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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Echo

‘Party in the Park’ introduces new mural downtown

Student body says ‘thank you’ through gift

Taylor University students and Upland residents were invited to party together on Friday, May 3. 

The celebration at NearSpace Park centered around the dedication of a new mural, gracing the side of Witter’s Bull Pen on S Main Street — a gift from Taylor’s student body to the town of Upland. 

Live music from the Blue Collar Union Band, bounce houses, on-site t-shirt printing, local vendors and a photographer were enlisted to celebrate the mural’s official introduction to the community.

“The heart behind this mural was really: ‘How do we engage this community of Upland that we get to enjoy for four years when we come here to Taylor as students?’” Elisabeth Nieshalla, student body president, said during the dedication. “We hope that you will enjoy and receive this gift of the mural from the student body to you, the town of Upland.”  

The mural was first born from conversations between seniors Nieshalla and Lynden Hight, the president of Birrama Creative, Taylor’s student-run design and marketing team. Nieshalla and Hight spearheaded the project, collaborating with Alex Reno, president of the NearSpace Park Department, and Ashley Tiberi, president of Our Town Upland.

Finances set aside from the student body president’s office budget made the mural financially feasible.

A slew of meetings followed initial permission from the Upland township in fall 2023. Local leaders, residents and nonprofits offered feedback on mural designs drafted by Hight and Birrama Creative. Both the colors and design of the mural were chosen with intention.

“I think (it) was really cool they got some colors in there from the sunset,” Reno said. “Because some people — that especially (are) from larger cities — think here (in) small-town Indiana, we have amazing sunsets.”

Creating the mural has been a learning curve of research, collaboration and trial-and-error for Hight. A plan to outline the mural by pushing chalk through a paper stencil during the day evolved to include a projector at nighttime. Most of the mural was painted in one day by Hight and her team.

The mural is a concrete expression of long-held hopes for better partnership between town residents and the university community. 

Nieshalla and junior Enoch Eicher, Taylor’s student body vice president, chose community engagement as one of the core tenets for their student body campaign in January 2023. Nieshalla’s desire to better bridge the gap between Taylor and Upland can be traced back to a prospective visit during her senior year of high school.

This project is also a full-circle moment for Hight — who, in place of a high school graduation, found herself painting murals overseas and learning to serve others through art. Hight was initially drawn to Taylor because of the university’s previous mural work in Gas City. 

She is struck by the significance of painting the Upland mural in her last few weeks at Taylor.

“This project has felt like the most purposeful and most meaningful work I've ever done,” Hight said. “And it's not graded, it's not some big crazy thing — it's just being done for someone else. That's been really beautiful.”

The mural also aligns with goals both NearSpace and Our Town Upland have been working toward for some time. 

Our Town Upland has been seeking opportunities to introduce murals downtown for several years. Tiberi’s community connections, alongside the funding and design from Taylor’s student body, made this desire a reality. 

“I know it's just a painting on a wall, but I hope it feels inspirational to people and creates a sense of place and a sense of belonging in Upland and in this community,” Tiberi said.

NearSpace has been hoping to increase social media interaction through notable selfie spots. Reno believes the mural — positioned low enough for photo ops — will help further this goal.

Fruit has already come from the collaboration required for this project.

“This mural serves as a push,” Hight said. “A challenge showing (students) how much more involved we could be — and the opportunity that we have, really right in front of us, but I think honestly very few students actually take advantage of.”

Those involved in the mural’s creation hope it will invoke pride of place and continue to encourage increased partnership between students and town residents.

The mural is not meant to be the finale, but the first note: signaling a new season of collaboration between two distinct communities.

“It doesn't have to be two separate entities — it doesn't have to be, ‘I’m a resident,’ ‘I'm a Taylor student,’” Reno said. “We're living in Upland: some of us longer term, some temporarily on the campus, but we're all a part of Upland while we're here. So just trying to bridge that gap a little bit (is) … a very important thing, because if we can all work together we can end up with the best community we can possibly have.”