Teenager to paint mural to help brighten the city

Published 8:28 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Mural slated to be painted at Albert Lea’s Academy Park


When Ava Cunningham was in first grade, her teacher gave the class assignments they could choose to complete either through drawings or writings.

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“I did not want to do the work of writing, so I drew it instead,” she said. “I remember my parents coming in during a conference and saying that it was really good, so that gave me confidence and I liked it from there.”

Ava, now 15, particularly enjoys drawing flowers, designs and people — anime, mostly — and will soon create a mural at the Academy Park warming house where her artwork will be visible for the whole city to enjoy.

The effort is part of Art Walk Albert Lea, an initiative to create more public art in the community.

Ava said the idea for the new mural came about after her neighbor, Kari Nelson, asked her to paint the side of her garage for an outdoor graduation party in her backyard. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she wasn’t able to have a big party, and wanted to do something special and decorate in a unique way.

Ava said Nelson knew of her interest in art and asked her to come up with an idea for a design. She painted it in about a day and a half using bold-colored spray paint.

Ava’s father, Bryan Cunningham, posted a picture of the finished piece to Facebook, and Holly Karsjens, executive director of the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau, who is also one of the leaders of the Art Walk, reached out to him and asked if Ava would be interested in coming up with a design for the side of another building in Albert Lea. Volunteers earlier this summer completed the initiative’s first public art project on the warming house at Lakeview Park.

“I was kind of shocked but really excited,” Ava said.

Karsjens said she was wowed by Ava’s fun and creative talent.

“The more young energy we can tie into the community, the more ownership they take, the more everyone benefits,” she said.

Ava’s father said at first his daughter was going to paint a mural on a building on the walking path at Pioneer Park, but then the plans shifted to painting on the warming house at Academy Park.

Ava said the location was fitting, being that it is only about a block away from her grandmother’s house, where she has spent a lot of time during the past few summers and where her father grew up.

“It’s a special place,” the teenager said.

Like the garage wall she painted for her neighbor, the design for the park’s warming house also includes bright color and whimsical shapes.

Her father said when Karsjens asked her why she wanted to use such bright, vibrant colors, Ava said, “The town’s kind of lacking spice,” and she wants to help make it brighter.

The artist said she still hasn’t wrapped her head around the fact that her artwork will be around for many years to come.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” she said. “My mind still doesn’t know how to comprehend it, really.”

Karsjens said she is hopeful the project can be completed by Nov. 1.