Clayton County BEST students work on new Elkader mural

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Central students from the Clayton County BEST program outline the new Art in the Alley mural, which has been placed on the open wall of the genealogy building in Elkader.

Student Dan McGreal traces the mural on the wall. The design is described as a picture of Clayton County with a heart where Elkader is located.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


An Art in the Alley project has received new life after being shelved during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project, done in collaboration between Main Street Elkader (MSE) and Central’s Clayton County BEST program, is a mural that was designed by 2020 graduate Jasmine Mueller. 


The design is described as a picture of Clayton County with a heart where Elkader is located. It will be placed on the open wall of the genealogy building, a location chosen because it keeps the current flow of art going throughout the alley. 


The motivation behind the mural is twofold. First, it is part of MSE’s continuing work with the BEST program, whereby the organization presents real-world problems that require solutions. In this case, it’s part of MSE’s ongoing beautification efforts. 


After the mural was put on hold, MSE presented it again to this year’s BEST class, looking for interested students. They found some in Dan McGreal, Ashton Burroughs and Haley Mueller. 


According to MSE Executive Director Samantha Baumgartner, the students “were eager to put artwork out in public.” 


The second motivation is the problem the mural solves: how to beautify downtown Elkader in an effort to preserve what Baumgartner described as its “historic charm,” something MSE wants to carry through the whole town. One of the reasons the alleys are chosen for murals is because of the foot traffic. 


“People walk through them, so we want to make them look better, and other communities have actually reached out to learn about the process and get information for putting up murals in their own towns,” Baumgartner explained. 


The murals are also part of Phase 1 of MSE’s Art in the Alley beautifying efforts, although Baumgartner joked the current mural, due to the delay, is more like Phase 1.5 as MSE moves into Phase 2. This phase is expected to explore ideas like pocket parks, parklets and wayfinding signage. 


As for working with the students, Baumgartner said it has been a “really impressive experience,” highlighted by their professionalism and timeliness. 


One of those students, Haley Mueller, is the younger sister of the murals designer. It’s one of the reasons she got involved in the project. 


“I was interested after my sister started it. I figured it would be really cool to finish something she started. It’s part of the reason I took the class,” Mueller said. 


One of the challenges the students faced has been the rapidly shifting weather and the limited time they have to paint, which typically occurs at night. But, overall, the project has seen no setbacks and is expected to be finished by the end of October. 


When it comes to the promotion of art and its importance, Baumgartner touched on how it is a form of personal expression that offers different “takes on the world.” With regard to the chosen design, Baumgartner said abstract shapes with the heart representing Elkader show how much the students take pride in Elkader. This is their home and their participation in the project is a reflection of that. 


As for Mueller, art is a way to tell a story, and this mural not only tells a story but is also informative. 


“It shows where on the map Elkader is, and I’ve heard from a lot of people they didn’t know where it was. I like that it’s making people aware of this town,” she said. “And I’ve liked working on the same project my sister stated. It makes the project special to me.” 


The project also serves to strengthen the connection between MSE and the BEST program, as Baumgartner highlighted how it not only teaches the students to problem solve with minimal adult guidance, but it also shows how invested they are in Elkader, and that speaks volumes for the town’s future.    

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