Children wearing paint-splattered clothing and smiles just as bright and colorful gathered Tuesday to put their special touches on a mural – created by a world-renown artist and championed by a bow-tie wearing Richland County Councilman – reflecting the international character of their community.
Richland County Councilman Jim Manning, the County’s Neighborhood Improvement Program (NIP) and community partners celebrated the Decker Boulevard Mural Project, which is expected to be completed in mid-June. The mural, on the wall of the Staples building at 2744 Decker Blvd., depicts the cultural diversity for which the area is known.
“It just gives people the feel for the international flavor they will see as they travel down the two and half miles of Richland County’s International Corridor,” said Manning, who represents District 8.
Making the NIP-funded project a reality took several years and the efforts of many, Manning said.
First, the Staples building was identified as a possible project site with support of the Decker Boulevard Business Coalition and the building’s property management company, Phillips Edison. In the spring of 2013, NIP began working with the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties to form a mural selection committee.
Accomplished artist and Columbia native Karl Wilkes was selected in December. He worked with the committee to ensure the design depicted the “International Corridor” theme of Decker Boulevard. The design depicts a big image of the United States of America flag, along with smaller images of flags of other nations. A rainbow of figures encircles the logo of Decker Boulevard as the International Corridor – a globe, also featuring various flags.
Wilkes began prepping the site in April for children from nearby Richland District 2 schools to paint. Students from Richland Northeast High, Dent Middle and Forest Lake Elementary schools are taking part in the project. Motorists driving down Decker Boulevard have witnessed the progress of the mural, from whitewashed wall to a black outlined sketch of the design to the first splashes of red paint.
Wilkes, who worked on Columbia High School’s “Think Tank” mural project in 2010, said it is “monumental” for him to work on Decker Boulevard mural and share his gift of art with others – especially the students.
“They’re enjoying themselves,” he said of the students he called “ants on candy.”
Once completed, the mural will serve as a focal point in the area and Manning said having the school students involved is truly the high point of the entire project.
“It gives them a stake in their community,” Manning said. “We’ve done a lot of exciting things on Decker Boulevard, but I think this is the biggest one.”