Community unites to create colorful mural on historic Woolworth Building

June 2, 2023 /

This Memorial Day weekend the Kern community celebrated the culmination of a community effort to plan and paint a mural on the sides of Bakersfield’s historic Woolworth building. 

Residents, high school students from the Bakersfield Museum of Art’s (BMOA) ArtWorks program, Jennifer Williams-Cordova, a local artist, and the current owners of Woolworth from the Moneywise Wealth Management investment company teamed up to create the mural.

The colorful mural covers wood panels placed over the windows of the building to protect the structure during construction. The various benefits of the mural include community pride and respect which hopefully will deter vandalism or graffiti taggings. 

“This is a legacy project for us. This is a love letter to Bakersfield,” claimed Emily Waite.  

Waite, who is one of Woolworth’s owners affiliated with Moneywise, is both a fan of music and Bakersfield. She has known about the large and talented community in town, and she is motivated to support the growing art scene.

“It’s been challenging in a really wonderful way,” Waite said.

One of those major challenges is finding affordable ways to ensure the public has access to the renovated building. Waite described plans for the multipurpose space that would expand the luncheonette into a place locals can host events, become a vendor, or enjoy music shows. 

“There have been some immersive art exhibits, there have been some music concerts and the mural is just an extension of that,” Waite said.

Jennifer Williams-Cordova is a beloved local artist who Waite has lightheartedly named Bakersfield’s mural queen. She also became acquainted with BMOA through programming that allows her to guest lecture during various weeks. Through networking, Williams-Cordova and the other groups planned and painted the mural. 

“[The Woolworth owners] wanted it to be very community based, and incorporate as many different artists as possible,” Williams-Cordova explained.

Williams-Cordova pointed out that this project was different than the rest.

“I wouldn’t consider this my mural- it’s everyone’s mural…We started with getting the students’ ideas and letting them help pick the color palette. We really wanted to get their input in the process as much as possible. I helped consolidate that, so it’s one cohesive idea,” Williams-Cordova stated.

Family and community were invited to join the BMOA, Williams-Cordova, and the Woolworth renovation team to join the painting process over the holiday weekend.

Maria Ornelas, the Education & Family Programs Coordinator for the museum, wanted this opportunity to be fun for the ArtWorks students, who were currently in the midst of preparing for their galley exhibition which is now on display.

“Something I didn’t plan for is how much people care for the Woolworth building, and part of it is because I was never super involved,” Ornelas said. “I didn’t get to have lunch there, I just knew of the building.”

The historic structure is known for its one-of-a-kind luncheonette. Over the years it has been passed between owners and filled with antiques, even housing other vendors.  

Students from the BMOA ArtWorks program started their class not knowing that they would have the opportunity to work alongside a professional artist and make a lasting impact on a historic building. Ornelas described how each of the fifteen students presented ideas to their class, they chose colors, and all unanimously decided to focus on organic shapes.

“I gave them time, and they came up with a few sketches as a group team because, at the end of the day, this is going to be a group effort,” Ornelas stated. 

ArtWorks students are expected to work towards the final exhibit, so Ornelas and Williams-Cordova did not make participation in the mural mandatory. Despite everyone’s busy schedules, most of the students participated and there was a crowd of volunteers.

Elizabeth Aceves, an upperclassman with the ArtWorks class, gave Kern Sol a written statement regarding the knowledge she gained during the mural creation process:

“Being a part of bringing this mural from concept to finished work was unlike any experience I had before, as I have never worked on this large scale before. The best part was working with such bright and welcoming colors, as well as the organic shapes that left room for the artists to relax and care less about intricate details or small mistakes. I found that cleaning up the lines was incredibly satisfying and rewarding. All in all, I’m thankful for the experience and opportunity to bring more art to this community.”

Ornelas mentioned that students in their junior or senior year, who are interested in the ArtWorks program, can reach out directly to the museum’s email or connect with your school’s art instructors.