Bloomington has long been a city with a love for public art. Since the 1980s, when the city acquisitioned what is now its oldest permanent public art installation, Red, Blonde, and Olive by Jean-Pael Darriau, and the iconic art museum designed by I.M. Pei was completed on the Indiana University campus, artists have increasingly contributed to the ever-changing Bloomington cityscape. But in the past decade, there has been a surge in popularity of one particular type of art in Bloomington, the mural.
The Macmillan Dictionary defines a mural as “a large painting done on a wall,” and frescos, cave paintings, and reliefs are all examples of historic murals. Modern murals include billboards on the sides of buildings and art painted on traffic boxes. While Bloomington has billboards and painted traffic boxes, the murals that have attracted the most attention recently are large paintings appearing on exterior walls.
Currently there are more than three dozen murals painted on the exterior of buildings, businesses, and parks around Bloomington, all of which were painted within the past ten years.
In 2013, Sam Bartlett painted a mural for the City of Bloomington on the foundation of the basketball courts at Building Trades Park between West 2nd and Howe streets. It was the first of several murals commissioned by the city that have been created by both local and regional artists and eventually covering over 40,000 square feet.
“We always have murals in the works,” says Sean Starowitz, assistant director for the arts at the City of Bloomington. “They’re a great addition to our sense of place and offer ‘belonging’ for our community members.”
But the city was not the first to create murals in Bloomington. In fact, the Building Trades mural was created two years after both Pizza X on the south side and Hoosier Crossfit on South College hired artists to paint murals on the sides of their buildings (Hoosier Crossfit has since moved to a new location on Walker Street and the old mural has been painted over). The Pizza X mural is now the oldest surviving outdoor mural in the city. TIS, on East 3rd Street, followed in 2012 with what might be the largest local mural painted on a single surface, a 3,000-square-foot tribute to the legends of Indiana University, which replaced a mural from 1995 that had to be removed due to age and water damage.
Of the dozens of murals painted in Bloomington in the past decade, only a handful were funded by the city. The majority of murals were commissioned by local businesses and created by local artists — something made easier because the city doesn’t regulate the creation of murals. Keegan Gulick, a zoning and long range planner with the City of Bloomington, says that as long as the mural does not act as a sign for the business, there is no need for a permit or approval by the city. “In general, we do not regulate murals,” he wrote in an email. “They are exempt from permit requirements.”
Murals appeal to businesses because they brighten up a previously dark or dull space and catch the attention of potential customers. Artist Jeff Laramore created five murals for the exterior of the Hyatt Place hotel, right on the B-Line Trail across from the WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology on West 4th Street. Within a year, Marina Ballor, part-owner of Le Petit Café on West 6th Street, added a mural on the side of her business, facing the B-Line Trail just a few blocks north. Ballor says that she added the mural because she “wanted the side of the building to look a little nicer for the people who walk by.”
In addition to attracting attention, some murals encourage viewers to stop and interact with the art. The mural Love This City by Eva Allen, on the side of Mother Bear’s Pizza’s east-side location, includes a pair of wings where people can pose for photos, and it is such a popular photo spot that, despite being only months old, that section of the mural is already showing wear.
Because of variations in the type of paint, the surface painted, and the exposure of the mural to the elements, the expected lifespan of each outdoor mural is unique. Some murals have lasted years, while others are painted over or show weather damage after a few months. Some mural spaces, like those at Bloomington Bike Project on West 7th Street and Sheldon School Pictures on South Swain Avenue, are actually dedicated to changing the murals often, to give new artists the opportunity to display their work.
But the permanence of a mural isn’t the point, says Adam Nahas, who has commissioned many murals on the exterior of Artisan Alley, a nonprofit gallery and studio space on West 2nd Street. “Our goal, our mission, is art exploration. For many of our artists, this was their first mural.”
Sam Bartlett recently renovated and expanded his mural at Building Trades Park, six years after the original section of mural was completed. He agrees about the transient nature of murals and says that he is “surprised the mural has lasted as long as it has. Nothing lasts forever. Not in life. Not in art.”
Fortunately for local artists and art lovers, the city has noticed the increased public interest in murals and other art. According to Katlin Suiter, art and cultural fellow for the city, “Increased interest in the arts community as a whole by the citizens of Bloomington has prompted us to explore more in this area and think more longterm what the public art process might look like in our city going forward.”
For now, the future includes more murals. Adam Nahas has plans to add more murals to the Artisan Alley space on West 2nd Street, and Sean Starowitz wrote last month that the city is “working with the Graduate Hotel, Revolution Bike and Bean, scouting some potential alley murals as part of our beautification bond project.” Already, the mural at the Graduate Bloomington hotel is complete and can be seen from both Kirkwood Avenue and South Washington Street.
Murals are a low-cost, high-visual-impact investment for businesses. They improve the urban landscape around them and create a sense of community through shared visual experience. Much like the flowers, trees, and plants maintained throughout the city, murals provide a splash of color in parts of town dominated by brick, concrete, or limestone. It is no wonder that murals have become so popular, and as winter approaches and most natural color in Bloomington goes dormant, murals will continue to provide color downtown and throughout the city.
[Publisher’s note: A complete listing of murals on the trail follows the map below. If you have any information you would like to share about other murals, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or share it on one of our social media accounts @limestonepost.]
[UPDATE: On January 3, WFHB’s Daily Local News interviewed writer/photographer M.J. Bower about this article and how she came up with the idea of creating a Bloomington Mural Trail.]
The Bloomington Mural Trail
This list of 35 exterior-wall murals located in Bloomington includes all of the murals mentioned, or photographed, in the article. These murals were chosen because they are all exterior murals, easily accessible for any member of the public. Murals that are missing from this list are either very recently created or the business did not respond to a request for the title and date of their mural’s creation. —M.J. Bower
Click here to view an interactive map of the Bloomington Mural Trail in Google Maps (screenshot below). Phone users may need to paste this link, https://bit.ly/2EjFWDv, in a browser window. Note: Addresses are for the building locations; the murals might be on the side or rear of the buildings.
The Bloomington Mural Trail
(1-4) Artisan Alley (2017-2019), 222 W. 2nd St. (the building’s murals change frequently; the following are the ones whose titles and artists are known):
- Entrance to Paradise (2018) by Haider Ali
- Hive Mind (2017) by Laura Brikmanis
- Sacred Journey (2018) by Journey Matthews
- Unity Is Community (2018) by C.D. Culpepper
(5) Bear’s Place (2019), 1316 E. 3rd St., artist — Laura Brikmanis
(6) Bloomington Bike Project (changes frequently), 216 N. Madison St.: one faces the B-line Trail and the other faces the Bloomingfoods parking area, various artists
(7) Bloomington Playwrights Project (2016), 107 W. 9th St., artist — Steve Borik
(8) Building Trades Park (2013), 619 W. Howe St., artist — Sam Bartlett
(9) Chocolate Moose (2018), 405 S. Walnut St., artist — Metabyte Creative
(10) Community Kitchen by Artisan Alley (2019), 1515 S. Rogers St., artist — Adam Long
(11) Culver’s restaurant, Through the Heartland (2019), 1918 W. 3rd St., artist — Adam Long
(12) East 7th Street Underpass, Jensai Crossing (2017), East 7th Street & SR 45/46 Bypass, artist — Justus Roe
(13) Graduate Hotel Bloomington (2019), 210 E. Kirkwood Ave., artist — Nina Chanel Abney
(14) Hyatt Place (2014), 300 W. 4th St., five separate murals by artist Jeff Laramore
(15) Laserlite (2018), 4505 E. 3rd St., artist — Adam Long
(16) Le Petit Café (2015), 308 W. 6th St., artist — Sarah Doane
(17) Maple Heights Bridge (2017), 850 N. Rogers St., artists — members of Rhino’s Youth Center
(18) Monroe County Fairgrounds (2019), 5454 W. Airport Rd., artist — Adam Long
(19) Monroe County Health Department (2019), 119 W. 7th St., artist — Gypsy Schindler
(20) Morton Street Garage (2017), 220 N. Morton St. (the mural faces 7th Street), artist — Justus Roe
(21) Mother Bear’s Pizza, Love This City (2019), 1428 E. 3rd St., artist — Eva Allen
(22) People’s Park, You Belong Here (2017), 501 E. Kirkwood, artist — Eva Allen
(23) Pizza X (2011), 2443 S. Walnut Street Pike, artist — J. Noyes Farnsworth
(24) Pygmalion’s Art Supplies, Red Studio (2014), 108 N. Grant St., artist — Jim Sampson
(25) Sheldon School Pictures (changes frequently), 311 S. Swain Ave., various artists
(26) Soma (2016), 1400 E. 3rd St., artist — Jason Profant
(27) Bitzer’s Wall, The Bee-Line (2018), 921 S. Morton St., artist — Lily Hollinden
(28) Switchyard Brewing (2018), 419 N. Walnut St., artist — Justus Roe
(29) The B-Line Trail (2016), between West 3rd and 4th streets, artist — Drew Etienne
(30) TIS Bookstore (2012), 1302 E. 3rd St., artists — Kara Barnard & Jody Bonifield
(31) Twisted Lounge by Artisan Alley, EOG (Eye of God) Assembly Line (2018), 804 W. Kirkwood Ave., artist — Mark Kunoff
(32) The Atlas Ballroom, 209 S. College Ave.
(33) Bluetip Billiards, 426 S. College Ave.
(34) Midtown Lofts, 345 S. College Ave.
(35) Wild Orchid Aerial Fitness & Dance, 418 S. College Ave., artist — Priscilla Rocha
(36) Artisan Alley, Live Your Sweet Life (2019), 222 W. 2nd St., artist — State of the R (SotR)
(37) Artisan Alley, Friendly Beasts (2019), 222 W. 2nd St., artist — Madeleine Keller
(38) Artisan Alley, Woman with Koi (2019), 222 W. 2nd St., artist — Amberly Xie
(39) Artisan Alley, Woman in Fog (2020), 222 W. 2nd St., artist — Prince Parise
(40) Traned Eye Arts Center & Artisan Alley, Digital Bricks (2015) 615 N. Fairview, artist — Laura Brikmanis
[Correction: The location of Mural #27 (Bitzer’s Wall, The Bee-Line (2018), 921 S. Morton St., artist — Lily Hollinden) was mislabeled when we first posted the story. It was commissioned by Tim Bitzer for his private residence, not by Storage Express. We regret the error.]
The below information and photos of murals were submitted after we published the original story.