Kyle McKenzie serves as lead muralist for East Town project

The bright, vivid colors of the mural stretch from one end to the other of the former Earl Smith market on Langston Hughes/Broadway in Joplin’s East Town.

Named “Belonging to All the Hands Who Build,” the mural depicts important figures from the community’s history, while paying tribute to the storytelling that keeps their contributions alive.

“One of the main themes during the creation of this mural was the idea of storytelling,” says Kyle McKenzie, an art instructor at Missouri Southern who served as lead artist for the project. “I was struck not just by the history that was shared with us, but by the way they told the stories. The hummingbird on the mural is sort of a symbolic reference to the coming and going of information as it is passed along with grace and efficiency.”

Among those depicted in the mural is Betty Smith, a longtime resident who is passionate about East Town’s history; and Melissa Cuther, a schoolteacher who helped bring big-name musicians such as the Duke Ellington Orchestra to Joplin and house them at a time when they were unable to get a hotel room due to the color of their skin.

Joplin’s Cultural Affairs Committee received a grant from the Missouri Arts Council to create the mural. McKenzie was tabbed for the role after serving as an apprentice to Lawrence, Kan.-based muralist Dave Loewenstein for “The Butterfly Effect” mural at 15th and Main streets.

A series of community meetings were held to discuss the project and come up with a design, and painting began in August. A dedication ceremony was held on Oct. 2, with the MSSU Jazz Band, under the direction of Freddie Green, performing during the event. McKenzie said the entire process was a valuable learning experience. “I learned a lot about Joplin’s black history, and particularly about people in this community who really broke ground,” he said.