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Mosaic artist wants help with mural

  • Updated

Shards of glass, bits of broken tile and other discards will be used to transform a wall near the University of Arizona campus into a kindness-themed mural.

Ben's Bells and the Tucson Unified School District's Community Transition Programs are seeking participants to work with Isaiah Zagar, award-winning Philadelphia mosaic artist, on the five-day project across from the university's Main Gate.

The mosaic mural, expected to be completed by Dec. 13, is the first of what Jeannette Maré-Packard hopes will be a "kindness corridor" of murals stretching along University Boulevard and continuing on Fourth Avenue and in Downtown Tucson.

This won't be Zagar's first Arizona art piece. He was one of 12 artists chosen for a 2006-2008 public art project at the Phoenix Convention Center. His three colorful murals - depicting desert animals, cacti and petroglyphs - adorn the entrance of one of the buildings.

Maré-Packard, founder of the nonprofit Ben's Bells, discovered Zagar's art while in Philadelphia for work. She and a friend were taking a walking tour of the city when they wandered into Zagar's "Magic Garden."

"We spent hours in there because I couldn't tear myself away," said Maré-Packard. "It was really, really beautiful work and it really moved me like art hasn't moved me before."

The "garden," now a Philadelphia landmark and incorporated nonprofit, was started on a vacant lot by Zagar in 1994. The artist spent 14 years excavating tunnels and grottos and sculpting multilayered walls covered top to bottom with broken pottery and glass, tiles and found objects.

After meeting the artist, Maré-Packard worked with him in his studio for two days before returning to Tucson.

Ben's Bells is partnering on the mural with the TUSD program for adult students with disabilities, with support from the charitable Marshall Foundation, which owns the building that will be decorated.

A combination of grant money, workshop fees and donations - in-kind and monetary - from the public will pay for the project.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at 573-4191 or

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