Commemorating the youth

Millard celebrates the installation of a new mural at Buell Stadium

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Photo courtesy of Ashley Nodgaard

The new mural at Buell Stadium was created by artist Waite White with the idea to convey the values of Millard. White worked with students, staff and faculty to create the artwork and took two years to complete the project, “When I work with a community of people to do a public project I talk to a lot of people, and there is never any understanding of who is going to say something that I need to hear or something that will affect what comes out in the end,” White said. “It’s a lot of asking questions and listening hard for the answers, knowing that all of them are personal to the person who is speaking.”

Kaden Roth, Catalyst Online Editor-in-Chief

On Monday, Sept. 20 members of the Millard community gathered at the Don Stroh Administration Center to celebrate the completion of the new mural titled “The Triumph of Youth” by artist Waite White. The new art project is located on the back of the new scoreboard at Buell Stadium and is the district’s fourth School Community Arts Project. 

The project was funded by the MPS Foundation and private donors including Penny and Frank Kowol, Addie and Robert Hollingsworth, the Nebraska Arts Council and Nebraska Cultural Endowment. The project took two years of planning, collaboration and dedication before it was displayed to the public. 

Local artist Watie White was tasked with culminating the unique aspects of the Millard community and transfusing those characteristics into the mural. White wasn’t alone in this endeavor. Smaller groups began discussions with members of the school district, donors, longtime community advocates and scholars for the first year. Then between 50 to 60 people were brought together in the spring and summer of last year to brainstorm what the art piece should entail. From that large group, 10 individuals were selected to advise White by gather, interpret and sorting the ideas that were presented and narrow down the aspects they hoped to convey in the piece. 

“In making art that expresses something of a place or a community, I clearly can’t rely on my own experiences there or my own thoughts about what that place or community means or needs,” White said. “Throughout the process of any project I’m working on, I am looking for people who know things I don’t know but need to. So, getting to talk with students and staff in the community, as well as people who have lived there their whole life, people who just moved there from someplace dramatically different — those perspectives are all ones I don’t know but have the idea that they hold something valuable and precious.”

The process of creating the mural emphasized community engagement and involvement from the Millard community. Many members within the district worked to represent the values that Millard holds with the intention of representing a practical and meaningful opportunity for everyone who sees it to experience.

“The definition of public art is, ‘A reflection of how we see the world — the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are,’” Clarke Community Initiative Facilitator Marian Fey said. “Public art expresses our values, enhances the environment, transforms what was an industrial metal structure into something beautiful, it heightens our awareness and maybe even questions our assumptions.”

Pulling from the title, “A Triumph of Youth,” the forefront of the mural depicts students participating in a variety of activities. Students like Millard North senior Samantha Ward, who posed for White, were able to reflect what Millard looked like from their perspective.

“It’s important because it’s not a mural of old white dudes like people originally wanted us to include,” Ward said. “Instead, it is about the teens of Millard doing what they love. I really like that I was involved in this. I got connections and experience with some big people in the art industry, not to mention the fact that I got to be on a mural.”

The impact of this project is suspected to be felt long after the grandeur and newness wear off. For those involved, what the mural will be able to achieve within the community makes the years of hard work worth it. 

“There is a lot of research on the impact of public art, that on a community-wide scale measurable positive things happen: crime in that community goes down, people volunteer more, reading goes up etc.,” White said. “I assume all those things will happen, as well as anecdotal things that are hard to quantify: people will feel seen, or part of a larger community, or especially in the later stages of this pandemic, they may see things in the mural that speak to something they feel-a loss or anxiety-and they are comforted.”

The Millard mural has taken on a new role, as an accurate reflection of the Millard community and the values and beliefs its members harbor. For future students, teachers and faculty this art piece will continue to shine a light on the youth of Millard.