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ng the Oapturi of a Oity: Olaracter TheOmahaMuralProject by HeatherAkerberg lphofos by minorwhitestudios.com

hat do you get when a centerfor the arts,a philanthropicorganization,and a world-renownedartistcometogetheron a project?The resultis a piece of publicart that is both enormousin its physicalsize- measuring22,000 squarefeet - aswell as its historicalsignificance. Upon completion,the muralat 13tt'and Websterstreetswill be rankamong the largestin the country,and is expectedto lastup to 30 years.lt alsohasalreadybeen selectedfor a best practicesstudy,and other artisticaccol a d e sa re l o o mi ng. The PeterKiewitFoundationinitiatedthe collaborativeprojectin 2006,wantingto further enrichthe North Downtownareaby gifting a largepublicmuralto the City of Omaha.After the encounterI november/december2008 I f5

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conductinga searchto find the bestartistsin the field,the Foundation and the BemisCenterfor ContemporaryArts narrowedit down to approximatelysix qualifiedartists,then evaluatedtheir stylesat length.Knownfor her thoughtful and vibrant murals,as

ments,the muralwillfeaturethe likenessof nearly50 real-life Omahans.The modelswere chosenfrom hundredsof photographsthat were takenduringfive differentphoto shoots.

'As I went through the photographs,I pulledonesthat stood pleasingabout them," well as her advancedtechniques,Meg Saligman,a Philadelphia- out-there was somethingaesthetically sai dS al i gm an. basedmuralartist,proved U nl i keot herpaint ings an easychoice. "Theyrealized,hands down,that they really loved Meg'swork and were impressedby her levelof excitementabout the project,"saidHolly McAdams,Community Arts ProgramMangerfor the BemisCenter. Saligmanconducted extensiveresearchto learn about Omaha'shistoryand

'AsI wentthroughthe phototime through depth - the graphs, I pulledonesthatstood olderimagesin the background and presentday out-therewassomething aes- Omahain the foreground. Thispositionsthe viewer pleasing aboutthem." asthe future.Regardless thetically ofwhen one standsbe- MegSaligmanfore the mural,be it next

development.The mural, titled "FertileGround,"will be a depictionof the city'sstory:Who we are as a community, how the city developed,and our future potential.In additionto featuringsome historicalimagesand iconicarchitecturalele-

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that expressa historical ti mel i nei n a linearf ashion, "FertileGround"expresses

november/december 2008| theencounter

month or in 20 years,the viewerwill alwayshavethe senseofbe ing par t of t he

community's continuum. Vertically, the composition spansfrom the rootsbeneaththe plainsto theopenskyabove. "Megwasstruckwhenshereadthatprairie grasses haveroots

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departmenlq deeperthan the grassistall-again shefelt thiswasan expression of the area'sdepth of characterand community roots,"saidMcAdams. Saligmanhascalledupon the communityto assistin the creationof this 7O-foottall,328-footlong painting,which has

morethan600gallons already-taken havealOmahans of paint.Several pitched in,includingstudents ready muralclassand froma Bellevue citizens. otherrandom,inspired "Forpeoplewith no artisticexperience,it'sjust fun for themto have paintin theirhands," saidMeg. usesissimiTheprocess Saligman which larto a paint-by-numbers, artiststo help allowsfor less-skilled Whilethe mawiththe earlystages. jorityof theworkisdonedirectlyon thewall,thereareportionsthatare paintedin the studiousinga nonsimilarto a wovenacrylicmaterial of the mural dryersheet.Sections Theposand projectedontotheselargesheets. are"posterized" the imageintosectionsof individualcolors, terizingseparates Oncethe colorsarepaintedin,the sheetis whicharenumbered.

attachedto the wall usingacrylicgel and then blendedinto the surroundi ngi mage. "Tryingto clarifydetail for that scale[is difficult].The real trick, asfar as detailgoes,is more suggestingwhat'sthere ratherthan trying to paint it," saidJamesShuster, a painter on the project. The imagesin the muralare photo-realisticbut painterly.When look-

to believe "Forpeoplewithno artis- ing at the mural,it'shard intricate details suchrichcolorsand arecreatedon a cementwall.The tic experience, it'sjustfun viewer is struckby the qualityof the on canlikeany masterpiece forthemto havepaintin work, vasthat hangsin JoslynMuseum. "We want it to look like a painttheirhands." ing, not a billboard.lt'sa balance," saidSaligman."lf you'rea painter, - MegSaligman we want you to be able to enjoy the

Make sureyour windows are aswell-dressed asyou...

paint.lf you'rea historian,we want you to enjoy the hidden references. There are different things for differ-

ent people." andthe progon TheOmahaMuralProject Formoreinformation III visitwww.omahamuralproject.org. Ground," ressof "Fertile

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ln the Old Market 402.342.227 6 1206HowardStreet Omaha,N E 681C2 zooa N I november/december the encounter


Meg Saligman Interview