Students at Mississippi State University are turning a downtown retaining wall into a work of art.
They will be painting a mural titled "From City Hall to Lee Hall: We're all in this together" that will feature a long line of stylized buildings in various colors of the rainbow, progressing from iconic buildings in the city to buildings that characterize the campus of MSU.
"I think the whole idea of murals is to beautify the city and connect the physical city with the ideals and the things that people love," said Emily Harms, a junior graphic design major and the MSU student who designed the mural.
The mural will be just that: a visual representation of the "town and gown" connection that is integral to both Starkville and MSU.
"The town and gown relationship is incredibly important to me and Dr. Keenum, as we have worked together over the last few years to make sure the things we do complement each other and that we are working in tandem to keep the partnership strong and benefit off of each other's strengths," Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said.
Spruill has had her eye on the North Jackson retaining wall as a possible site for a mural since before she became mayor. After taking office, the city adopted "the mayor's mural program," and one of the main pieces of the plan was the North Jackson retaining wall. Through collaborating with the Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC) and the MSU Department of Art, spearheaded by Director John Bateman and Professor Jenna Altamonte, the decision was made to have MSU art students design and paint the mural.
"It's intimate in regards to utilizing the brilliant minds and different talents we have in the art department at Mississippi State," said Marcus Williams, a junior painting major and a student working on the mural.
John Bateman, director of SAAC, said getting local artists involved was the key to building a thriving arts community.
"The idea is 'let's create more opportunities that are real-world learning opportunities for artists to build the skill set,' and if artists see these opportunities here then they'll stay here and the more artists we can keep here the more vibrant the community can become," Bateman said.
Bateman said he saw his small hometown in Arkansas waste away simply because there was nothing to do.
"It's a fundamental thing that chambers of commerce, arts organizations and tourism know: the stuff that brings people to a town is the stuff to do outside of work," Bateman said.
Starkville's murals have already inspired recognition, as Bateman said cities from all over Mississippi have reached out to him and asked what they need to do to begin building an arts community.
From his vantage point as a student, Williams confirmed Bateman's point that the mural will attract attention and inspire future artists.
"Who knows? It could draw in even more individual high school students to come to Mississippi State and say 'I want to develop a lasting impact on my community,'" Williams said.
Harms, the student who created the mural, mentioned how before being involved in the mural she had never considered working with public art.
"Now that I've been introduced to public art I really love it and so wherever I end up in life whatever city I'm in I definitely want to pursue public art," Harms said.
The new North Jackson mural is not the only splash of color that has been showing up around Starkville recently.
A large red and orange sunshine emblem was recently painted in the Cotton District at the intersection of University Drive and Maxwell Street, and the University Drive bridge was also recently transformed into a swirl of colorful flowers.
Mayor Spruill, a huge proponent of public beautification, said art is about making a space where people want to be.
"Art is like music. It brings joy. It brings thought. It brings just a vibrancy to your life in ways that would be much less rich without it, and that's the reason for the pianos downtown and that's the reason for events and music events by having art in as many places as we can that make people smile," Spruill said.
The students have completed the preparation process for the wall and will have it finished by June 30.
Williams said he was thrilled to be painting the wall and was excited to drive past it one day and tell his kids about his role in the project.
"No one will be disappointed," Williams said. "That's all I have to say."