A Harmonious Vision: A Vibrant Mural Celebrates Music and Community

June 17, 2024

Yesenia Mozo

Artist painting mural
Ally Frame, artist, painting the mural at Grinnell School of Music. Photo courtesy of Martha Pinder '84, Grinnell Herald Register.

Ally Frame, a vibrant mural artist from Des Moines, has been busy transforming the bare brick walls of what will soon be the new permanent home of the Grinnell School of Music at 720 5th Ave. Previously Michael’s Italian Kitchen, this downtown location is now home to a colorful mural and vibrant waiting area, thanks to a $75,000 pledge from Grinnell College last August.

Erin Bustin, the executive director of the Grinnell School of Music, opened the school with a vision to make music education more accessible in Grinnell. Often, she would hear local community members struggling to secure affordable and consistent music lessons.

“Sometimes, there wasn’t anybody actively teaching in town,” recalls Bustin. “And so, people that could afford to were often driving to Iowa City or Des Moines [for lessons]. It really breaks my heart that there’s enough of a barrier in terms of the cost of lessons for many students.”

Currently, Bustin is working to raise funds to provide music scholarships to eventually meet full financial needs for those wishing to participate in music lessons, programs, workshops, and camps. Along with removing financial barriers for students, she has also emphasized the importance of making music education highly visible within the community of Grinnell.

And with the unveiling of the new mural at the waiting area of the new Grinnell School of Music, Bustin believes the artwork will do just so – and mark a presence within the already vibrant downtown area.

Bustin shares that the College and her Board of Directors at the School of Music have had numerous conversations about these common values – such as accessibility – and have found ways to mutually support each other.

“I think the mural is a really awesome aspect for the College to support because it is publicly visible. If you’re coming into town on 5th Avenue, the alley – with this bright, colorful, welcoming mural – will enliven the space. I envision that on commencement – well, I would love to see people getting their photos taken in front of the mural.”

Lesley Wright, a current board member for the Grinnell School of Music, helped research murals and assemble a search committee for a muralist with the help of the College’s donation. “You see small towns in Iowa really investing in public art now,” notes Bustin, citing Marshalltown as an example. With Wright’s help, the mural selection committee within the Grinnell School of Music chose Ally Frame, a muralist from Des Moines.

An incomplete mural piece of a nature landscape with two big mushrooms at the forefront.
A mural wall with blue colors. In the center, a half-painted rabbit playing a drum.

“We were especially delighted that Ally pulled out the phrase ‘Conduct Joy’ for the mural,” says Wright. The phrase, as found on their website, references the School of Music’s goal to be a conductor of different values, such as joy, impact, access, education, and unity. “We want everyone, young and old, to have access to high-quality music education and music-making.”

Frame, who began the project on June 2, has painted an array of woodland animals, musical instruments and symbols with bright colors. Though the mural is now complete and open to the public, people stopped by to watch Frame paint the project to completion well beforehand.

Wright, who worked for the College for 21 years as the Director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art, shared that the College’s support of the mural was instrumental. “The Board was thrilled with the commitment from Grinnell College, which has long understood that a vibrant community is an asset for the College’s students, faculty and staff, as well as for everyone who lives here. The mural will be an immediate and delighted sign that Grinnell is a creative, joyful place.”

In the future, Grinnellians — both local community members and College students — can look forward to joining the school’s community events, such as open jam sessions, drum circles, drop-in choir nights, musical theatre sing-alongs, and more. “Singing together has been shown to be really excellent for humans,” notes Bustin with a smile.

College faculty, students, and staff will also be able to participate in the growing Grinnell School of Music. Wright and Bustin have both shared that students would have a great opportunity to participate in internships and even full-time positions within the school.

“Colleges and cities are ecosystems that depend upon all sorts of support,” shares Wright. “When the two co-exist, as they do in Grinnell, the ability to support one another strengthens both. When the College supports a project like the School of Music, they give a gift to everyone and emphasize that the College is a part of this place.”

About the Grinnell School of Music

The Grinnell School of Music, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is a “vibrant community music school in Grinnell where children and adults access professional music instruction.” The new location of Grinnell School of Music is 720 5th Avenue. The Grinnell School of Music’s mission is primarily “conducting unity and joy,” and place an emphasis on participatory, community music making and “excellence in performance.” Grinnell College’s donation to the School of Music is one of three significant contributions announced towards community projects last August.

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