Like early summer flowers, colorful murals have begun to blossom behind Hawthorne Library.
A little curve of Hermina Street that dead-ends into a Darbo-Worthington neighborhood sidewalk is in the process of becoming Madison Mural Alley, a series of art works organized through The Bubbler program at Madison Public Library and funded by the Madison Arts Commission.
The paintings span the back side of the East Madison Shopping Center, a plaza that includes a Walgreens, a hair salon, a comics shop and a branch of the library.
The first mural, Richie Morales’ collaboration with teens from the Dane County Juvenile Court Shelter Home, was the musically inspired “Canto a Madison,” showing dancers and musicians.
The second, a new mural designed by Viroqua artist Pete Hodapp, is currently in process and set to be finished in a few weeks.
Three more are in the works for the rest of the summer, featuring artists Lesley Anne Numbers, Amos Paul Kennedy and the trio of Flavia Zimbardi, Caetano Calomino and Henrique Nardi (co-creator of the Otis Redding mural on Williamson Street). The Bubbler is planning a party to debut all of them in August.
All of the muralists are collaborating with young people for their concept. For the current mural, Hodapp has been working with experiential learning students at Capital High School for most of the school year.
The students took as their theme east side history and pride. Their designs for the mural incorporate images from the east side’s long past — female factory workers at Rayovac during World War II, the Garver Feed Mill near Olbrich Botanical Gardens — and closer history, like carousel horses from the recently shuttered Ella’s Deli.
“The kids went to the Wisconsin Historical Society ... a lot of them had never been there before,” said Hodapp, who now returns to Madison every other week to finish the mural, occasionally with help from volunteers. “We took hundreds of photos and condensed it to 50, farther and farther until we only had a few images left we all agreed on and liked.”
Hodapp’s finished design prominently features a portrait of Freddie-Mae Hill, the first African-American resident of Madison to graduate from the University of Wisconsin. Toward the top of the wall, typography lifted from an historic map was changed from “East Part of Madison” to “East Side of Madison” at the students’ insistence.
“Some of the kids were shocked about things in Madison they had no idea about,” Hodapp said, like the history of the beet sugar factory. “We found stuff about KKK members throwing rocks through somebody’s window. ... A lot of stuff ended up being taken out because it wasn’t specifically east side.
“That was our goal from the beginning. The kids felt the east side doesn’t get enough attention and we wanted to give them something to be proud of.”
Hodapp realized quickly that 30 Capital High students would be too many to paint the same piece, so students split into several groups.
One group took inspiration from their east side research to make beats and music, while another group wrote lyrics. A third group created a video project and the fourth, about nine students, worked on the painting itself.
John Brigham, co-owner of the Madison East Shopping Center for several decades, said city of Madison planner Jule Stroick approached him about a year ago to get the project going. Stroick worked on the Darbo-Worthington-Starkweather Neighborhood Plan, adopted last September.
“There’s an area in Nashville where they have murals and people go there to take pictures with them,” Brigham said. “I thought it would be a positive thing to get activity behind the shopping center, beautify it for one thing. Maybe people take their pictures with it, you know?”
The official opening of Madison’s first Mural Alley is set for a Monday evening in mid-August behind the Madison East Shopping Center at 2707 E. Washington Ave. The event is set to feature food carts, a meet and greet with the mural artists and their collaborators, and music performed by Madison teens.
“If you have 30 opinions, especially with high school kids, it can be really difficult to funnel that down into a single image,” Hodapp said. “You need filters to get everyone on the same page, and quickly boil it down into an image that you can use.
“History is one thing that can work really well.”