Community mural brings 'human' touch to Kutzky Park neighborhood
Artist Cassandra Buck helped neighbors capture the familiar sights and activities of their area of Rochester with paints.
It’s time to paint the town, and the fun is beginning in Kutzky Park where a rainbow of painted handprints lines the base of the newest public mural in Rochester. The handprints serve as signatures for the community members who used their creativity to help complete the mural.
The mural concept was guided by local artist Cassandra Buck and captures some of the sights, sounds and activities of the Kutzky neighborhood including everything from yoga and tennis to the neighborhood’s annual Porch Fest that hosts different musical acts on their front lawns, driveways, and, of course, porches.
More than 50 community members, ranging in age from young children to grandparents, added their paintbrush strokes to the initial planning design that Buck applied to the four walls of the restroom facility at Kutzky Park.
The mural process started in 2021 when Buck applied for a Minnesota State Arts Board grant. When she received the funding, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, she began to reach out to neighborhood groups to find mural sites.
“I was thinking about ways I can bring community together through art,” says Buck. “I decided murals would be the best way to do this. One of the important parts of this project is bringing art to areas that are underserved and are lacking public art. I really want to connect with areas that I grew up in that had zero arts presence.”
Buck has worked with Rene Halasy from RNeighbors and the Rochester Parks Department to help find appropriate sites for community murals. She plans to complete two more community murals over the course of the summer. While the details are still being finalized, she hopes the next mural she organizes will be located in the Meadow Park Neighborhood with a public painting session in July.
Alex Hooke has lived in the Kutzky neighborhood for 13 years. He helped complete the mural along with his two daughters Julia, age 7, and Margaret, age 4. Julia helped add some red hearts to a bench in the mural and also painted some of the houses it depicts.
“The artist (Buck) came to the neighborhood meeting and asked for ideas,” says Hooke, explaining how the mural was designed.
“We get to paint whatever we want,” chimes in an excited Julia.
Buck says she helps the community come up with the design.
“Everything is up to the neighborhood,” she says. “I take their ideas and turn it into a finalized design.”
Before the community comes together to paint, she creates what she describes as “a giant coloring book” at the mural site that the community can fill in and add to.
“Once it is finished, I will go back into the painting and clean up edges and seal it for longevity,” she says.
While the design is up to the neighborhood, Buck says anyone is welcome to help paint it during the community painting event.
Emily Lynch, president of the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association, says that she was contacted by Buck to gauge the neighborhood’s interest in completing the mural. She says the project helps promote neighborhood involvement, is an opportunity to visibly show neighborhood values and to make the neighborhood more beautiful.
Lynch says she was excited to have a project that engaged neighbors of all ages. She recommends the project to other neighborhoods.
“Go for it,” she says. “It’s been super fun.”
While community members gathered to paint trees, Cascade Creek, and bird nests full of blue eggs, Buck welcomed them with beverages, a shade canopy, and every color of paint imaginable.
She hired Lydia Hansen, who will soon be moving to the Kutzky neighborhood, as an assistant to help manage getting paint and brushes to arriving artists and to also help complete some portions of the painting.
“I really like watching different people come up and their ideas about how to make it come alive more,” she says. “It’s super fun to watch the kids get excited.”
Jim Frost, who will soon turn 80, has lived in the Kutzky neighborhood for the past seven years. A former Navy man, Frost, who points out some of the audience members depicted in the mural that he helped create, says the mural is about more than the picture itself.
“Doing something together makes you more of a community,” he says.
The mural’s significance is clear to Buck.
“Art is the manifestation of our community,” she says. “When we are surrounded by public art that we had a hand in creating, we value it more. We take ownership and pride in our communities when it reflects our values and all of the things we care about.”
She sums up her community project with a simple truth: “Creating is what makes us human.”