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Can new color also bring new life to a blighted Columbia corridor?

Millwood mural brings needed splash of color, life

Artists Cedric Umoja, Brandon Donahue and Karl Zurfluh are painting a community-themed mural along Millwood Avenue in Columbia, at the edge of the Lyon Street neighborhood.
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Artists Cedric Umoja, Brandon Donahue and Karl Zurfluh are painting a community-themed mural along Millwood Avenue in Columbia, at the edge of the Lyon Street neighborhood.

An ancient Egyptian symbol of rebirth, the scarab, now crawls along a Columbia corridor that’s been thirsting for new life of its own.

A soulful family of three face passing cars from the edge of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Beside them, an owl is taking shape, a reflection of a community whose members watch out for one another.

Along this stretch of Millwood Avenue where nothing else is what you’d call picturesque, these themes of community and revitalization are coming to life in vivid color.

They’re the makings of a mural by Hopkins artist Cedric Umoja, along with Karl Zurflüh of Charleston and Brandon Donahue of Nashville, that is hoped to bring beauty and pride to a blighted area.

“I think it’s the beginning of what’s to come,” Umoja said. “Trying to get the area up and jumping again.”

The artists drew inspiration from residents of the nearby Lyon Street neighborhood, who pegged community and rebirth as important themes in their lives and future.

The area has been targeted by the city to clear up blight, fix up homes and attract job-producing businesses. Some inviting street art can’t hurt the area’s image, either.

“I’m trying to put unity in the community,” said Zurflüh, whose section of the mural literally pops the “unity” out of the word “community.” “I think it’s a universal message. ... There’s a lot of forces trying to divide everybody on a lot of different lines – on racial lines, on class lines, on just community lines. I think us coming together is going to be able to solve a lot of problems.”

The mural is being painted in coordination with Love, Peace & Hip-Hop’s upcoming celebration of art and hip-hop culture. It will be officially unveiled Friday at 5 p.m. as the kickoff to a week of events leading up to the annual Hip-Hop Family Day, headlined by Kid ’N Play, next Saturday on Main Street.

In the apparent new age of Making Columbia Colorful Again, the Millwood mural joins another, by artist Tripp Derrick Barnes, painted last year on the thoroughfare and five other new pieces going up right now in the downtown area.

Four are being painted at the Lincoln Street tunnel entrance in the Vista, and another on the Cannon garage in the Main Street district. A seventh mural, in conjunction with the Indie Grits film festival, will be painted on the Taylor Street garage in about two weeks.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

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