Before a couple of weekends ago, it was a red brick wall that overlooked the beginnings of a community garden at the Hope Campus, a drab partition that “didn’t have much life to it.”
Now, the structure stands as a testament to hope and growth after University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students brightened the wall with a mural, on which the words “GARDEN OF HOPE” spring to life in a medley of oranges and reds while vibrant plant life grows around it.
The painting – a fitting testament to the mission of Hope Campus, which seeks to provide housing and services to impoverished individuals in the Fort Smith area – overlooks a soon-to-be garden that will provide farm-to-table food for the residents served by Hope Campus. The campus will also provide cooking and gardening lessons to the residents, bestowing them life skills to help them lead fulfilling lives.
The mural was also the product of extensive research by eight students in the course, including Manyseng Soukhaseum, who visited the campus and the garden, explored its surroundings, and talked with employees about what the mural should look like.
“We explored the idea of vegetables, and we knew we wanted it to say ‘Garden of Hope,’ so we did different iterations of typography based around that,” said Cole Stufflebeam of Van Buren, a graphic design major who is a student in the class. “But we wanted something that popped and caught the eye and resembled the idea of not only physical vegetative growth, but the growth within people themselves.”
Students took to the wall late the week of Nov. 2, when they projected the image onto the wall Thursday night and painted an outline before spending all day Friday painting.
The opportunity to paint the wall came about after John McIntosh, executive director of 64.6 Downtown and a member of the board of directors with the Hope campus, was approached by Samantha Cole, director for community health and access at Mercy Hospital, who wanted to liven up the garden’s surroundings.
“As we were looking at the garden, there was a big red brick wall there that didn’t have much life to it, and we thought, ‘What a nice thing to have to have an inspirational look to the garden,’” she said. “It’s the garden of hope, and it’s teaching these residents hopefully a skill in which they can get a job and take care of themselves.”
McIntosh, who knew that Alexis was looking for an additional project for his mural painting class, put the two in contact to coordinate the painting. When UAFS students presented different design concepts to Samantha Cole and others involved in the project, they unanimously decided on the winning design.
“It looked like life was springing out of the ground. It’s like the mural had life, and that’s what we wanted,” she said. “It looked like it had an essence to it besides the growing of the vegetables. We’re wanting more than vegetables out there. We’re providing hope and skills to the residents.”
For Stufflebeam, the opportunity was a chance to garner valuable experience and a realization of his dream to paint street art. But it was also an immensely rewarding experience to be able to assist a community asset.
“Once you finish, and you start getting reactions from people, and you hear that the mural you just finished has inspired someone in some way, that the community is reacting positively to it, that is 100% worth the time and effort and energy that you put into creating it,” he said. “It’s really about the payoff, and the payoff is tremendous.”