Members of Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts recently grouted, polished, and applied the finishing touches of paint to their 2022 mosaic mural.

The pieces to this story started to accumulate when the arts council purchased the building at 770 Cumberland St.

“We’ve had artists who have wanted to paint that portion of the building for, you know, probably as long as we’ve had the building. And we also wanted something there on that corner of the building,” Sharon Zook, LVCOA board president, said.

The 2022 mosaic mural installed on LVCOA’s building, located at 770 Cumberland St. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

Over the past four years, the council has completed an annual mural installation on requested buildings that were at risk of defacement or decay.

“Part of our goal is for preservation of spaces … more so than art for advertising and promotion and that type of thing,” Zook said. “We’re just out there, kind of like doing our thing in neglected spaces to try to bring some kind of revitalization.”

For its fifth installation, LVCOA decided to mosaic the outside of its own building.

“This one wasn’t so much revitalization,” she continued. “But because it was our own building and the spaces were made for art, we just thought it would be good to show people what we do rather than try to tell people what we do.”

The inspiration behind “Where There is Art, There is Life” can be found in the artwork of late LVCOA board member Angela Funk, who passed away last year from a rare form of cancer.

“Her life personified our vision statement. Our vision statement says, ‘Where there is art, there is life.’ And we envision the arts for everyone,” Zook said. “And that was the kind of person that she was, just like producing art, sharing art, inspiring other people through her art. She did watercolor and acrylic and pottery and stained glass.”

An older man sits on a bench and watches his neighbors who create. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

The 2022 mural installation began in July and was completed at the end of August, straying from the standard two-week timeline. The extension was partially due to the logistics of the building’s location, as the City of Lebanon requires an application for all public installations that are street-facing.

“Typically, we run a class with youth. And we train the youth. And then, we engage them in the process of both creating the artwork and also installing the artwork,” Zook said.

“And the reason for engaging the youth is because the youth are keepers of spaces,” she continued. “If you look at public spaces, whether they are preserved or whether they are defaced, typically it involves youth, youth needing a voice one way or another.”

With the standard time constraints, the youth create the design and almost immediately get to work installing it. However, this quick transition was not possible with the application’s waiting period.

Since the youth could not be included in the design stage, the council commissioned artists to brainstorm imagery based on LVCOA’s vision statement as well as integrate imagery from Funk’s work into the mosaic’s design.

With the design submitted and pending approval, the youth started the installation process.

A basket of produce surrounded by flying insects symbolizes downtown’s connection to the market. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

After hours on a day of installation, the council received an email saying they were in violation as the design had not yet been approved. So, LVCOA members pulled the mosaic from the walls.

What they thought would be a couple more days of waiting turned into a month.

“And we still hadn’t had the approval. We heard it was approved by the design committee. But no one had gotten back to us,” Zook said. “So, I sent in and said, you know, our kids are going back to school. Some of them are in extracurricular activities.”

LVCOA then worked with the youth after school hours, in between extracurricular activities, and on Saturdays to complete the installation. The youth were able to connect and bond with one another and even start to talk about, and heal from, traumatic events.

“You can cry and smear grout at the same time, you know?” Zook said. “It’s quite therapeutic.”

The sun shines behind the older man. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

In total, 25 members of the community participated in the installation. The project involved conducting interviews with community members about what they think of when they think of the Lebanon community and including many local’s ideas in the final design.

“The response from the community has been overwhelming,” she said. “When people would go by, they would be just so happy to see art. And I think that it’s something that we don’t realize on a day-to-day basis being inside the building and doing what we do and holding exhibits, but how much joy it brings to people as they walk by just to have something there on the streets and something they can relate to.”

Local businesses donated the tile and other supplies.

“It was just under 100 square feet,” Zook said. “We probably used multiple buckets of broken tile, mirror, stones, and even a little bit of aluminum metal pieces are in it … around 25 pounds of sand, and a sack of concrete.”

The younger girl paints the world in front of her with the Lebanon City skyline and negative space behind her, which pays tribute to one of Funk’s workshops.

Looking toward the future, LVCOA plans to install another mural in the summer of 2023. Zook listed an indoor or non-street-facing outdoor installation or educational opportunities as possible solutions to the issues they faced this summer.

“Hopefully, by next summer, we can figure out a system that the kids can be engaged in some of the design process without having any holdups for approval processes in between the design and installation,” Zook concluded. “Because we really don’t have the time to spend a month of paperwork sitting on the desk. And our kids need to be training in all the phases of this.”

And building requests for next year’s mural have already started to trickle in.

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Lexi Gonzalez is a reporter for LebTown. She is currently completing her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.