WINSTON — In a normal year, a variety of musicians would have visited Riverbend Park throughout the summer for the 23rd year of Riverbend Live! But 2020 wasn’t a normal year, requiring the organization to think outside the box after canceling its entire season.
As much as organizers missed the musical entertainment, it was engaging the community youth that the committee missed the most. With this in mind, concert co-founder Mo Nichols approached local artist Niki McBride about putting together an art project for Winston-area youth. From that conversation came the idea of a painted mural in the back of the Riverbend Live! stage.
With approval from the committee, McBride started searching the Winston area for volunteers. She hoped for at least a dozen, but between scheduling conflicts and COVID-19 restrictions, the project came down to four Winston students: Sialafua Polamalu, Ta’eleese Polamalu, Whitney Hunter and Katlynn Lane.
“These three girls showed up every day and we had a fourth girl that showed up almost every day,” McBride said. “They worked their little hearts out.”
Each student brought some form of art experience with them, but none had ever worked on anything so big.
Along with the usual art lessons in shading and layering, the students also had to learn the differences in using house paint versus more traditional paint mediums like water color or acrylic. The house paint dried faster and required more coats, which sometimes interfered with the techniques McBride was teaching.
“I learned that painting is really hard,” Hunter said. “Trees are kinda hard. I wasn’t very good at painting trees when we started. I just didn’t know how to do it.”
The mural spans an entire wall backstage, including the two doors performers use to enter the stage. It is an expansion on a concept McBride used in a past Riverbend Live! poster, incorporating a variety of river and forest animals playing an assortment of instruments.
As the piece came together, the students began naming the different animals, like Potato the flute playing otter, Chad the trumpet playing beaver, Tiny Tim the bongo playing frog, Middle Tim the fog conductor and Big Tim the frog saxophone player. Raccoons, squirrels and turtles round out the collection of creatures.
Mother Anna Polamalu experienced the project through the eyes of Sialafua and Ta’eleese.
“That’s the thing I will always remember,” Anna Polamalu said. “Every time I picked them up they were talking about the animals and their names.”
It took a handful of adult volunteers to help bring the mural to life, but after about two months of work the mural was finished.
“I’m really proud. I think it is really cool that people will come here and see what we have done,” Ta’eleese Polamalu said.
McBride presented each of the students with a book filled with photos of the mural coming to life to commemorate the work they did.
“They were all pretty talented to start with, so I can’t take credit for that,” McBride joked. “But I hope they learned how to start with something negative and bring it to life. Work forward and bring it to life. And I think they know that now. I am very proud of what they did.”