For three teenage artists, the plain gray wall on the back of a grocery store was the perfect blank canvas.
The youths, with the help of the Kent Bellows Studio & Center for Visual Arts, were tasked with transforming the exterior wall of the K-N-J Grocery Store at 33rd and California Streets into a mural representative of the midtown neighborhood.
After several months of research, design and painting, the young artists will show off their mural, adorned with bright images of fruits, vegetables, music and sports, at 6 p.m. Friday.
The artists — Beth Davis, a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; Ryan Elder, who is home-schooled; and Niara Williams, a senior at Duchesne Academy — received guidance from mentor Renee Ledesma.
The trio combined their artistic styles to make the mural in the Gifford Park neighborhood.
“It's a really good representation of how much change has taken place there,” Davis said. “It shows how much good has come out of people working together to create a strong community.”
Weston Thomson, interim executive director of Kent Bellows Studio, which is located at 3303 Leavenworth St., said it teamed up with the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association to design a mural that would accurately represent the community. He said the mural will complement the growing business area, which in addition to the grocery is known for California Tacos and More, Maud Boutique and the Community Bicycle Shop Omaha, a nonprofit repair shop.
“This is an active community, and it shows in the mural,” said Chris Foster, a board member of the neighborhood association.
The project was funded with $5,000 through the Mayor's Neighborhood Grants program.
The team of artists came up with the design concept based on interviews with community members.
“The first thing that we wanted to do was put our students into the community,” Thomson said.
Davis, a freshman criminology major at UNO, said she and her team looked to neighbors, vendors and passers-by for advice.
“A lot of them said they wanted to see the produce (from the market) and to see people coming together,” she said.
Every Friday from June through September, the vacant lot behind the grocery store is the site of the Gifford Park Neighborhood Market, which is depicted in the mural by the produce stand, vegetables and fruit.
“We wanted to incorporate the past, present and future in the mural, and we did this with the foreground, midground and background,” Thomson said.
He explained that the foreground is a representation of the present, with produce, sports and music. The mid-ground portrays colors symbolizing diversity within the community.
The background is outlined by Gifford Park's former skyline when the Circle Theater occupied the lot from the 1930s until it closed in the early 1950s.
“This is going to be a neighborhood full of creative capital,” Thomson said. “This mural is a symbol of that creative capital to come.”