currently working on? That’s actually his second work for the project. The first one was painted in August 2017 on the side of Garcia’s Pizza near the Millikin campus.
And just a month later, Nick Beery, who runs Coalesce Studios gallery in Sullivan, painted this mural based on the geometric concept of the golden spiral, on the side of the Board Knight game store.
And in 2018, California-based Colin Salazar painted “Eyesdown,” a monumental scale rendering of a metal print he originally created in 2015.
Ready for your own tour of the Decatur Mural Project?
Photos by Sergio Barreto