Visual Arts » 2D

A State-by-State Paint-by-Number

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When Doug Arnholter's 4-year-old daughter saw the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., she looked up at her father and asked why they celebrated dead people.

The long-time Central Indiana-based artist explained to her the memorial's significance, but then he had an epiphany: Why not celebrate life?

That moment helped inspire an idea for a grand, ambitious project Arnholter has pursued on and off since 2008, but that he recently decided he should get do-or-die serious about completing.

The Denver native, who creates frescos and sculptures and has created pieces for Eli Lilly and the Schrott Center for the Arts at Butler University, envisioned a Mural for America that would be painted by 100,000 people in all 50 states and the U.S. Capitol. His goal is to create a sense of community across the country, one brushstroke at a time.

"It was the pure vision of a child, that we don't really celebrate the living," he says. "We forget we want the same things in the world and focus on the little things. There's a need to feed the positive self-esteem of the country, to know that we rock."

Arnholter, the owner of Broad Ripple Art & Design is now looking to raise funds, in various ways, one is through an Indiegogo campaign to buy an RV and tour the country on a route he plotted out after digging up maps of Barnum & Bailey circus circuits from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Starting at the Historic Pendleton Spring Jubilee in South Carolina in March, Arnholter intends to spend the next 18 months touring state fairs, festivals, rodeos, the Boston Marathon and right down to the Broad Ripple Art Fair. Stops include Bastille Days in Wisconsin, the Burlington Jazz Festival in Vermont, the South Mississippi Renaissance Fair, the Denver OktoberFest and the Annual Arkansas BeanFest and Outhouse Races. He's converted photos into special paint-by-numbers pictures for each state, such as images of a lighthouse for Connecticut, a moose for Maine, a cowboy for North Dakota and the iconic marathon for Massachusetts.

Artist Doug Arnholter hopes to involve 100,000 people from all 50 states to help paint his massive mural project. - COURTESY OF DOUG ARNHOLTER
  • Courtesy of Doug Arnholter
  • Artist Doug Arnholter hopes to involve 100,000 people from all 50 states to help paint his massive mural project.

Using a carnival barkerlike pitch, Arnholter persuades people in each community to paint 8-by-4-foot mural panels that will create massive 400-foot walls.

His goal is that they paint two murals at each location: one is donated to the state and the other is used for the mural project, which he hopes to eventually have permanently installed at an airport, university, city center or another public space after it's shown at the National Mall. He'd ideally love to see it in the Smithsonian Museum, but he says it could be reconfigured for any public space.

Every artist signs their own work, because Arnholter wants people to be recognized for their contribution and artistry.

"Somebody laid every brick in my house," he says. "Somebody did all that work that's beautiful and keeps us warm and keeps us protected, but it's not in anybody's name. Who built the Empire State Building? You might remember the name of the architect, but you don't know the names of the workers who built it, and that's something that's missing that I'd like to celebrate."

He's soliciting corporate sponsorships and has received donations from Cisco and Midwest Products. He's hoping to get small donations of $1 or $2 or so, because it's supposed to be a project by and for the people.

The project began as Mural of the World, an idea Arnholter struck upon after looking into starting a Guinness World Record-breaking conga line around Monument Circle downtown, but when he learned 35,000 people once did it in Miami, surpassing that seemed unattainable. The largest mural display was more realistic, and Arnholter saw it as a way to connect people across the globe and make them realize they're all part of one community.

Arnholter strives to raise money for his project. He set up shop at this year's Indy Home Show, to give murals in exchange for donations. - PHOTO BY DOUG ARNHOLTER
  • Photo by Doug Arnholter
  • Arnholter strives to raise money for his project. He set up shop at this year's Indy Home Show, to give murals in exchange for donations.

Over the last several years, he's taken the paint-by-number murals around Indiana, Florida, Arizona, New York, Canada and Barbados, and more than 65,000 people have participated so far. They've ranged in age from 6 to 96 years old. The project draws diverse people together, like the time, for instance, Arnholter saw an elderly person enjoying a long, friendly chat with a heavily pierced teenager while the two painted different panels of the same mural.

"A lot of people hadn't touched a brush in a couple years, but they stay a couple hours and paint," he says. "It's a wonderful, beautiful thing."

Arnholter realized he wouldn't be able to ever do Mural of the World without first doing Mural of America, and that he'd never get that done if he didn't take some time off and tour the country. He called ahead and got permission to appear at all the festivals while shooting for a July 4th display at the National Mall. But he admits his concerned about finances. He worries he'll have to scrap the project, despite all the meticulous scheduling, if he can't raise the necessary funding or at least secure an RV.

"The Mural of the World is only happening if the Mural of America happens," he adds. "I would like every country to come together, to connect the planet, to show how interrelated we all are.

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