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Clarke University Gets Involved in Downtown Mural Project: “Solidarity”

By Clarke News  |  July 1, 2020
Clarke students participating in creation of the mural "Solidarity."

A collaboration led by a local artist, Voices Productions, and the City of Dubuque has brought a new mural with a timely message to Main Street in downtown Dubuque. The mural was initiated by Shelby Fry, a local artist who wanted to use her talents to bring the community together and promote a positive message of acceptance in response to national events and local calls for changes surrounding racial equity and justice for communities of color, according to the City of Dubuque website.

The mural is located on the Main Street side of Five Flags Center. It stands 28 feet tall and 105 feet wide and depicts 10 raised fists of a variety of colors. The word “solidarity” is spelled out in letters and symbols across the mural.

Clarke students and alumni have enthusiastically taken part in the painting and creation of the mural. Students Dave Barba ’22, Mariah Pellino ’21, Mackenzie Wieczorek ’21, Miya McAntire, and alumni Olivia Turner ’20, Sarah Shealer ’20, and Kristina Marie (Casteneda) ’01 have participated in the project. Ali Levasseur ’04, Chair of the City of Dubuque’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission and President of the Dubuque County Fine Arts Society, is also involved in the mural.

Levasseur said, “Artist Shelby Fry has been a family friend for many years, and when she sent me the mockup of her mural design, I said ‘Yes, I’m going to help you make this happen.’ The concept was passed to the City of Dubuque and, a few days later, the city manager approved the mural being painted on city property. As the Chair of the City of Dubuque’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission, I celebrate this step for public art in our community. We, the commission and the community, have been working to enact the Arts Master Plan, and those small steps have helped and lead to this large step. Dubuque is an arts and culture hotbed, with many creatives collaborating together to make us a destination for the arts.”

Clarke University collaborating on Dubuque solidarity mural

Pellino said, “It was an incredible experience to be a part of this mural project. I got to paint alongside and meet so many extraordinary people from our community. It was beautiful to see so many people coming together to work on this project. Whether an artist or not, anyone who wanted to be a part of this was able to participate. I’m so grateful for being able to do my part in standing behind this message as an artist.“

Turner added, “Mackenzie Wieczorek and I were very grateful to be able to contribute to the painting of the Solidarity mural. Mackenzie and I are classmates in Clarke’s ceramics program. Voices Productions has done an excellent job working with a great number of volunteers in creating this mural. I was particularly drawn to participate because the message is so critical at this time. For me, standing in solidarity with people of diverse backgrounds means being willing to promote and work for change that provides equitable opportunity and treatment for all. This includes acknowledging that my experience is different than others’ and working to listen and educate myself to best advocate for change. The mural highlights diverse experiences while presenting a unified front in a critical time. This is a critical time because not only are powerful Black Lives Matter protests occurring nation-wide, but it is the closing week of Pride Month, and the mural will be completed before Independence Day. Having so many organizations and volunteers work together to complete the project is imperative to spread the spirit of community change. I am proud to have played a small part in such a large community effort to make a clear statement on solidarity in Dubuque.”

Clarke Professor of Art Louise Kames has visited the mural site several times in support of the students, helping, photographing, and documenting the event. She said, “Art can create impact! In addition to the ‘Solidarity’ mural project, our Clarke students also participated in the Voices Production Mural Painting workshop in 2018. Students created public murals at ARC (Area Residential Care) and the Welu Printing building at 17th Street and Central. Clarke held an exhibition displayed at Clarke University’s Quigley Gallery in the fall 2018 entitled, Murals: Changing the Landscape of Downtown Dubuque. This exhibit also cemented many of our students’ interests in public murals.”

Clarke student Dave Barba’s interest in the ‘Solidarity’ mural project was piqued by the 2018 Clarke exhibit. He reached out to connect with Voices Productions and has since created murals in commercial spaces. Barba said, “The creation and presence of public works of art provide immeasurable opportunities to those involved and those who experience them. Being exposed to the scope of the Voices project showed me that Dubuque is a place that not only values the expression of local artists, but is a town that is eager to share opportunities with others for the sake of art education and community building.”

Voices Productions Chairman Sam Mulgrew called the project a “bold and meaningful” extension of the organization’s Voices Unite mission. He said, “Through Voices Unite, we focus on spreading positive and relevant social messages through murals,” he said.

Levasseur also shared, “I am originally from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I found my community at Clarke and in Dubuque.  My passion for arts flourished at Clarke, the Art department classes created a great balance between teaching skills and learning to be a part of my community. Artists need to be at the studio working, but also must get their heads out and see what is going on outside of it. I find that I use the hard and soft skills l learned at Clarke every single day.”

As an educator, it is heartening to see Clarke students and alumni engaged in this Dubuque Community action.

– Louise Kames, Clarke Professor of Art

The painting will continue in staggered shifts through July 4, 2020. Those interested in participating in the community-painting process should contact Ali Levasseur, Chair of the City of Dubuque’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission and President of the Dubuque County Fine Arts Society, at