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Every morning, Helen Donlan rides her recumbent tricycle to one of Lincoln's community gardens.

On her way, the 71-year-old stops at Union Plaza along Antelope Valley Parkway to meditate. She also takes photographs of the scenery, especially when the sun rises.

"Every day, I find it inspiring and breathtaking down there," Donlan said. "My phone’s just full of pictures of that park: the flowers, the plants, the sculptures, the rocks, the reflections, the light."

Donlan's photos have formed the basis of a painting, "Antelope Valley Union Plaza Park," one of 13 pieces of artwork that will be hung from a Lincoln grain elevator along Salt Creek Roadway.

While the banners won't be displayed until later this month, smaller versions were shown at a reveal party at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Innovation Campus on Friday.

Elevate, a project sponsored by local ecommerce firm Spreetail that is dedicated to uplifting community art, led the efforts to install local artists' work on banners to be hung on the silos.

"What we wanted to do was find a place that had high traffic and wasn't particularly beautiful to begin with that we could essentially use to create a positive message toward the community in that area," said Kelsey Hearnen, member of the Community Impact team for the project.

Hearnen, Spreetail's head of vendor marketplace partnerships, said the idea originated after meeting with Lori Seibel, president of the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln.

Positive messaging was the biggest takeaway from their meeting, and Elevate wanted to implement that in the Lincoln community.

The project received online submissions from artists, with the team narrowing it to 13. Hearnen said Elevate received a variety of art, including paintings and photographs.

With some help from Pixel Bakery, a local advertising agency, Elevate was able to create a cohesive work from the 13 pieces of art, which will be printed on weatherproof canvas banners.

"We just tried to figure out what the best way to do that was and the most cost-effective way. And the way that would last the longest, but wasn't entirely permanent, so that we could kind of refresh these on a yearly basis, every two years, three years, whatever that might be," Hearnen said.

Donlan, who has lived in Nebraska on and off since she was 19, is originally from the East Coast. Despite drawing since a young age, she said she didn't have much time for art while raising her children.

After drawing mainly illustrations and commercial art, Donlan first started painting Nebraska landscapes with pastels about 20 years ago.

"I did a lot of camping and canoeing out here, and I started falling in love with the landscape," she said. "I've always been very nature-oriented, so this has become a real love for me, and Nebraska, Midwestern landscapes and waterways have become my focus of the art I do,  because that’s what I love doing the most."

Donlan is involved in other projects across the city, including having two of her pieces selected as ornaments for the state Capitol's official holiday tree.

“I’m kind of really excited about this being kind of a new, fresh time for me to be doing what I’ve really always wanted to do all my life," she said. "So, it's very exciting for me. And at this age, it's really energizing."

Hearnen said she feels the art will instill a sense of pride in the Lincoln community, especially since all of the artists are local.

"Anything you can do to just spread positive messaging, as well as beautify a piece of the community that's going to be there regardless, I think it sends a positive message and a positive vibe in the community that surrounds it," she said.

For Donlan, projects such as these let people — especially the younger generation — know just how important the arts are to the community.

"When I was growing up, we didn't have these kind of projects, we didn't have supplies available. Art was considered something that's just an easy little class that you get," she said. "I think young people want this kind of creativity and need these outlets."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or cspilinek@journalstar.com.

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