By Chris Blain
I can barely remember a time when soccer and art didn’t dominate my entire life. When I was 5 years old, the announcement that Columbus, Ohio, would be awarded the first Major League Soccer franchise sent my household into a full-blown soccer frenzy. I’ve been attending matches since the Columbus Crew started their inaugural season in Ohio Stadium, and have continued supporting the team throughout my entire life.
Being able to work closely with the #SaveTheCrew movement on a few visual projects has allowed me to express my passion for this club. Though I wish this work was being created under different circumstances, I am thankful for the opportunity to show how much the Crew means to me.
Earlier this year, I designed the Respect Your Roots mural that we painted on the corner of Hudson and Summit in Columbus, just a few blocks from the stadium I grew up in. I have worked on various mural and large-scale installation projects around Columbus, both for personal projects as well as for City Barbeque, where I work as the Creative Lead for the company. I love the rush of executing work on such large surfaces. Especially when the message is as important as this one.
Before I dig in to the process a little, I want to thank Geoff Sharp and his team at Sharper Impressions Painting, as well as T.J. Caufield, for helping us with materials and equipment, and to Evolved Body Art for providing us with a giant canvas to put this message on!
After being asked to head up this project, I began working on a few concepts and discussing them with our team, primarily the design powerhouse of the Save The Crew movement, John Zidar. John was the one that brought me on to the Save The Crew team, just weeks after the announcement about a possible relocation was announced. He is one of the many long-time friends I have met through a mutual love of soccer, and this project is one of many we have created together since meeting at Columbus College of Art and Design about 7 years ago.
We settled on a design, but knew it would be months until the weather was favorable enough to paint.
The weather still hadn’t given us a chance to get the mural up on the wall, and with all that time to think, I began tweaking the design. Mainly I was simplifying the message into a more bold and direct design. My initial design featured a general “Save The Crew” message. As I thought about it more, I saw an opportunity to connect this mural to another piece of #SaveTheCrew movement I was fortunate to be involved with – the Community Kit.
“Respect Your Roots” graces the back collar of the Community Kit, and it makes sense on so many levels. It’s a call to the powers that be to recognize what the city of Columbus has done for the sport of soccer in the United States. A call to all the new and vibrant fan bases in MLS to remember how we got to this point. A call to the city of Columbus to rally around the team that is responsible for a unique and amazing culture that provides a feeling of family and inclusiveness to thousands of supporters. A call from the bottom of my heart for everyone who sees this message to recognize how much this team means to me.
Including the “96” in the word “ROOTS” was a happy little accident. I had been working on some other designs, and had sketched out 96 on a post-it note. As I was sketching ideas for the mural, I just happened to glance over at the post-it and it clicked. I think it adds some visual (excitement), and puts even more importance on the fact that we were the first member of Major League Soccer back in 1996.
What felt like an especially long and extra cold winter in Ohio finally broke enough for us to get started. After the wall was cleaned and painted the most beautiful shade of gold, we assembled our team and traced out the design on the wall. Unfortunately, due to weather, we still had to wait another week to start painting.
Our team showed up before sunrise on the morning of April 21st to get started. Myself, John, Morgan, Carly, Julie and Ethan knocked the mural out in about 8 hours. It was far from a comfortable setup. We were bundled up in multiple layers of clothing and had to dodge power lines on extension ladders, but I was working with a team that has years of experience painting the amazing TIFO displays that have graced Crew Stadium for years. Having a focused and passionate group of people working makes all the difference in the final product, and I think it shows on this mural.
I couldn’t be happier with the result. Seeing our community engage with the mural makes all the hard work worth it. In these uncertain times where the fate of our beloved team hangs in the balance, I believe that this mural is crucial to showing the community that we will not stop fighting to keep The Crew in Columbus. This is the first of many murals our team will be doing over the next few months, so keep an eye out for them all over town.
Our colors are easy to spot, and they aren’t going anywhere.