The hands of 86 students from Hilliard Heritage, Memorial and Weaver middle schools helped create a mural on the outside of the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center, 5425 Center St.

The 8-foot by 8-foot mural was painted on two panels by students and a resident artist earlier this year at the Innovative Learning Hub, 3859 Main St., part of the Hilliard City Schools' Innovation Campus.

The panels were installed earlier this month.

Amanda Schaeffer, an art and ecology teacher at the Innovative Learning Hub, said she pitched the idea of an outdoor mural at the center to Becky Rebeck, an art teacher at the district's Britton-Norwich Learning Campus and a member of Hilliard's Public Arts Commission.

"I thought it should look more like an arts building," Schaeffer said.

"It was a great opportunity for the schools to collaborate with the arts commission and come up with a mural the community can enjoy seeing," said Rebeck, who is also a board member of the Hilliard Arts Council.

The Civic and Cultural Arts Center is the first permanent home for the Hilliard Arts Council, which was founded in 1975.

Until the center opened in 2017, the arts council had to use other venues for its community performances.

"It was a little dumpy looking when we moved in," said Robin Brenneman, arts council executive director.

The organization leases the city-owned building for $1 a year.

It had been used for various industrial purposes until the city agreed to the lease, Brenneman said.

The arts council has since invested about $20,000 to upgrade the facility.

"We are thrilled to have the mural," Brenneman said.

Hilliard's public-arts commission approved the placement of the mural, which became the first completed public mural approved under the auspices of the commission that was established in 2018.

Schaeffer received a "Teach Arts Ohio" grant from the Ohio Arts Council for $6,000 that provided for two artists -- one last fall and one this spring -- to work with students at the Innovative Learning Hub.

Schaeffer's students helped artist Mandi Caskey, known as "Miss Birdy," create the mural using Memorial Middle School eighth-grader Kylie Cook as a model.

Cook was chosen to model by staffers at the Innovative Learning Hub after submitting an essay with other students. She said she was thrilled to participate in the project.

"Throughout the experience of making the mural, I learned how art can bring people together," she said. "The mural is about community and community means family.

"While we may not all be biologically related, our community is our family. We work to raise each other up."

Schaeffer said it was "sheer luck" the panels were completed March 12, the day before Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all Ohio schools closed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The pandemic also caused the cancellation of a student art exhibit at the Cultural Arts Center and the unveiling of the mural; only a small number gathered later to install the panels.

Work is continuing on another public art project -- a 15-foot by 35-foot work that muralist Curtis Goldstein of Upper Arlington is painting on the back brick wall at Otie's Tavern and Grill, 5344 Center St., facing the Center Street Market.

The city paid Goldstein $10,000 for the project, which is expected to be completed by October, according to David Ball, Hilliard's director of communications.