Downtown Brookings director paints storefront windows

 Courtesy photo: Ashley Biggar gives some finishing strokes to a heart-filled mural on the window at Cook’s Kitchen in downtown Brookings. She puts a “World of Hearts” in each of the window murals she paints downtown and at other places around Brookings. In a few weeks, she will paint an outside mural on a downtown business – “Stay tuned” to find out which one.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Ashley Biggar previously worked at the Swiftel Center in Brookings, not at the Community Cultural Center.

BROOKINGS – Any pedestrian or motorist traveling through downtown Brookings is likely to notice storefront windows sporting colorful murals, often with an appropriate theme – and plenty of hearts. 

Case in point Wooden Legs Brewing Company, with its stems of grain, hearts and a reminder to “Drink local … It’s always beer o’clock.”

The muralist is Ashley Biggar, who works for the Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce as director of Downtown Brookings; prior to that she worked at Brookings’ Swiftel Center for just more than two years.

A native of Wisconsin, she moved to Brookings with her parents about 20 years ago, when she was an eighth-grader. She graduated from Brookings High School and went on to South Dakota State University, graduating in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in consumer affairs.  

“At first I was an art major,” Biggar said. Laughing, she added, “and then I discovered I liked people. No, I love art, but I simply wanted something that was versatile; and consumer affairs was that.”

Her present job involves “a lot of community development as far as looking at downtown and looking at how it can bring more people to downtown; connecting the businesses to visitors and the businesses to the community and the businesses to each other.”

“I do a lot of event planning,” she explained. “I used to volunteer with Downtown at Sundown. And the really cool thing is that it was part of the CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) and under the Chamber. And my role picks up that event.” She’s been director for a little over a year.

 “I’m a painter by trade. I love to paint, whatever that is,” Biggar said. “I also teach painting classes. I’ve done that for different organizations at fundraisers.” She has also done face paintings during Downtown at Sundown evenings.

Painting a ‘World of Hearts’

These days Biggar is doing “window murals.” Like face paintings, they are “not necessarily permanent. They can be removed.”

She sees the murals as “a way to get some art out there.” And she does it all for free.

“Glass is pretty unique in that it’s easy to scrape things off of it,” the artist said. “It works real slick to go on the window and it comes off pretty easy. We want to make sure that people can get it off.”

Some of her murals can be seen: the Swiftel Center, Kool Beans, Perry Electric, the Pheasant, Wooden Legs, Pints & Quarts, Avera Behavioral Health (“That one was huge.”), Cook’s Kitchen, and Wink’s Jewelry.

She noted that a window can take “anywhere from four to eight hours, it just depends on the piece.” Because of the detail involved, smaller paintings may take more time than larger ones.

”As far as a theme goes, I always incorporate the ‘World of Hearts’ image,” Biggar said. “This woman in Fargo (North Dakota) decided to put hearts on her windows and started a Facebook page. It was really a way to share positivity with passersby in this time of need when we can’t be in contact with each other.”

She wants to “spread the love and positivity, which is what this whole thing is about.” 

However, she also seeks input from the business as to “a certain theme or colors or whatever that you want me to look into. They usually give me a little tidbit; so I try to incorporate what their business is about into the piece of art. Then I’ll usually sketch up a design and get to work.”

On the lighter side, Biggar noted that, in the time of COVID-19 confinement, painting the murals gives her “the opportunity to get out of my house and not eat a bag of candy each night.”

Get the busiest person

In addition to her for-free painting, Biggar is a dedicated volunteer for her community: she’s the Chamber’s representative on the Public Arts Commission, a member of the Planning Commission, and president of the board of directors of the Brookings Regional Humane Society.

“Volunteering and being active is just something I’ve always made a priority,” she said. “I always say, if you love the community you live in, you’re going to work for it. If you want something done, you always ask the busiest person in the room. It works out well. I’m very determined.”

Add to that action-packed agenda her own business, “Creative Impressions,” which she has had for 15 years, since she was 19. She taught some classes – “Paints and Pints” – at Wooden Legs and a painting class for United Way last November.

Finally, she’s a wife and mom: Ashley and her husband, Brandon Biggar, have two sons, ages 7 and 13. “He encourages and supports me,” she said. 

“Our whole community is so supportive and caring, so this was an opportunity for me to give back,” she said of her latest venture. “I just want to thank our community.

“In this time (of the pandemic), it’s been so inspirational to watch; my talent is art, but I’ve seen so many people making face masks or these businesses pivoting and doing these creative things. They inspired me to try to give something back.  

“What a cool community we get to live in.”

Add to the so much that she’s already done, another project for her community. In a few weeks, Biggar will paint an outside mural on a downtown business; however, she is not disclosing which one. For now, all she says is “Stay tuned.”

Contact John Kubal at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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