A group of volunteers crowded around Jessica Millien on Monday as she taught them how to shade a colorful mural embellishing the Christian Outreach Center on a dreary stretch of Main Street.
They were a handful of more than a thousand volunteers who brought murals to life, gave new coats of paint to cemetery fences and spruced up blighted property on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in midcity Baton Rouge. Main Street was closed off for them to work, and the sun shone down on the chilly morning as music played and the smell of paint wafted through the air.
Millien designed one of five murals volunteers painted throughout the morning and early afternoon. Hers showed a progression of a chained man in the rain who finds hope, overcomes his troubles with the help of others and breaks free from his chains to find fulfillment.
“It’s amazing what this does to the street; it makes it come back to life,” said Millien, a part-time caseworker at the outreach center and a social work graduate student at LSU. “Now anyone who comes past it will feel more welcome.”
She wanted the people depicted in her mural to have gray faces to make it relatable for people of all ethnicities.
“Anyone should be able to look at this and think, ‘I can overcome anything,’ ” she said.
Each mural had its own personality to fit the building that it decorated.
The artwork at the Big Buddy Program building showed children playing sports, studying and going on to graduate. Blocks of text spelled “One child, one mentor, one change at a time.”
Another painting transformed the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance from a somber white building into a series of geometric shapes in orange and black. Volunteers painted #IAMMIDCITY on one side of the building.
Spencer Bagert, a graphic designer at Lamar Advertising, helped to sketch out over the weekend what the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance Inc. mural would look like. Volunteers on Monday, regardless of their artistic ability or age, were able to paint in the pre-drawn shapes and text that people like Bagert had prepared.
“It was kind of like a paint by numbers,” laughed Deselyn Young, who worked on the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance mural along with a group of co-workers from Cox Communications. The mural features the Cox logo in its design.
The other two scenes were painted at the community radio WHYR building and the Forward Arts, Inc. and The Walls Project’s #10WordStoriesBR building. The WHYR building’s mural showed a girl’s face with a key in her forehead and ideas and images flowing out. The #10WordStoriesBR mural was Mardi Gras-themed on one side of the building and depicted a series of geometric shapes on the other.
City Year workers in red jackets dotted the street corners down Main Street, pouring paint and directing the volunteers who ranged from young to old to the mural sites. They partnered with The Walls Project, the East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President’s Office and others to come up with the day of service. City Year workers said the number of volunteers surpassed their expectations.
Musical groups performed throughout the day on a stage in between the painting sites on Main Street. Vendors also served food and drinks for people who wanted to take a break from painting.
The people who live and spend time in midcity, like Bagert, said painting the murals and knowing they’ll be able to look at them in the future gave them an extra sense of fulfillment.
“It’s always fun to do something in the neighborhood that you live in,” he said.