BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)– An alleyway in Brookings is getting a makeover, but this time with a twist.

The city currently has eight murals throughout the city, but this is the first mural being painted by the community.

Photo courtesy of the Brookings Art Council

The idea of the community mural was created by Ashley Ragsdale, Executive Director of the Brookings Art Council, and artist Ashley Biggar, the Chamber Director and Director of Downtown Brookings, as a way to spread public art and include the community in creating it.

“Downtown Brookings is the heart of our community, so really looking to add to our Urban Canvas Project and we really saw that a lot of people really wanted to get involved and so even when I painted some murals in the past, I have had people come up wanting to paint with me,” Biggar said. “We just decided that it would be a really get opportunity to combine that revitalization with the community.”

Photo courtesy of the Brookings Art Council

The community has poured their love into this project, Biggar said.

“So for us at the Arts Council, it’s kind of following our mission, which is community connections through the arts, through appreciation and participation,” Ragsdale said. “So we thought, ‘Man, after this past year it would be great to have something to be able to have people come down, create art together, but also have kind of that sense of pride in what it is that makes Brookings great and be able to have that extra special place that they, you know, helped create down here.'”

“It’s so exciting to see people just get so excited about it,” Biggar said.

Having the mural painted on this specific building also holds a special meaning.

Building owner Brian Gatzke’s daughter, Diedra, who passed away on February 14, 2019, was an artist and the Arts Council knew him through a scholarship they had established with him, Ragsdale said.

“For me, the most important thing was showing that we support the community,” Gatzke said. “The alleys are pretty drab in all towns and Brookings seems to be more on the positive side of creating color and life.”

Diedra was an active person, Gatzke said.

“In her life, she always had a lot of colors, rainbows and helping other people,” Gatzke said. “From our standpoint it was a way for also for me to remember the community that she was part of; the artistic community. She was also LGBTQ+, very active; she was on USD student senate.”

Photo courtesy of the Brookings Art Council

The mural consists of a lot of colors and it shows expression, Gatzke said, and it has unique patterns.

“But Diedra drew some wonderful paintings in her life. She was a very good artist, freethinker, stood up for the independence, so people can use the colors to express balance,” Gatzke said. “I mean you look at a rainbow, and you know, it’s God’s promise to man not to flood the earth, but it’s also showing how we can balance everybody that has different ways of thinking and we can all work together.”

Gatzke said for him, the mural shows that aspect.

“It dresses up the community. It’s not a drab alley, and people now can drive in the alley and they start to see colors, so we actually might create a whole other environment of artists in our community,” Gatzke said.

Art is a way to express, Gatzke said.

“There are a lot of people or folks that can’t express themselves vocally or in writing, but they can do it artistically,” Gatzke said. “And the artistic way is a way to give expressions and bring about balance and harmony or what you might call peace in the community, I think that is the best way.”

Gatzke believes all the building owners that have an alley side facing a building, or even facing the public, should consider having the community come and decorate.

Photo courtesy of the Brookings Art Council

“It shows that we are a free world and we have the freedom to express,” Gatzke said. “It doesn’t have to be offensive, obviously. It doesn’t have to use bad words, but if you show in essence good taste and good colors, it just dresses up the community. I am tired of living in an institutionalized society that everything is black and white and grey. It’s get some color going on.”

Gatzke said the mural is going to be great and he has offered the city another building that is now on the list to be painted.

The building is occupied by the Wooden Legs Brewing Company and they love the idea of having a place for people to take pictures and share, Ragsdale said.

Biggar has been an artist “as long as she could pick up a paintbrush.”

“I love to do art; I’ve always been involved with it,” Biggar said.

She opened up her own art business when she was 18 and has continued that along with her downtown job position.

“It’s really great to combine both being an artist with my other job and be able to play with that,” Biggar said. “Art is just one of those things that can really bring the community together. It’s easily understood and it’s an experience that we can all be involved with, so I think that’s really great.”

This is the third mural that Biggar has done in the downtown Brookings area.

Biggar’s inspiration for this mural is the art term “gestalt”, which is defined as an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

“Just like community members are totally awesome and fantastic in and of themselves, when we come together we really create an awesome, mural in this instance, but really a great community as well,” Biggar said.

Photo courtesy of the Brookings Art Council

The mural is about 80 feet long, so there will be lots of photo opportunities, Biggar said.

“We really hope that everyone comes down with their family, their friends and really utilize the space as a great place to take picture, to capture those memories; and that’s what this is all about too is just really creating experiences and that’s what art’s about too,” Biggar said.

Biggar and Ragsdale looked at a lot of different ideas while designing this project. Biggar then took their ideas and made a draft of the mural, utilizing the Brookings branding colors, as well as the downtown colors.

Then, Biggar measured out the design and sketched it out and added the numbers to make the mural a paint-by-numbers creation.

When the community portion of the mural is complete, Biggar and Ragsdale will paint the higher areas and then at the very end, Biggar will add some other design elements.

Ragsdale said they have seen great participation with the painting days. All of their sign up days are full.

The groups paint on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout both May and June, however, Ragsdale thinks they may be done sooner than originally expected. Biggar says she thinks it will be completed by the end of this month or mid-July at the latest.

The volunteer artists have accomplished a lot in the four painting days.

“It’s been great. We’ve had young children all the way up to older kind of older adults being able to come out and just paint and create with us here,” Ragsdale said.

Biggar said her favorite part is seeing everyone come together to complete the mural.

“Watching friends, family, the kiddos come out, just everybody is just having so much fun with this and it’s just a delight to just be a part of it and really to collaborate too with the Brookings Art Council to incorporate our downtown community. I mean, it’s really fascinating just to see all the people involved,” Biggar said.

The mural consists of six different colors, so every painting day they have six people come out, but soon there will be up to twelve people helping, Ragsdale said.

Chelsie Bakken, Brookings community member, was able to participate in one of the Friday painting days.

“I thought it was a really fun way to get involved in the community and also support local art,” Bakken said. “Art is really near and dear to my heart and it was really exciting to be a part of something, to create something for the community that everyone can enjoy.”

When she got to the painting day, Bakken was able to pick out the color she wanted to work with and help paint the giant paint-by-numbers style piece.

“It was a lot of fun getting together and just being creative and getting some paint on our hands,” Bakken said.

If there is ever another opportunity to be involved with mural painting in Brookings, Bakken plans to sign up.

The groups behind the mural are always looking at expanding and having more art in Brookings, Ragsdale said. The Arts Council works with the City of Brookings to make sure that they are in line with the Public Arts Commission and the historic nature of the downtown.

Depending on funding, the Arts Council would like to paint one more mural this summer.