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Mural brightens Medford byway

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Melissa Ghiglieri, of Jacksonville, paints a mural Tuesday on the Acme Building in downtown Medford

An eye-catching mural depicting two clasped hands has added a message of unity and diversity to an off-the-beaten-track Medford street.

“It’s been getting great reviews,” said Lindsay Berryman, former Medford mayor who is involved in the Downtown Medford Association.

The mural, featuring a darker-colored hand holding a lighter-colored hand, is being painted on the east side of the Acme Building, on Evergreen Street at Sixth Street.

The mural faces the railroad tracks.

Berryman said the idea for the mural came from the owner of the building, Laz Ayala, and was further developed by Phil Ortega with the nonprofit LIFEArt, a local program that uses art to help local disadvantaged youth.

“It took Laz’s vision and Phil’s drive to make this happen,” said Berryman.

The city of Medford, Ayala, Berryman, Central Art Supply and LifeArt helped contribute the money and materials to pay for the $6,500 project. The Downtown Medford Association approved the design.

More than 10 local artists submitted ideas for the mural, but Ayala was particularly drawn to the sketch provided by Jacksonville artist Melissa Ghiglieri, who has done other murals in the valley, including in Eagle Point and White City.

She said this is the first piece of commissioned art that she’s done that offers a theme of humanity and unity, and also the first commission in Medford.

“I actually had no idea I'd ever do stuff like this,” Ghiglieri said. “It’s an honor to do something in such a public place and have such an impact on people.”

The SOU graduate, who grew up locally, travels to South Africa at least once a year to work with children.

“It’s an intense environment over there, at least racially,” she said.

Ghiglieri said she started out in school thinking she’d pursue a career in medicine, but she was having second thoughts, so she decided to go to Africa when she was 21 and made a number of connections over there and fell in love with South Africa.

She said the painting of the mural is a collaboration between herself and the LIFEArt youths.

“Last Saturday, some of the kids came out to do the background,” she said.

The mural is roughly 15-by-30-feet, extending from the sidewalk up the side of the building.

While the clasped hands are done with blacks and whites, the background is maroon with a gold circle behind the hands.

Ghiglieri has done larger murals, including one for the Eagle Point School District that is some 100-by-30 feet.

She expects to finish the mural by Friday.

Ghiglieri said she hopes the mural offers a nonpolitical message.

“Hopefully it can be healing in some way,” she said. “When people have walked by so far, they have liked it. It’s very encouraging.”

Ortega with LIFEArt said the design of the mural went through a lot of focus groups with students from North and South Medford high schools as well as from Eagle Point. LIFEArt, which stands for “live, inspire and freedom of expression,” currently serves 480 kids.

“That mural is kind of a testament to the work we’ve been doing at LIFEArt,” Ortega said.

He said the goal is to help students who are struggling and often dealing with thoughts of suicide.

“We’re trying to minimize the graffiti in our community and redirect some of that energy,” Ortega said.

LIFEArt and other youth organizations last week celebrated the opening of their new building, located at a former fire station at 1241 W. Eighth St.

Some of the colors on the mural will change slightly as students add additional layers of color. A 4-inch-wide border will be painted around the mural to separate it from the surrounding wall.

“It’s pretty dramatic,” Ortega said.

Ayala had been thinking about a mural for the Acme Building for some time and wanted art that would reflect his interests.

“In diversity there is beauty and there is strength,” he said. “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”

Ayala said he hopes that other businesses in the downtown area will embrace the idea of a mural on their buildings to create an “art alley” on Evergreen.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.