Beneath the late afternoon sun, two artists, perched 15 feet above downtown Decatur, rolled swaths of orange and yellow paint onto the blank, beige brick wall. Along Second Avenue, passers-by paused to watch the beginning of the project that will bring public art to downtown Decatur's streets.

"This is something we've wanted to do for awhile, to get a mural arts program going in Decatur," said Kim Mitchell, director of the Carnegie Visual Art Center. "Projects like this, out in public spaces, expose more people to the arts."

Over the next three weeks, Decatur native Adam Stephenson and Atlanta artist Yehimi Cambron will spend a combined 500 hours transforming the exterior space at Pineapple's into a piece of public art.

"My goal was to have my work in downtown. Second Avenue is a beautiful part of the city. I like that over the past 10 years there's been so much effort put into renovating this area," said Stephenson, referring to the downtown revitalization effort.

During the past decade, Second Avenue saw the addition of restaurants Mellow Mushroom, Moe's, Gyro Uno, The RailYard and Josie's, the opening of the coffee shop High Point Market, the replacement of traffic signals with stop signs, the building of the Alabama Center for the Arts and the creation of 3rd Friday and River Clay Fine Arts Festival.

To further downtown Decatur's connection to the arts, the newly formed Foundation for the Alabama Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization, created an Urban Art initiative. Stephenson's mural represents the Foundation's debut project.

"We are happy to bring a Decatur native home and to provide him with a professional opportunity to create a lasting piece of art," said Philip Mann, executive director of external affairs at the Alabama Center for the Arts. "This art will provide an opportunity for students enrolled at the ACA to see a professional at work and will give them a glimpse of the exciting career opportunities available to them in the arts."

Stephenson, who currently lives in Atlanta, hopes to complete the mural dubbed "Homecoming" in time for River Clay, the two-day arts festival scheduled for Sept. 28-29. At the latest, he said, the art project will be finished the first week of October, weather permitting.

A faint pencil outline sketched on the wall hints at the mural's final design of a young girl holding a flower.

The mural pays tribute to Stephenson's sister, Lara Chandler Whitehead, who died in a car accident in 2006 at the age of 36.

"She was super responsible, super smart and had a good sense of humor. This is my way of remembering her and honoring her life because she impacted so many people," Stephenson said.

To make the mural a reality, Stephenson worked with Mitchell and Mann. Funding stemmed from the Foundation for the Alabama Center for the Arts, which allotted $15,000 to the urban art project. The Foundation also approved the design.

"The design is certainly in my aesthetic wheelhouse, but the story behind it is what ultimately elevated the work for me. The colors, images and movement of the design are calm and reflective," said Mann, a Foundation trustee.

In helping Cambron complete a mural in Decatur, Georgia, which features portraits of three women, including Cambron's mother, Stephenson found the inspiration for his design.

"I never really considered painting a picture of someone I knew personally because I wasn't sure that people could connect to that, but people were really connecting with Yehimi's mural. I connected with her mural," Stephenson said.

Using a photograph of his sister as a flower girl at a wedding, Stephenson created the design, which includes geometric shapes extending from the portrait.

"I've had this photo of my sister for a long time. I've kept it with me in my sentimental belongings. I knew I always wanted to do something with it. I like her pose in it and the innocence of it. This is how most of us who knew Lara remember her," Stephenson said.

To prepare for the project, Stephenson spent 40 hours building a proposal that included examples of how the image would look on prospective walls. In potential canvases, Stephenson considered the wall's surface, if the structure needed priming, if a lift could fit next to the wall and if the image could be projected onto the surface.

At Pineapple's, which borders Casa Grande Park, Stephenson found his ideal canvas. On Tuesday evening, Stephenson and Cambron spent four hours outlining the image onto the wall.

After completing the mural, Stephenson will seal the wall, which will help to prevent the image from damages. Stephenson estimated that the mural would last 10 years and said retouching the image, due to its design, would be easy.

The 37-year-old artist hopes the project encourages and offers hope to youth, who, like himself, connect with the arts.

"I moved away from Decatur when I was 18 and learned a lot about art, the world and myself. I wanted to bring something back to Decatur for kids like me who don't feel like they belong or who have problems at school, but are really creative," Stephenson said. "I'm excited to do this for my hometown and leave a piece of public art for the city."

Follow Stephenson's work on Instagram @tiltandfade. or 256-340-2441. Twitter @DecaturLiving.
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