Minnesota-based visual artist Franklin Ugochukwu wants to take Moorhead’s inner beauty and put it on the outside.
Just last year, Franklin helped lead the band of artists and volunteers who created six murals at the Churches United homeless shelter.
“It was a very big community project. We made the designs of the surroundings and paintings so that people could see themselves in the art, and identify hopeful messages. The residents helped, too, and whenever we were there, the kids would come around and we’d give them paint brushes and they’d put their own print on [the murals]. Together we made it more homey and joyful and pleasant,” Franklin said.
That community experience inspired his next project—creating more murals around town.
“Seeing in real time how people interacted and found joy with the remarked on them—I would like to do so much more of that around Moorhead and Fargo,” Franklin said.
As a practicing portrait painter who teaches oil painting classes at the Plains Art Museum, doing large outdoor murals may seem like a big change from his traditional work, but Franklin sees murals as a community portrait.
“What I try for in my portraits is to show the beauty of the person inside—seeing the resilience, the self-love, the growth, or the positive in the person that maybe the ones surrounding them don’t see or appreciate. It’s about the emotion and their story. I want to tell the story of our community,” he said.
To get the ball rolling, Franklin applied for a grant from the Cass-Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation and was surprised to become the recipient of the group’s 100th grant in March of 2023, marking $100,000 given by the local giving group since their creation in August of 2016. The $1,000 gift will allow him to purchase the materials to get the project started, such as outdoor paint supplies, brushes, and ladders.
The specific locations for his proposed murals have not yet been determined, as Franklin is in talks with several local building owners to explore options. He hopes to be able to create partnerships where the art can be reflective of the Moorhead community.
“I really want the art to be a mirror, just like all my paintings. I’ve been thinking about doing art with different people. Men, women, children—portraits of people together. Happy, bright, colorful. I want to convey that emotion and tell the story of our community. That beauty, being happy in your identity, in your culture. That appreciation of life. I want people to feel seen. To drive by and think, ‘Oh! This is beautiful. This makes me feel warm inside.’”
Franklin’s work can be purchased at Unglued in Fargo, or on his online shop franklinugochukwuarts.carrd.co You can also check out his social media
The Cass-Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a nonprofit. Applications can be made at awesomefoundation.org/en/ chapters/cassclay