Many hands, bright work

City staff, elected officials, community members and local artists jumped for joy in front of a new mural at the New Brighton Community Center. The project was officially unveiled in a special ceremony on July 31. (Bridget Kranz)

Along the base of the mural, artists and local youth painted rocks with bright images and positive messages. Anyone from the community is encouraged take a rock, paint a rock of their own and leave it for others as an ongoing part of the public art project. (Bridget Kranz)

Community helps paint vibrant mural at the New Brighton Community Center

The principle of “gestalt” holds that the whole of an artwork is greater than the sum of its parts, an idea that rings true for a new mural along the western wall of the New Brighton Community Center. 

The public art project, planned and painted with the help of over 100 residents, was officially unveiled on July 31 to a crowd of city staff, artists and community members. 

“People literally put their energy, through their brush, onto this wall,” said local artist and project lead Pamela Sukhum, in an interview. 

The mural cost roughly $24,000 and was financed by the City of New Brighton, in large part through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, as well as private donations. The remainder of the financing came through billboard revenues at the community center.

Founded in 2018, the city’s Inclusive Community Task Force has sought to add more public art to the city in order to make it more welcoming and provide a stronger sense of place. 

“What better way to add art into our community than to include the community in designing the art, in painting the art and putting it on our community center?” said Mayor Val Johnson, at the unveiling. 

To come up with a design, Sukhum and her team worked with local residents to brainstorm what was important and beautiful to them about their city. 

“What I found amazing was that there were so many images of nature and the natural beauty around us,” Sukhum said at the opening. The final image ended up being a large tree, with a trunk made of intertwined pieces of bark and flowers surrounding it.

“For me personally, it’s perfect for New Brighton, because the tree represents this strong foundation,” she explained. “It’s that strong foundation that really gives us the ability to continue to grow and expand in infinite directions.”


Involving the community

The New Brighton work is the latest in a series of murals done by Sukhum, who founded a public art initiative called “The Beautiful Project” in 2006. The project’s mission is to provide members of a community with a space and voice to express their values and what they see in their surroundings through helping create a public artwork.

While securing funding, the city reached out to the Beautiful Project and local nonprofits to try and get them involved with the mural. 

“All the people with the Beautiful Project came to us; they brought sketchpads and colored pencils and had a couple-hour brainstorming session with our kids,” said Mary Stewart, executive director of Community Partners with Youth. 

Community Partners is a New Brighton-based nonprofit that provides after school activities, as well as summer programming for almost 200 students from the community. Stewart said that all of the program’s middle school students were involved in the mural planning process.

They were then able to help with the three weeks of actual painting. Participants from Rise, an adult day center at the community center, youth from community center programs, city staff and residents also joined in covering up the red brick exterior.


Ongoing participation

Although the mural is complete, the public will still be able to participate in the project through a rock garden along the painting’s base. Participants covered rocks with vibrant colors and positive messages, with the intention that community members could take them, or paint their own rocks and add to the collection, over time.

“We could take a bag of rocks to every nursing home in town, and include people who might not otherwise be able to come out here and participate,” said Johnson in an interview, of continuing the project’s reach. She also said she hopes to see additional large-scale public art installations.

“My hope would be that we start including more art in City Hall to make City Hall more welcoming. Not necessarily on the outside, but on the inside, some way to celebrate our citizens,” she explained. 

To see the mural, visit the New Brighton Community Center, located at 400 10th St. NW; the painting is along the western side of the building. For more information on the Beautiful Project, visit


–Bridget Kranz can be reached at or 651-748-7825.

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