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Beautifying Columbia Park, one mural at a time
Local artist begins work on a trio murals at westside park
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Local artist Nicolle Jones is looking to make Columbia Park a bit brighter with her three murals, expected to be finished by the end of June (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

New art is set to hit the barren walls of Columbia Park next month thanks to a local grant and the determination of a local artist. 

In late April, after receiving approval from the Turlock City Council, local artist Nicolle Jones, working with the Stanislaus Arts Council — funded through the Heartland Creative Corps grant — began working on three murals at the longstanding park located in the heart of Turlock’s westside neighborhoods. Each mural will share messages of love and positivity.

Jones has a long history in Turlock. She studied color theory at Stanislaus State and owned the Gypsy Tattoo Parlor on South Golden State Boulevard before it closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic. She already painted two other murals across Turlock, one at Fusion Charter and another at Stanislaus Academy, but is particularly excited for the project she is spearheading at Columbia Park. Her family lives in the westside neighborhood, and the park is where her children play almost daily.

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Nicolle Jones of Turlock works on one of three murals at Columbia Park. She has been at the park painting for hours nearly every day since getting the project approved by the City of Turlock in late April (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

“There are always tags on this wall. We come to this park. We see it all the time,” Jones said. “It’s not a nice thing to see, especially for kids. And then when there aren’t tags, these walls are blank. For me, personally, when I look at a blank wall, there's no emotion. But when you look at  a mural, you sometimes smile. People stop, look and think. But I just want to make people smile. If these murals can make just one person smile, then I've done my job.”

One of the murals will include the phrase “We rise by lifting others.” Another will say “No Place for Hate.” The third will say “Love always wins.” She must finish the three murals by June 30.

The Heartland Creative Corps was developed by the California Arts Council — a $4.2 million economic and workforce recovery pilot program intended to support pandemic recovery and the environmental, civic and social engagement of California’s most disproportionately impacted communities — in partnership with the State legislature. Using a variety of art forms, including visual, performing and traditional arts, artists are encouraged to advance positive community outcomes by creating locally focused, contextually and culturally sensitive public messaging and work. As the Administering Organization for the three counties, United Way of Merced County regrants funds to arts and social service organizations and to individual artists and cultural workers throughout Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties.

“I want to promote love and unity in the community,” Jones said. “Especially in a place where there are so many kids. I feel like the kids are the next generation. They're the ones that are going to take over. So if they can be happy and spread positivity, then we'll have a better community.”

It was a message that council members and city staff were entirely on board with.

“Nicole came to us at the City and talked to our public works director, Erik Schulze, about this opportunity. She just submitted the public art application that got vetted by our staff and recreation,” explained Juan Vargas of the  Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities office. “And once we did our preliminary review, we then invited her to present and do the community forum at the Parks, Arts, Recreation Commission meeting. We notified the residents within 500 feet of the area so they were able to go and show their support or whatever they had to say. Ultimately, the commission approved it, and the project was kicked to council for final approval. The council didn't have any issues with it and they took it right away. Once that was approved, things were already in motion here at the park.”

Columbia Park is no stranger to public art. In 2018, a mural was painted on the exterior walls of the public pool by the Stanislaus State art department. The pool is currently undergoing a $9.1 million reconstruction and won’t be open until August at the earliest.

“Public art, you see it in bigger cities. It’s pretty common,” Vargas said. “Here in Turlock, we have a handful of murals that are privately done. We have the one at Columbia Pool, so once that construction is done, we'll have four nice murals.

“It’s nice to have something for the community to go out and take pride in and have a sense of ownership of their art in their park. It’ll just give a nice visual aesthetic to the community when they're out.”

Columbia Park serves as a pick-up and drop-off site on one of the Turlock Unified School District bus routes. Since Jones began work on the murals on April 24, she has had a number of kids go up to her and ask about the project.

“So many kids have come up to me and asked me about the project,” she shared. “They’ll ask about it and say. ‘I love art, too!’ And they talk to me about the paintings and drawings they do at school. That just goes to show how much of an impact this can make. I think that's cool that it's also inspiring young artists.”

The City of Turlock plans on having a celebration for the murals once they are completed at the end of next month.