Drive on South Hoyt Avenue, and you’ll see businesses decorated with colorful murals, adding a pop of color to the otherwise bare street. Several local businesses, such as Rosebud Coffee House and the Common Market, have set up shops in Muncie's southside to bring the community together.
Enter Sydney Johnson, 2020 Ball State animation alumna and the mastermind behind the murals that decorate the brick walls outside the businesses.
In September 2020, Johnson was on the hunt for her next mural project when her pastor, Neil Kring at The Revolution, recommended the Common Market as a potential location. Johnson said she fell in love with the Common Market because it is a mix of a grocery store, commercial space for entrepreneurs and activists and a music venue.
This year, Johnson painted a mural on the brick walls of the Common Market. Facing 8th Street, the mural features a robot emblazoned with the words “Common Unity.” One of the market’s owners, Kory Gipson, said he wanted something that conceptualized the community aspect of the Common Market.
“The Common Market is so far away from campus that few students know about it,” Johnson said. “But once I discovered it, I started hanging out with these 30-something-year-old men, Mike and Jerry Martin, and it was super fun.”
Johnson and a handful of her friends created a volunteer group, Motivation Mondays, that has met every Monday at the Common Market since September 2020. The crew helps at the shop by organizing, cleaning and moving furniture around, in addition to whatever needs to be done.
“Sometimes, we just have a fire going and have community nights with volunteers and the family,” Johnson said. “They’re basically nights to help out at the market but also to build community.”
Gipson said he is grateful for Johnson’s art and volunteer support of his business and the community.
“Her art inspires people when they drive by, and it makes a difference,” said Gipson, who opened the Common Market in May 2020. “It's easy to see the ugly that's around, but if there are people who care — especially Ball State kids — [and] seek that opportunity to put their mark on the world and show that they're also interested in seeing change.”
Gipson also said he hopes the mural lasts many years and attributed the success of the mural to Johnson’s ability to conceptualize the theme he wanted.
“When we bought the building, one of the first things that we heard from our community and our neighbors was a lack of access to places where they could get food safely,” Gipson said. “We want to base it off of concepts that come from the coasts so that this stays a trendy place that is kind of like the Rosebud Coffee House, but where it appeals to different groups.”
After painting the Common Unity mural, Gipson recommended Johnson speak to Tiara Hicks, owner of Rosebud Coffee House, as a location for her next project. On July 8, 2021, Hicks received a Small Sparks Grant from the 8twelve Coalition, a team of more than 20 organizations and nonprofits driven to improve the quality of life in the South Central and Thomas Park/Avondale neighborhoods. The grant supports small projects within the neighborhoods that will positively impact its quality, and Hicks used the grant to give her business a new look.
“I knew I wanted to create something to draw people to Rosebud, but I just didn't know what I wanted it to look like,” said Hicks, who opened Rosebud in December 2020. “I had a huge canvas of a big gray wall, and when I took over this building, I painted it all gray to give it a facelift and give it a different look and vibe, but I wanted to add a mural.”
Johnson and Hicks sat down to talk about the mural before Johnson began painting in August 2021.
“[Tiara] knew she wanted it to encapsulate the feel of Rosebud right, so I made a list of things that she thinks Rosebud stands for in her backstory for Rosebud,” Johnson said.
Johnson finished the mural in about one week. The mural shows an image of two coffee cups clinking together, signifying how people from all backgrounds can bond over coffee. Hicks said the mural helps consolidate the Rosebud brand.
“The mural helps solidify my mission in breaking down barriers and making people of all places colors, races [and] ages feel comfortable, and it's really about bringing the community together,” Hicks said. “I felt like the mural was a nonverbal way of communicating that.”
Not only does the mural add a pop of color to an otherwise drab street corner, Hicks said, it also serves as a beacon for the community.
“I feel like, for a lot of people, we’re a destination … they came to the end of the world to come to the southside of Muncie,” Hicks said. “Now, they've got an extra little something special to be around.”
Johnson said bringing people together is the purpose of her art.
“If a place looks beautiful, you take more pride in it,” Johnson said. “If you think something looks fun and cool, then you just believe that it’s fun and cool.”
Currently, Johnson is working for Circuit Riders, a mission work movement, as a media intern in Southern California. While she is not sure what her future holds, she wants to continue pursuing art in multiple forms, like animation and painting, and trying to use them for a greater purpose.
However, despite being a long way from home, Johnson said she still hasn’t forgotten Muncie.
“Muncie meant so much to me,” Johnson said. “The city and, most importantly, the people I’ve met really allowed me the space to push out of my comfort zone and grow into whatever I was passionate about, and that changed and shaped through college. Muncie and the Avondale neighborhood definitely isn’t something I’m saying goodbye to forever — I’ll be looking forward to visiting and investing time where I can into my relationships there.”