Colorful art panels add life to north wall of Chatfield Center for the Arts

Mark Manus, at left, and Eric Petersen-Brant work together to put up art panels on the side of the Chatfield Center for the Arts. PHOTOS COURTESY OF JENNI PETERSEN-BRANT

Several art panels were painted by community members of all ages who attended the 2017 Arts & Heritage Day at the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA). Those colorful panels were installed last Thursday by city maintenance crew member Bill DuBord in the bucket and CCA volunteer Mark Manus. PHOTOS COURTESY OF JENNI PETERSEN-BRANT
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Now in Chatfield: The big pictures.

“Ever since Eric and I, who are both visual artists and educators, came on board with the CCA, we’ve envisioned something colorful covering up the brown panels on the north-facing wall of the center. With it being across from the park and a high-visibility area if you are driving south on Highway 52, those areas seemed to call out for color,” stated Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA) co-director Jenni Petersen-Brant.

Petersen-Brant explained that she and her husband, Eric, decided to gather the Chatfield community to paint the very sunny murals that now make for a very colorful set of big pictures that make for an even better big picture of the CCA.

 She elaborated, “We’ve directed several mural projects in both Lincoln, Neb., and Decorah, Iowa, all of which were either painted by a random gathering of community members or designed and painted by high school students. We’re big advocates for public art that both brings people together to make something and inspires people to take ownership and have pride in their community.”

That meant, as co-directors, they had a mission to pitch to the people in charge of the CCA, and they felt confident that once they presented their idea, they’d be given a chance to show off the talents of those who participated in painting the artwork.

“Once we had the mock-up for the panels, we had to seek approval from the art center’s board of directors, as well as the center’s advisory committee which is made up of representatives from the city, CEDA, the historic preservation committee and others. Since the building is owned by the city, any major alteration to the property needs to be approved by that group,” Jenni explained.

 They were given the green light to start work on the paintings that would be posted just a block south of the stoplight.

“The planning for the project took place during the summer of 2017 in the lead-up to Arts & Heritage Day in September 2017,” Jenni added. “The majority of the panel painting took place on Arts & Heritage Day. We got them out and let kids paint on them some more during our inaugural Jelly Bean concert last October, and then Eric and I spent a couple of days in November filling in the background around the kids’ marks and objects.”

 Local artists — from small to tall — were set free to do what they felt would be the most cheerful painting of their lifetimes.

“There was no theme provided…just white plywood panels and lots of brilliant mural paints to choose from,” Jenni said. “We didn’t want to put any limitations on people’s ideas, and we also wanted any age person to be able to pick up a paintbrush and make a mark. In doing so, we hoped that the final result would be an expression of joy and reflect the creativity of each person that worked on them.”

She added, “Because we didn’t have a predetermined theme and since so many people had a hand in painting them, they represent a community effort where everyone’s input and mark was valued just as much as everyone else’s. This is the type of place that we want the CCA to be – a place that is of, for and by the community.”

Jenni said she feels the free-form nature of the murals is also a bit how the CCA is right now. “The organization is starting to build an identity in terms of music and performing arts, but it has work to do in planning and developing programs in other areas,” she said. “We’re currently in the process of gathering feedback from the stakeholders and residents so we can grow in a way that meets community needs.”

 Petersen, volunteer Mark Manus and city crewmember Bill DuBord put the mural panels on the side of the CCA on Thursday, June 7.

“Once the panels were finished, they then had to live inside until the weather got nice enough and our event schedule calmed down enough to find time to install them. These particular panels are meant to be temporary, but only in the sense that we will likely ask the community to collaborate in painting new panels every other year,” Jenni said. “We envision that ‘something’ will always fill those spaces and anticipate that we’ll be creating something to fill the upper spaces during this year’s Arts & Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 29.”

 The co-director shared that she had a good time leading the project. “Personally, the process of making the panels was the most fun. And now that they are up, it will be fun to hear what people have to say about them and watch people’s reactions.”

Jenni added that she is looking forward to the moment when she sees a senior picture or engagement photo with a panel as the backdrop.

“And my favorite part is that it was a relatively simple project that already seems to have made a big impact,” she added. “The panels cover not that much square footage, but they have completely transformed the building. The project involved lots of different people playing different small roles, and it all came together to make a significant change.”

 Residents took notice of the murals as soon as they were installed, and their effects were very positive.

“While we were taking a moment to admire the finished product last Thursday, three kids rode by on their bicycles. One of the kids pointed towards the murals and called out to his friends, ‘Hey, I helped paint that over there!’ Later that afternoon, Eric saw a woman stop and get out of her car, walk up to the murals and return to her car with a huge smile on her face. On Friday, a family stopped in during box office hours just to ask about them and comment on what a wonderful site they thought it was,” Jenni said.

One day, she posted some photos to the center’s Facebook page, which resulted in 77 “likes” and several positive comments on the murals. “This ranks as one of the top Facebook posts ever for the CCA’s page,” she added. “My favorite comment left by one Facebook follower and resident of Chatfield was, ‘This makes me happy’.”

Jenni pointed out that the plywood, mural paints, brushes and installation hardware were made possible through general event funds and generous donations to the CCA.

“Volunteers helped to cut and prep the panels, community members painted them, and we had help from volunteers and the city of Chatfield to install them. Paid staff time was put into getting the project going, painting the background and overseeing the installation,” Jenni said.

As Arts & Heritage Day continues to grow and become more established as a community festival that everyone looks forward to, grant funding and sponsorships will be necessary to make it all happen, she added. “To give a tax-deductible donation to Arts & Heritage Day or to learn how to become a sponsor of the event, log onto our CCA website,” Jenni urged.

 She also invited community members to keep upcoming CCA events in mind. “The new murals are just the tip of the iceberg! People should mark their calendars for this year’s Arts & Heritage Day set for Saturday, Sept. 29. There will be an art fair, live music, hands-on art activities and food vendors from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with an evening concert at 7:30 p.m.”

Also, the center is currently accepting applications from arts vendors who want to sell their work or art at the festival. Applications can be found online at, and the application deadline is July 31.

“And we’re still collecting community input to help shape the future of the Chatfield Center for the Arts via our online survey available at,” Jenni concluded. “Those without computer access can call us at 507-884-7676, and we’ll happily mail them a copy of the survey to complete.”