By David Sharos, Aurora-Beacon News – Hesed House in downtown Aurora has a new look these days, designed to help connect the facility that aids the homeless with the trail and river area around it.
On Saturday morning, a large mural created by local artist Martin Soto and a number of volunteers was unveiled on the back of the Hesed House Comprehensive Resource Center. The artwork was the vision of Charlie Zine, a local resident who wanted to improve the appearance of what he regarded “as the ugliest building between here and Wisconsin.”
“I am a cyclist and a kayaker and I probably ride 200 to 300 miles a month, and whenever I would pass the Resource Center it just made me sick, given this was a building that houses all these people offering job, drug, and family counseling in addition to helping the homeless,” Zine said. “I approached (Hesed House) Executive Director Mike Cobb and asked him if I could spearhead this beautification project. He said to go ahead, but I couldn’t approach anyone who was already giving money to Hesed House.”
Zine said he happened to mention the project at a local Rotary meeting where he is a member and secured the first donation.
“We couldn’t accept any money as we weren’t set up yet as a charity, so the Rotary offered to buy us $500 in paint and supplies,” Zine said. “I contacted local artist Martin Soto and knew he had done local art here as well as in New York, and together with volunteers, they have created something that definitely adds to the beautification of Aurora.”
Zine added that a connection with a woman he had worked with once led to the project’s real funding – thanks to a Facebook post.
“Therese Oldenberg is the director of this organization known as Be Active Outdoors and she saw our posting on Facebook about ‘Transcendence – a community mural’ and we wound up getting a $3,000 check,” Zine said.
Soto said the mural, which is called “Transcendence: Poverty to Prosperity,” measures 110 feet wide and 20 feet high. It took about three weeks to complete and reflects his vision as well as information he gathered “from other people.”
“We have many elements including a window pane that stretches across the entire mural and is meant to mimic an aerial view of the site as well as native plants and animals indigenous to the area,” Soto said. “We also have images which reflect the title as there is a man crouched down on one side of the mural representing someone living in a homeless shelter and then an exuberant figure on the right side showing the transition. The message is pretty clear.”
Soto said the project was designed by him in such a way that even novices could help with the painting.
“We probably have had 25 to 30 volunteers working on this, and there were large areas that needed coloring which required no artistic experience at all,” he said. “In addition, there was clean up to do, scaffolding and ladders to move, and brushes to clean.”
Gabriel Guajardo of Aurora was one of those volunteers who said he “did it all.”
“I’m an artist myself and I wanted to support this project, and was here pretty much through all of it,” he said. “I saw the Facebook posting and felt I had to be involved in what people do here and be supportive.”
Lynne Saidac, associate director of the Transitional Living Community program who worked with both Soto and Zine, believes the mural will have a significant impact on Hesed House as well as the community.
“Essentially, for me, it is a connection, and the mural speaks to the journey of the many people who are homeless and what Hesed House and the community offers to them in an effort to help overcome the obstacles that have kept them entrenched in their past,” she said. “For me, the naturalistic theme of the river, wildlife, and plants beautifully connects with the surrounding foliage, river, and bike trail.”
Saidac added that the mural offers more than just aesthetic benefits.
“I truly believe that while the initial goal of the mural might have been to clean up an eyesore to those walking and riding on the trail, the passion of the mural really is about feeling a strong connection to the mission of Hesed House and actively becoming a part of that,” she said. “Art is an amazing vehicle for connecting and healing. This mural represents both. It is so meaningful and I am so proud to be part of this community.”
Cobb said the mural project was an example “of people giving of their time, talent, and treasure” and believes the message contained in the mural will advance awareness about Hesed House’s “fight to overcome homelessness.”
“The project certainly tells a story about how someone can come into a place like Hesed House with despair but it doesn’t have to end that way,” Cobb said.
David Sharos is a freelance writer for The Beacon-News
Click here to view the entire article posted on October 31, 2015.