Local youth to design Starkville mosaic

By: 
Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

This fall, a local artist is working with children at Starkville’s Boys & Girls Club to create an art project that will leave a lasting impression on the community.

The art project will be a 10,000 piece mosaic in Unity Park, which celebrates the civil rights movement both locally and nationally.

Unity Park Committee Member Dylan Karges is leading the project. Karges said he came to the idea after being asked to join the Unity Park Committee as a local artist.

Instead of creating an art project himself, Karges wanted to engage Starkville’s community, specifically Starkville’s children, to make the project a grassroots effort.

Karges said he believes children are the key to creating bridges for tomorrow’s community.

“If you can engage kids, you can engage their families,” Karges said. “Where you may not bridge that gap one-on-one with adults who have set ideas.”

Karges is working with a group of second and third graders and a group of fourth and fifth graders through December. His lessons with the children are a combination of civil rights history lessons and hands-on art lessons to prepare the children for the final mosaic. Karges said his goal this fall is to engage the children into the local community and provide them exposure to what is still go- ing on in the civil rights movement today.

“(The project) lets the kids have a platform to have a voice,” Karges said. “And it starts to engage them in the community now.”

Karges’ lessons began with two iconic faces of the historical civil rights movement.

“We’re starting with national leaders that they’d readily know, introducing Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,” Karges said. “We’ve been doing their portraits just as a way to practice using smaller pieces to create an image.”

Afterward, Karges will aim to bring the lessons home to both the historical and the ongoing civil rights movement in Starkville and Oktibbeha County.

THE ROLE OF ART

Karges believes art serves as a useful tool for approaching powerful ideas.

“In one way, it’s an easy way to approach it, with the visual— especially with young kids,” Karges said.

Historical images from the origins of the civil rights movement still allow viewers access to that time period today.

“The historical imagery of lynchings, of the riots, of the dogs being sent on black protestors, the sit-ins— all those sorts of things,” Karges said. “Those documentaries that were happening at that time are artwork, and they tell a very powerful story.”

“Without those images, there’s a disparity,” Karges added.

For these reasons, Karges chose to use art as the vehicle for discussing the civil rights movement with the children at the Boys & Girls Club.

“If you can come into a situation with open minds with art as the vehicle, then it’s fun, it’s experimental, it’s open-minded, and you can have very serious dialogue about very serious topics during that process,” Karges said. “And it’s in a safe environment just to question things because that’s what art should make you do.”

Karges believes art is also a tool for voicing powerful ideas.

“We’re working on the power of imagery to convey lasting meaning,” Karges said. “The mosaic will give each one of those kids a lasting, indelible impression in the town as stakeholders. They’ll have something here that’s a permanent mark.”

Karges believes art has always played an active role in the civil rights movement.

“The power of the imagery, the power of the speech, the eloquence of the speakers, the poetry of what they’re saying,” Karges said. “All those things created new avenues for people of color or various backgrounds to really respond to their own story.”

“I think art is a platform for communicating those powerful ideas,” Karges added. “And it’s often politically charged and personally motivated and intensely intimate, so it can cover all those things in one image.”

The nature of the mosaic— with its multiple pieces coming together to form one piece— will also serve to compliment the theme of unity to which the park and the project aspire.

“That’s the beauty of the mosaic— the kids can handcraft 10,000 different pieces, and the little bitty things that aren’t perfect disappear and that’s the power of the multiplicity of the pieces,” Karges said. “Everybody is working together and we sort of accept and forgive all of the little flaws, because we know how may we have ourselves, and so it’s pretty easy with empathy to forget the differences and just to move forward together.”

Karges’ history and art lessons will be the foundation for what the children ultimately decide for the community’s permanent mosaic.
“They have the power to make it what they want, and that’s something that they’ll keep and that’s something I’m going to communicate very clearly,” Karges said. “I want them to drive it— the kids.”

Karges is aiming for the project to be installed by February 2019, and he hopes the project can be incorporated into Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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