June 9, 2022
Project brings community, students together
As paint colors blend together on a new mural on the Aurora square, the collage of images tells stories beyond the town’s history. Considering the input and involvement of the town’s teenagers, the completion of the mural speaks to the power of community and the next generation.
It’s the second mural in two years that has come to life with help from the Aurora High School chapter of the Youth Empowerment Project, an initiative of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Rural Schools Partnership that empowers youth to positively impact their communities.
Local response to the first mural, completed in 2021, was so great that the idea for a second didn’t take long to materialize, says Kim McCully-Mobley, co-director of the Aurora YEP chapter and the Houn’ Dawg Alumni & Outreach Center. The murals have been funded through grants from the YEP chapter’s fund, held by the CFO and the Aurora Area Community Foundation, as well as other local funding partners.
Like the first, the new mural focuses on “All Roads Lead Home,” an idea that small communities in rural parts of the United States share similar challenges and visions, McCully-Mobley says. Along with that sense of place, the theme also speaks to “that collective idea of bringing people and teamwork and dialogue and grit, and working in the trenches together,” she says.
Artist Raine Clotfelter leads the creation of a second mural tied to the Aurora High School chapter of the Youth Empowerment Project.
Digging into the past
For the second mural, McCully-Mobley says its planners decided to focus on points of significance — both good and bad — in the early history of the Lawrence County community. Those moments are preserved through imagery tied to the Trail of Tears, the Butterfield Stage, the Old Wire Road, Elk Horn Prairie and Stephen Elliott, Aurora’s founder.
“We wanted to kind of go backwards in time to the early 1800s, where things are less documented, less talked about, because we’ve lost a generation or two of firsthand accounts of it,” McCully-Mobley says.
Deciding those focuses was one place students really came into the picture. After an initial image was conceptualized by artist Raine Clotfelter, McCully-Mobley’s students began to consider and learn more about the “why” of their community.
“All of my classes got to see that image and got to talk about what they liked, what they might change, what they’d suggest,” says McCully-Mobley. “Then I used that as a tool to get them to do some research, because a lot of this stuff isn’t necessarily Google-able. You know, Google’s not going to tell them all about Stephen Elliot. It’s not going to tell them all about Aurora’s role in the Trail of Tears because those timelines are different and Aurora wasn’t Aurora then — it was a settlement.”
The students’ research projects are a classic example of place-based education, a key pillar of the Rural Schools Partnership that connects the subjects students learn in the classroom to the communities in which they live.
“They had to actually look through old newspapers, look through old books," says McCully-Mobley. "I designed the questions and the activity to have them go home and talk to their parents — another anomaly because they’re always on their phones.”
That effort has led to a greater awareness and understanding of place, like the student who learned stone for a mill was once on his family’s land.
“They think they’re critiquing the drawing, but it’s to do research and go home and talk, and tell stories,” McCully-Mobley says.
YEP students also contribute to the mural’s creation.
By the community, for the community
In addition to research and study, students helped paint parts of the project under the direction of Clotfelter, who also led work on the first Aurora mural.
“I called and left a message and wanted to see if I could get them to come here because when I had looked at their work online, I realized it was the perfect fit, really,” she says, speaking of Clotfelter and his wife, Tricia. “So even though we kind of came at the artist part backwards, I think it was part of the divine plan, if you will, because it was just meant to be.”
“She wanted to know if we could work with some kids — show them what it takes to do a mural, and work with them on a mural,” says Clotfelter, paintbrush in hand, of his conversation with McCully-Mobley years ago.
He agreed then, and again when the opportunity came around for the second mural — a great step for the bigger space, given Clotfelter’s opinion: “The bigger the mural, the more I want to do it.”
Known as “America’s Muralist,” Clotfelter is recognized locally for several sizable murals. In 2020, he completed the Freedom Silo in Monett — just down the road from Aurora — which showcases an eagle and other patriotic imagery. In nearby Mount Vernon, Clotfelter completed a 125-foot-long mural in 2016 as part of the Veterans Way project led by the Mount Vernon Area Community Foundation, which served as the community’s charitable resource to raise funds for the mural and other projects honoring veterans.
Kim McCully-Mobley, left, has helped shepherd two murals in downtown Aurora to reality.
Progress on Aurora’s new mural is visible day by day. If all remains on track, the finished project will be officially unveiled at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 18.
While Clotfelter has led the production, the mural is truly a community effort. In addition to support from the YEP chapter, other sponsors of the mural include AHS Leadership and A-Tech classes and the Houn’ Dawg Alumni & Outreach Center. Assistance also is provided by Lori Barton and her AHS art students and several community volunteers and artists.
By Kaitlyn McConnell, writer in residence for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.