The Public Space
August 13, 2014
by Ken Mayer
One of my neighbors gave our neighborhood a gift this summer. Susan Ann Koenig owns the building at 1266 South 13th St. It’s her home and houses her businesses, Koenig|Dunne Divorce Law and her executive coaching practice.
Susan’s gift was a mural that expresses her genuine sense of place, the neighborhood where she grew up.
She organized meetings at the Bohemian Café, the Donut Stop and Rebel Interactive, where she asked people to share elements of the neighborhood they are proud of. This became the basis of the design and was presented to the community for approval before painting began.
The mural was executed by Richard and Rebecca Harrison, a father/daughter team with A Midsummer’s Mural, whose mission is to appreciate and respond to beauty with quality and craftsmanship. The Harrisons have done hundreds of murals all over the country.
The mural comprises scenes from the neighborhood, depicting people, places and dreams.
The large iris is in memory of Susan’s late husband who loved to tend to his rooftop garden. Flowers in the decorative Bohemian style echo the area’s rich Czech culture. The people dancing and celebrating in the green space is a vision of the future meant to inspire more community gatherings.
The woman dancing into the scene celebrates the vibrant past and evolving future of 13th Street. The model was Erica of the Wallflower Vintage Shop,wearing one of her dresses and representing new business life with an appreciation of the past. The figure’s style is taken from the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha.
The film strip refers to the old Berkeley Theatre on 13th Street. Each frame is a snapshot from the neighborhood, including the Donut Stop, Rebel lnteractive, Lady Justice from the KoeniglDunne law firm, Bohemian Cafe, Sokol Gymnasts, Phil Wherley’s start in printing, polka dancing, Franky playing the accordion at Vocelka’s and a young girl getting penny candy from the old candy shop.
Architectural designs in the arches include elements from the Prague Hotel and other buildings along 13th Street. The arches provide a view onto the street’s past and present, including Hempel Sheet Metal, Sokol Gymnastics, Frank Foreman’s barber shop, the Donut Stop, the Why Not, the Law Firm, St. Francis Cabrini and a streetcar in front of The Golden Goose.
Garden tools and vegetables refer to the new community garden started by the Dahlman Neighborhood Association at 14th and Williams. Three houses represent the unique and charming architecture of the homes in the neighborhood.
Because Susan has more than earned her bona fides as a lawyer, author, mentor, business owner and executive coach, I asked her how she would advise a neighborhood group to go about completing a project like this. Here’s what she told me in her own words…
For me, the primary intention was to express my gratitude to the 13th Street neighborhood, which has been a great place to live and work. I wanted to celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of our neighborhood. I love art and especially murals, so this seemed just right.
Do you want the mural to reflect the history of the neighborhood, the current neighborhood, its future or to bring beauty to your neighborhood?
Selecting your artist and identifying those in the neighborhood who are willing to serve on the project early will enable you to both plan and have support as the project moves forward. Consider inviting those in the neighborhood with an interest in art or community building to join you in the project.
Ideally you will find artists who have experience in community art projects who know how to be in conversation with neighbors about their vision for the mural and how to translate that into a mural that fulfills your intentions.
Do you have a sense of the “feel” of the mural? Contemporary or more traditional?
Do you want a location that will be viewed by people driving through the neighborhood, gathering in the neighborhood or some other location?
I was the sponsor of our mural, so I was able to set the budget. The size and location of the mural impact the cost. If you do not currently have funds for the mural, will you seek a sponsor or will you fundraise?
We didn’t have an email list of our neighborhood, so we used flyers and the support of our neighborhood association (Dahlman Park) to spread the word about the project.
We held a series of meetings at different local businesses, inviting neighbors to share their ideas about the mural. A school, library or other public space could work well for this. Holding meetings at differing times of the day and evening increased the possibility of neighbors being able to attend during their off work hours.
Will you name it for the neighborhood? For its message?
Consider contacting local media to let them know about your project at each stage of its progress.
Celebrate the completion of the project with others.
The Public Space
Ken Mayer is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant and adjunct faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He has served on the boards of The Nebraska Choral Arts Society, Downtown Omaha Inc. and Landmark’s Inc. Mr. Mayer has been a consultant and volunteer for Omaha by Design since 2002.