Mo. striving to make welcome center an attraction with mural

Saturday, July 26, 2008

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Hoping to make the state's new Welcome Center along Interstate 44 near the Oklahoma border an attraction, transportation officials have asked artists for their ideas for a custom mural.

"We want it to be something that people want to get their pictures taken with," said Lori Marble, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Transportation's Southwest District.

Three finalists have been chosen to create the mural for the Joplin center, which is already open. The mural would be on one large wall in the entryway.

During an open house Thursday, the three artists looked at the potential canvas and talked to local residents and passers-by about what they think should be included in the mural.

"It should include some of the historical parts of Joplin, because Joplin has a great history and sometimes that stuff gets left out," said Bev Kircher, a Pleasant Hill resident who was passing through on her way home from Oklahoma.

Her husband, Mike, said different sections of the mural should play up the area's mining and agricultural background, as well as its Civil War history.

The three artists also had ideas.

A.J. Wood, art director for Images In Tile in Joplin, said he wants to do a collection of moments from the city's history, including Route 66 and Bonnie and Clyde.

Matthew Dehaemers, of Kansas City, said he wants to include images from the Joplin Public Library's collection of historical postcards.

David Spear, of Columbia, said he wants to include state of Missouri elements in the mural, including the state flower and bird, the flag and landmarks. He said he sees the mural as a road map down I-44 all the way across Missouri.

The finalists' proposals for the mural are due in a month.

The $30,000 for the mural will come from transportation enhancement funds, which can't be used for road construction or maintenance.

Marble said that if the mural gives people a good sense of Missouri, it's worth it.

"Our welcome centers are the greatest attractions in our state," she said. "They get more visitors every year than any other theme park or attraction."

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