Mellencamp family gifts $50K to city for plaza near mural


A mural in downtown Seymour has hit a high note with people from near and far.

That includes the person depicted in it: John Mellencamp.

At the end of Tuesday’s Seymour Board of Public Works and Safety meeting, Mayor Craig Luedeman read a letter addressed to him from the Seymour native and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member.

Mellencamp said he and his family are pleased and proud of the mural celebrating his career, and they thanked the mayor for his efforts in getting it completed in the fall.

To further enhance the area, the family wants to make a contribution to establish a plaza in the city parking lot adjacent to the mural, which is painted on the side of This Old Guitar Music Store, 106 W. Second St.

"We are pleased to commit $50,000 to this project and pledge to work with you and the incoming administration to finalize this plaza to be completed in 2020," Mellencamp wrote in the letter.

The funds are to be used for the beautification of the plaza area. Luedeman said that will include taking out six parking spaces and adding benches for people to sit and admire the mural or eat lunch. That also would make it a friendlier and easier way for people to get pictures of the mural, he said.

"It is our understanding that the city of Seymour will take care of the front-end demolition and cleanup," Mellencamp wrote. "Please advise us of the timing when you need the funds to make this happen and next steps that need to be completed."

Mellencamp said the family has been in contact with an engineering firm, and they attached a rendering of what they believe would create "a very nice meeting area in downtown Seymour."

"Please realize this is not the final product, but we believe it demonstrates the type of area we envision," Mellencamp wrote.

Luedeman told the other two members of the board of public works and safety, Jim Plump and Jim Rebber, he considers the family’s gift an honor.

"We need to accept this gift to the city, and it will fall on Mayor (Matt) Nicholson and his administration, but I will personally work with them to make sure this happens," said Luedeman, whose last day as mayor was Tuesday.

Plump seconded Luedeman’s motion to accept the gift, and it passed unanimously.

"Thank you, Mr. Mellencamp," Luedeman said.

A parking meter for Mellencamp was placed near the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce several years ago, but Luedeman said nothing big has been done to honor the singer until the mural this year.

Larry McDonald, owner of This Old Guitar Music Store who used to play in a band with Mellencamp when they were younger, has wanted a Mellencamp mural on the side of the building for six years but struggled to get the idea off the ground.

What he envisioned was too big to get done on his own, he said. The brick wall had to be repaired and prepped before painting could begin, but McDonald didn’t have the funds.

He decided to talk to Jana Plump, who is a classmate of Mellencamp and is the receptionist at Seymour City Hall. She took the request to Luedeman, who presented it to the Seymour Redevelopment Commission to see if it would be willing to fund the mural at a cost of around $25,000.

The project received the city’s support, but in January 2017, a fire in a building next to This Old Guitar caused significant damage downtown and put the mural on hold.

McDonald’s building was spared any major damage, so his push for a mural continued.

Jana Plump later met Indianapolis artist Pamela Bliss, and when she found out where Plump was from, Bliss expressed interest in painting a Mellencamp mural.

She already had painted a 60-foot mural of Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller and one of Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut, both in Indianapolis. She also painted a mural in honor of the rich jazz history in Richmond and one of Abraham Lincoln in Cambridge City.

In November, she completed the Mellencamp mural, which features a 35-foot image of him leaning on a guitar, a smaller image of him wearing a Seymour FFA jacket, "I was born in a small town" lyrics from his famous "Small Town" song and a sign noting his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

At one point, Mellencamp visited Seymour to meet Bliss and paint his initials on the guitar. He’s also a well-known painter.

All along, McDonald said Mellencamp was extremely supportive of the idea of a mural, and it was McDonald requesting the mural be done, not Mellencamp.

Now, the mural is getting a lot of attention, and McDonald hopes it leads to more interest and revitalization in downtown Seymour.

Bliss said the community will see an impact from the mural, which could last up to 40 years.

"You’ll be surprised what these murals will do for the town," she said. "When you put a piece of public art somewhere, one thing it does is it’s education. Also, people appreciate the aesthetic of it, so it kind of creates a chain reaction and people start taking care of their community."

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