Steuben County's mural for the Make It Your Own Mural Fest is officially complete. New York artist Justin Suarez put the finishing touches on the mural over Labor Day weekend, drawing inspiration in part from seeing the name Loon Lake on a Steuben County map. Staff photo by Ashlee Hoos
Steuben County's mural for the Make It Your Own Mural Fest is officially complete. New York artist Justin Suarez put the finishing touches on the mural over Labor Day weekend, drawing inspiration in part from seeing the name Loon Lake on a Steuben County map. Staff photo by Ashlee Hoos
LAGRANGE — Even though he was wearing a mask, it couldn’t hide the smile on John Sampson’s face when he visited LaGrange to see the town’s new mural.

Sampson, president and CEO of Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, was making a stop on a tour to see all of the murals commissioned by his organization during its Make it Your Own Mural Fest.

Sampson spent a few minutes talking with Waterloo artist Amy Buchs. Buchs was commissioned to create and paint a large mural located at the intersection of Michigan Street and S.R. 9 in LaGrange.

Sampson said the ultimate goal of the mural fest was to draw the people of the 11 county region his organization serves closer.

“I’m totally enthused by all of this,” he said. “We were hoping this event would help tie the region together as people worked together to pull this off.”

So far, that seems to be the case.

Lori Gagen, the marketing director for the Noble County Economic Development Corp., served on the committee that brought a new mural to Albion. Gagen said she’s heard nothing but positive comments about the mural fest.

“It was really great to watch,” she said. “You could see people stop and engage with the artists, and soaking it all up.”

Committees in each of the communities served by the Regional Partnership played a role in choosing the mural’s location, as well as selecting the artist to paint the large works of art. Sampson said that community ownership played an important role in the project.

Gagen said the festival succeeded because people from each community worked together planning and then executing the festival.

“I think it’s been so extremely well received, and it was so professionally organized and planned,” she explained. “The whole event, it’s been very impressive.”

Sherry Johnston, the vice president of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corp., was part of the group in LaGrange that worked with Regional Partnership and said she’s not surprised the Make it Your Own Mural Fest turned out to be a success. She said the Regional Partnership invested a large amount of capital in the festival and its staff spent many late nights talking with local committees to pull the project together.

“It’s been great for the community,” she said. “I’ve only heard people say positive things about it.

LaGrange mural, two Holstein cows standing in front of a brightly covered quilt pattern is bright, and that’s part of its attention, Johnston said.

“It’s so bright, beautiful, and whimsical,” she added. “It’s just a great piece of art.”

Johnston is hopeful the new mural helps spur renewed enthusiasm and new economic development in LaGrange.

“I’m hoping it helps stir things up a bit and proves to be a catalysis for downtown revitalization,” she explained.

Sampson said other goals for the mural project included getting all communities thinking about improvements. He also wanted to get more people talking about northeast Indiana. The mural fest seems to have achieved that too.

In addition to generating local stories and photos, the festival caught the eye of a reporter with Forbes magazine. On Sept. 10 the festival was featured in an online story published by the magazine.

Sampson said another goal of the project to help improve the quality of life in all 11 communities.

“We wanted to do something that would improve quality of place so everyone is now sort of touching up their towns just a little bit,” he explained.

And finally, the Regional Partnership wanted an event to create energy in the region that would last longer than the 11 days set aside for the festival.

“We wanted to have a story to write about when we this was done, and we’ve got that,” he added. “So, having 11 counties do these 11 murals all at one time, that’s never been done before, and turns out it was really exciting.”
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