Willmar Community Center: Art for and about the community

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WILLMAR — The mural is called "Graceland" and when finished it will be a colorful and energetic illustration of Willmar's diverse community. It will hang in the Burlington Northern Room at the Willmar Community Center, a piece of art to represent the center's commitment to the community and all who call Willmar home.

Today the 7-foot by 16-foot long piece is in the early stages, as Willmar artist Ron Adams has started transferring his vision from a small sketch on to the three large canvases that will be the mural. The hope is to have the mural completed and hanging in the community center by next summer.

"It is intended to convey welcome to everyone who goes there," said Darlene Schroeder, Willmar Community Center board chair and volunteer.

Adams isn't a stranger to large, public art projects. He has completed two other murals. One is hanging in the Willmar Public Library, while his most recent completion, a 36-foot mural, was unveiled at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building in 2015. Such large projects take a lot of time and energy. Each mural took over a year to complete, so Adams at first wasn't looking for another project.

"I was not over anxious to do another one," Adams said.

However, when Schroeder approached him about the idea, Adams decided he had another one in him. He estimates the mural will take nearly 1,500 hours to complete.

"I try to work three to four hours everyday, including Saturday and Sunday," said Adams, who has already been working on the project for nearly a year.

Adams' mural started not with a paint brush, but with a camera. All of the 65 individual people represented in the painting have a corresponding photo Adams keeps in a binder for references, nearly half from the Willmar area.

"Which is more people than I have ever done," Adams said. He also walks around town looking for inspiration, whether it's a person or tree shadows he plans to use in the background.

In addition to showcasing the many different ethnic groups of people living in Willmar, Adams' mural also focuses on music and dance.

"The centerpiece to it is the band. I really wanted the dance to be combined in it too," Adams said. There are examples of many different cultural dances sprinkled through the mural, in addition to ethnic instruments.

As the mural started taking shape, Schroeder started seeing similarities between the painting and what was going on at the center including Somali culture events, Latin music lessons and barn dances.

"We're actually doing this stuff," Schroeder said.

Schroeder is in the process of trying to raise funds for the project, an estimated $8,000. Currently the Willmar Area Arts Council, which is acting as the sponsor for the project, has collected $2,775 in donations, including a $1,000 contribution from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

"The Healthy Together Willmar initiative is happy to support the community mural. This project is an intentionally inclusive visual that shows community connectedness and engagement, embracing the beautiful diversity Willmar has to offer," Wendy Foley, Health Improvement Project manager from Blue Cross Blue Shield, said in a press release.

Donations can be sent to the Arts Council at PO Box 165, Willmar, MN, 56201.

In addition to working on the Community Center mural, Adams will be opening his home studio, 900 Park Avenue Northwest in Willmar, for Studio Hop, which takes place Friday, June 16, from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, June 17, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Various artists from across Willmar, Spicer and New London will be opening their studios or setting up shop in other locations to show their art to the public.

"It is fun," Adams said. "I find an artist's work place to be an interesting place to see."

More information, including participating artists and location can be found at studiohop.wordpress.com.

This is Adams' third year taking part in Studio Hop. Last year he said 40 to 50 people visited his studio.

"People really like seeing art. I think it is a wonderful thing," Adams said.

The best part of Studio Hop, he added, is being able to meet people who are passionate about art and want to see what he has created.

"It is nice to see people who have a passion in their life. I would have gone crazy without art to go back on, it is my passion," Adams said.