A new mural project honoring Dickinson's African community has started downtown.
The effort is the latest work of California-based artist Guillermo Ivan Avalos, whose murals can be seen on the Best Friends Mentoring building on Villard Street and the walls of the Highway 22/South Main Avenue underpass.
The new mural is being created at the 128 First Ave. W. building owned by Todd Otto, facing the alley and lot behind the building.
Avalos said he is excited to return to Dickinson.
"It's always a great honor to be invited back," he said. "I always look forward to seeing if I can spend some time here once a year. I mostly come back up here because of the people and the people who work these projects, especially the youths and young adults who partake in these projects."
The project is being organized by Mark Billings, BFM program coordinator.
Billings hopes to honor Dickinson's African immigrants with the downtown mural.
"They're a hardworking and misunderstood segment of the community," Billings said. "Many of them work long shifts, long hours. They contribute significantly to our economy here because of their contribution to the workforce. We just don't know much about them. This is a way for African immigrants, when they see the mural, they have some connection to home."
Otto said he was excited to be hosting the new mural on his building.
"I'm very honored," he said. "Our country is made up of a lot of diverse people, a melting pot, and there are a lot of great solutions that help solve old problems that come from a variety of cultures. It's really neat to honor this particular culture with this mural."
Billings also hopes the project will be the first step to creating an art alley in Dickinson.
"Some communities are really using art to showcase their downtown alleys," he said. "It would be great if another group in the future wants to showcase another cultural group downtown as the art alley concept continues."
In preparing the project, Billings reached out to African community leaders and members in Dickinson.
"I've developed friendships with people, other African leaders, in the community, and we've been meeting together on this," he said. "Africans are not in leadership roles in the community, so it took some sleuthing to find some people."
Though the eight-month effort to bring the project to Dickinson has been challenging, it has been worthwhile, Billings said.
"It's been worth every second of worry," he said. "Last night, when we were sketching out the mural, it just seemed surreal to see the project starting, which has taken so many months of planning, and it's going to take on a new level once the community gets involved."
Community members are invited to join Avalos to help in the painting of the mural.
Painting will be done today through Tuesday, from 9 to 5 p.m. Participants ages 10 and up, regardless of skill level, are encouraged to participate.