Ben’s Bells Adds a Kindness Mural at One South Church Tower

May 15, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Tucson’s tallest building, the glass tower now called One South Church, was meant to have a twin tower.

Instead, a 12-foot-tall utility plug for a second tower has decorated the Stone Avenue side of the plaza for 25 years.

Jeannette Maré took immediate notice of this concrete stump when she moved her Ben’s Bells office into the Charles O. Brown House, 40 West Broadway, a half block away and within plain sight of One South Church and its phantom twin.

As soon as Ben’s Bells’ January 20 grand opening simmered down, Maré bore down on One South Church. It took barely an ounce of her powers of persuasion to win over Buzz Isaacson, the CB Richard Ellis broker who represents One South Church.

“I was speaking with Buzz Isaacson,” said Maré, founder and executive director of Ben’s Bells. “He made it happen. The owners were very cool about it.”

And how could they not be?

What Maré proposed was for Ben’s Bells to adorn the walls of the utility plug with tile murals.

Tiles started getting installed on the plug’s north wall on May 9. The tile work should be done May 15, when grouting work starts.

Artist Gary Mackender created a series of flowing figures that are connected and draw attention away from the very large but very subtly presented word “Kindness”.

The mural was funded with grants from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, the Kresge Foundation and the P.L.A.C.E Initiative.

Spreading kindness and instilling kindness is what Ben’s Bells is all about. Mare principally does this by creating thousands of ceramic bells that are randomly scattered around the community and country and which typically bring a smile to the person who unexpectedly finds one.

Ben’s Bells has crafted more than 26,000 bells since Maré founded the organization in 2005 following the sudden death of her son, Ben. The most recent shipments delivered 500 bells to New Jersey, another 500 to Idaho and 300 to Illinois.

“I was amazed how normal I looked outside and how broken I was inside,” Maré recalled. “Any time somebody would do an act of kindness for me, I felt I had something to hold on to. I just started appreciating the gestures like I never had before. It was a lifesaver for me. I wanted to do something to honor Ben and I had to communicate this message that kindness is way more important than we realize.”

Much of the mural consists of 2½ circular tiles, each inscribed with a name from a person who signed a Ben’s Bells Kindness Contract.

“It takes some practice to be intentional about kindness,” Maré said. “The contract is about being committed to trying harder to be kind.”

So far more than 4,000 round tiles have signatories.

Maré’s quest for kindness has become mainstreamed since she started Ben’s Bells.

“It’s a testament to people’s belief in this message,” she said.

Maré eventually plans to fill all four sides of the utility plug with murals. The second wall will be decorated by Greater Tucson Leadership and “I am Tucson.”