Andrews Avenue Mural Shares Memories of Local Culture

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Now that’s a great wall.

The Andrews Avenue mural’s second and final phase was finished Wednesday, bringing the total length of the public artwork to more than 500 feet and creating a new Mahoning Valley landmark in the process.

Painted on a long concrete retaining wall in an industrial area near downtown, the mural is the work of Youngstown State University art students taking a course taught by Professor Dragana Crnjak. Students who took the public art class in the fall 2020 semester created the 160-foot initial section of the project.

The new section seamlessly extends the mural; it’s impossible to tell where the initial portion ends and the new one begins. It also continues the theme of shared memories of local culture and history. 

The 13 students in Crnjak’s class came up with their own scenes and painted them at intervals over the brightly colored backdrop of abstract and angular shapes.

The Andrews Avenue mural is nowhere near the longest in the country – there’s a similar one in Los Angeles that is almost 2,800 feet long. But its location along a twisty roadway in an otherwise drab area makes it unique – a work of art that the viewer takes in while in motion. 

Because of its length and the wall’s curvature, the mural is too long to see in its totality from any one spot. But motorists can drink it in within a few seconds as they drive by.

It was designed that way, Crnjak said. For those who want to stop and take a closer look, a sidewalk runs along the entire length.

For the second phase, students conducted research to create their own sections, Crnjak said. 

“They came up with their own sketches and we just had to connect them visually,” she said. “That’s why we used lots of geometry that tied it back to the original, and also the same color palate to keep it connected.”

The imagery in the second phase subtly differs from that of the first. That’s because the first phase was created collectively by the entire class.

“The imagery is all different because every student is different,” Crnjak said. “It’s a mix of styles that speaks to the original idea of intervening cultures and diversity.”

Professor Dragana Crnjak of Youngstown State University and Karen Schubert of Lit Youngstown stand in front of the new section of the Andrews Avenue mural.

The project began on Aug. 30 – the start of the semester – with research and sketching. The students were on the site by the end of September.

“It moved quite fast,” Crnjak said. “We had great weather and the students were very attached to the project.”

Karen Schubert, director of Lit Youngstown, was a driving force behind the project. She said she was “absolutely thrilled” with how it turned out. 

“You have an idea but you don’t really know how it will go,” she said. “I love that the students interpreted the city in their own way. They claimed that identity. It’s not clear what identity we’re handing them in a way that it might have been a generation or two ago. 

“And I love the idea that they’ll drive by here for the rest of their lives and think ‘I painted that.’ ”

Schubert recalled how the site was chosen. She was driving around the city looking for potential locations when she came upon  Andrews Avenue.

“It was the mother of all walls,” she said, and quickly told Crnjak that she found “the perfect location.”

Crnjak will now turn her attention to the preservation of the mural and the structural maintenance of the wall. A varnish will be applied over the paint to protect it. Maintenance, and the addition of lighting, would fall to the city, she said.

With the Andrews Avenue site complete, where will Crnjak go next for her outdoor art course? It’s too soon to say.

“I hope the students take that on personally,” she said. “They have amazing ideas for some spots in Youngstown and hopefully some of them will be realized.”

Pictured at top: The completed Andrews Avenue mural.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.