helby Nower paints a mural on a door on Meridian Street in downtown Anderson

on Sept. 11. Nower, a recent graduate of IUPUI’s Herron School of Art and Design, is one of four muralists commissioned by Anderson Indiana Main Street to design and paint murals downtown. Staff photo by Don Knight
helby Nower paints a mural on a door on Meridian Street in downtown Anderson on Sept. 11. Nower, a recent graduate of IUPUI’s Herron School of Art and Design, is one of four muralists commissioned by Anderson Indiana Main Street to design and paint murals downtown. Staff photo by Don Knight
ANDERSON — An increasingly diverse lineup of after-hours businesses is creating a distinctive vibe along Meridian Street in the city’s downtown area.

To bolster that image, Shelby Nower wants people to feel good about taking a stroll along the brick-paved street and drifting in and out of the establishments that, even in the midst of a pandemic, are providing people with more entertainment options. Her contribution, though confined to a door next to the Hoosier Press building, is bold and eye-catching.

“I really like to do stuff that is colorful and fun and makes people feel happy,” she said. “I feel like that’s one of the good things about public art — you’re trying to do stuff to give people a good feeling.”

Nower, a recent graduate of IUPUI’s Herron School of Art and Design, is one of four muralists commissioned by Anderson Indiana Main Street to design and paint murals in strategic places downtown. The project, which stresses themes connected to the hashtag #GrowAnderson, includes a door mural next to Standt’s Jewelers, with plans for at least one more mural on the side of the building housing Aerial Fit2Fly at the corner of Meridian and Ninth streets.

Anderson Indiana  Main Street (AIMS), a nonprofit downtown advocacy organization, has awarded grants to cover costs associated with the murals.

Nower and board members with AIMS worked together on her mural’s design, which depicts one of the historic district’s trademark light posts disseminating beams of light in all directions.

“We went through different ideas,” Nower said. “There was a historic train car, and there was the plants of Anderson — flora, fauna and stuff. Then they came up with the light idea, and they asked if I could do renditions of it, so that’s how we got to the final part of that.”

The first mural, unveiled last month, was painted by Nekoda Witsken, an Indianapolis artist who has done mural work in Noblesville, Fishers and other communities. It depicts Anderson as a woman caring for a tree growing from a small mound.

“We picked both (artists) because they were different from each other,” said Maria Lehr, secretary of the board of AIMS. “We thought they would add different types of creativity downtown.

“We just felt we wanted to take this project with great care,” she added. “We knew this was going to be the first project of ours that was really going to be out in the public in awhile. Those were the two that stood out to us and really captured what we wanted to do downtown.”

AIMS has worked with downtown property owners on the placement of the murals, which city economic development officials say is an important part of what they’re trying to accomplish when it comes to revitalizing the area.

“We’re going through the process of rebuilding a city,” said Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department. “That means you’re taking a lot of pieces that are still viable and you’re putting them back into play, and at the same time you’re adding additional pieces to fill holes so that as you work through that process of rebuilding, you end up with something that’s complete.”

With several coronavirus-related restrictions gradually being lifted, city leaders acknowledge that some of downtown’s notable arts offerings — including the Paramount Theatre and the Anderson Museum of Art — haven’t necessarily been foremost in residents’ minds. The interactive mural project, they hope, will remind people that the city’s arts scene will return as vibrant as ever.

“I think public art is one of the most important things you can have in your town,” said Nower, a Decatur, Indiana, native who has painted murals throughout northeastern Indiana. “People want to see it and feel more involved. I’ve seen that public art brings people together, and it’s really fun to try and make the town beautiful and also give people something to be proud of, to take pictures of.”

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