Photos Cameron Flaisch

“Over the last two years, we have faced defining moments and experiences that have really left us craving community, connection, and sources of encouragement that motivate us to move forward,” says Sarah Tuck, Harbin Clinic’s senior director of marketing & communications. Harbin Clinic took a positive step ahead in this regard through a joint project with the YMCA of Rome & Floyd County: the CARE Mural, painted on the soaring walls of the YMCA’s gymnasium (CARE stands for Connecting All. Reaching Everyone.). 

Harbin Clinic and the YMCA are longstanding partners and have a shared vision to provide opportunities for children from all backgrounds to stay active and healthy. The two organizations began reimagining the YMCA basketball gym and wanted to incorporate the artistic expression of children in a vibrant, engaging mural. But making this large-scale painting a reality required the right creative expertise. They found the perfect solution in a collaboration with the Rome Mural CoLab.  

When artists Ellie Borromeo and Xaivier Ringer named their business Rome Mural CoLab, they chose the word CoLab with good reason; it suggests both a collaboration and a laboratory. Their work on the CARE Mural has proven to be a community group effort and an artistic lab, with many people pitching in, experimenting with color, scale, design, and emotional meaning. 

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A MURAL IN THE MAKING 

Designing and executing a mural stretching across four huge walls would seem an overwhelming task to most people, but methodical planning made it all possible. Since it was to be a children’s mural, the planners decided to ask for the help of children. Cheryl Bishop, director of development & special events for the YMCA, says, “Last year when we had Day Camp, Xaivier and Ellie came out. We put the children in groups and talked through the prompts for the mural, which asked them to draw what things made them feel happy and healthy. It’s amazing what they came up with.”  

After that, packets of guidelines were sent out to all public and private schools and various community organizations throughout Rome and Floyd County. In response, more than 1,000 colorful entries poured in from students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Then came the hard part: determining which artwork would be incorporated into the final design. 

Borromeo says, “We wanted different ages represented—a mixture of kids from different schools.” Ringer adds, “Ellie and I developed bullet points of the criteria that we would use to judge submissions. First, there was the emotion evoked from the drawings. Then there was artistic execution. And uniqueness was important—that it stood out and brought a unique voice from the student.” Scott McCreless, executive director of the YMCA, says, “There were a lot of profound pieces in there, which made it really hard to pick which artwork we wanted to use.” Once these difficult decisions were made, the 20 winning submissions were used by the Rome Mural CoLab in designing the mural, and the children’s names were listed outside the gymnasium.  
 

A COMMUNITY EFFORT 

Engaging the local community and kids in the making of the mural, muralists Borromeo and Ringer guided the process and put paintbrushes in the hands of as many people as possible, young and old alike. Upwards of 100 people participated in the painting. Ringer says, “We knew that to make this project successful, we needed to engage the community.”  

Borromeo and Ringer projected the images on the walls and traced off the shapes. Interior acrylic paint was used with a cheerful and bright color palette true to the YMCA’s identity. The images are crisp, graphic, with a cut-paper quality to them, most showing movement. The scale is grand, making every area of the mural eye-catching.     

McCreless says, “Several times when I walked in the gym, I saw volunteer parents, who had been in the kids program years ago. Now, they were painting the mural with their own children. It was heartwarming to see.” 

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MAKING A LASTING IMPRESSION  

The true value of the CARE Mural is in the eye of the beholder. As is true with all art, the viewers see it and analyze it through their own worldview, walking away with a very personal sense of inspiration. This, of course, is true also of those directly involved in the mural project. For instance, of the mural, Ringer says, “To me, it means we are connected. And how important it is to engage people, even in times of challenge. 

We did all this throughout the pandemic.” Borromeo adds, “I see collaboration­—especially how all these kids were involved from all these age groups and different backgrounds—their work was directly a part of the process and inspired the mural.” Josh McClure, Harbin Clinic corporate communication and patient experience manager, says, “When a child or an adult—regardless of race, background, or socio-economic status walk into that gymnasium, they are able to see something that resonates with them, that they can connect with. You could be someone from another part of the world and come in and see something that matters to you.”  

One of Harbin Clinic’s goals in sponsoring the mural was to bring joy to many members of the community, and they have certainly succeeded. Bishop sums it up well when she says, “It’s such a joyful space. If you want to feel happy, all you have to do is walk into the gym.”  


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