The East Town Mural:
Dedicated Sunday, October 2, 2016

Belonging to All the Hands Who Build
(from the Langston Hughes poem, Freedom’s Plow)

The East Town neighborhood was Joplin’s first settlement, dating back to 1838. In 1873, East Town merged with Murphysburg, its sister city to the west, to become what we now know as Joplin. Many families have lived in this diverse neighborhood for generations and even residents who no longer live in the area care deeply about its future. One of the recent priorities of neighborhood leaders was the creation a community-based mural to preserve the story of East Town.

From July to October, East Town community members of all ages collaborated to create a meaningful, high quality neighborhood mural under the guidance and technical assistance of lead artist, Kyle McKenzie. The mural communicates the history and culture of the East Town community. This intergenerational and cross-cultural community mural project provided an opportunity for participants to learn about making murals, offer ideas for mural content, and experience the execution of a highly visible public artwork.

The creation of public art in neighborhoods can help support revitalization and positive change in a community. Community-based murals touch hearts because of the way they are created. As such, the East Town Mural Project differs from other murals that have been created by a single artist. This mural was created with a high level of input and participation by neighborhood members who were willing to tell the stories about their families and the neighborhood. This mural is public art that is accessible for all community members to enjoy as they go about their daily lives. It has special meaning to hundreds of children and adults who can say now and in the future, ‘I made my mark there. I helped create that.’

Over 150 East Town residents attended one of three community meetings. They willingly shared their stories and provided input about key themes to be included in the mural. More than 300 students participated in mural workshops through the Boys & Girls Club, the Joplin Family Y, and Crosslines Ministries. In addition, over 800 East Town residents and the Joplin community-at-large gathered for the mural kick-off event (the First Annual Broadway Bash & Mural Design Projection) and over 250 children and adults helped paint the mural during Community Painting Days.   

The mural was purposely created on the large, visible east wall of the historic Earl Smith Grocery at the corner of Broadway and Mineral Streets. The grocery holds many memories of everyday life for East Town residents. Owners of the building, Jim and Jeanetta Diles and daughter, Shannan Diles Wren, graciously allowed the wall to become the home for this colorful and powerful community mural.

The East Town Mural Project: 

The East Town Mural Project is a public mural project engaging K-12 students and adults of the East Town neighborhood to develop and create a public mural that communicates the history, culture, and aspirations of their community. The project takes place between July and September 2016.

This intergenerational and cross-cultural project provides an opportunity for participants to learn about the mural making process, offer input and ideas for inclusion in the mural, and experience the design and execution of a highly visible public artwork in an historic neighborhood.

Joplin, MO East Town
The East Town Neighborhood

Joplin’s first settlement, East Town, dates to 1838. In 1873, the working-class East Town merged with Murphysburg, its sister city to the west, where landowners and financiers built huge homes. We now know it as Joplin. East Town is primarily residential, bisected by Broadway, a central cultural corridor and a part of Route 66. Ewert Park holds special significance as the community’s cultural center, as it has been the site of annual celebrations of the Emancipation Proclamation since the 1920s that attract visitors, vendors, and musicians from across the region. One of Joplin’s most famous citizens, Langston Hughes, was born in East Town and in his honor Broadway is signed “Langston Hughes Blvd.”

Many East Town residents express fond memories of days spent at the Boys and Girls Club, which has offered safe, healthy, and educational after-school and summer activities for students since its founding more than 50 years ago. This highlights a key theme in the neighborhood: many families have lived there for a number of generations, and even residents who no longer live in the area care deeply about its future. Recent meetings have begun to reveal residents’ vision for their neighborhood.

Under the auspices of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce (JACC) Cultural Affairs Committee, Artist in Residence Kyle McKenzie and Mural Assistant Devon Estes will guide creation of a meaningful and high quality mural. McKenzie will lead a series of community meetings, outreach presentations and hands-on workshops and direct a design team of individuals who choose to be more highly involved in the creation and finalization of the vision for the mural. Hands-on workshops and design sessions will help the design team develop a theme, gather and create raw material for the mural, and translate this research into a storyline of the community’s past, present and future. Josie Mai, Executive Director of George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, serves as Education Coordinator and Evaluator for the project.

Stakeholder organizations supporting this project include: The Emancipation Day Committee, local businesses, Crosslines Ministries, Connect2Culture, Boys & Girls Club, Spiva Center for the Arts, Freeman Health System, and the City of Joplin, which has designated Community Development Block Grant funds over the next three to five years for infrastructure improvements to East Town.

The East Town Mural is supported through a grant from the Missouri Arts Council. Additional support is needed, as the grant project required a dollar-for-dollar match with private funding. Please contact Sharon Beshore with inquiries.