Story by Erik Potter

Students from more than two dozen student organizations fanned out across Columbia’s downtown on Thursday to take part in Decorate the District, an annual Homecoming tradition. The students paint Homecoming-themed pictures on the storefront windows of downtown shops.

This year’s Homecoming theme is Game On, Tiger Strong, which provided students with plenty of game-themed artistic inspiration.

Lauren Wilson, holding a paintbrush, stares intently at the window she's painting. Her reflection stares back at her.
Lauren Wilson works on a Hi Ho! Cherry-O themed window at Jimmy John’s on Broadway for the Little Sisters of the Gold Rose service sorority. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Little Sisters of the Gold Rose

The day started with a Spotify stream of 2000s hits and a big group of Little Sisters of the Gold Rose members. They outlined their HiHo Cherry-O painting on the front of Jimmy John’s on Broadway.

By early afternoon, Lauren Wilson, a Columbia native and junior in animal science, took her spot on a step ladder, filling in Truman holding a basket of cherries. “I liked playing this game as a kid,” she says. The object of the game is to fill your cherry basket without spilling it.

Another student asks where the other school’s tiger mascot is going in their painting. The mascot for the University of Memphis is also a tiger, which Wilson hadn’t realized before. Suddenly, she understands the significance of the two tigers in the window design.

“The one who’s spilling things is the other team’s tiger!” she says, raising her arms and tilting back her head in a look of revelation. “That’s so clever.”

Kappa Kappa Gamma, Alpha Gamma Sigma, Zeta Beta Tau

Mikki Philippe holds a paint brush in each hand, smiling in front of a half-painted storefront window.
Mikki Philippe of Kappa Kappa Gamma paints the front of Ingredient. Photo by Jenny McNamara

“I kind of like making a mess,” says Mikki Philippe, a junior Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority member from Kirkwood, Missouri. Her legs are smeared with white paint from her shorts to her canvas high tops. “It’s also fun to paint things you’re not supposed to paint on.”

Philippe is helping transform the front window of Ingredient into a giant game board of Clue. She is part of a team, along with members of Alpha Gamma Sigma and Zeta Beta Tau.

Other fraternity and sorority members are slapping paint on different storefront windows on either side of her. “I love seeing what other people do,” says the journalism major and art minor who transferred to Mizzou from the Kansas City Art Institute. “Everyone’s creativity comes out during Homecoming.”

Student Unions Programming Board

Eileen Sheeran squats down to paint the window of International Cafe.
Eileen Sheeran touches up a Barrel of Monkeys. Photo by Anh Braddock

Eileen Sheeran squats down as she fills in the yellow barrel in a Barrel of Monkeys painting on International Cafe’s front window on Ninth Street. She’s never participated in Decorate the District before. “I think it’s a really cool tradition,” says the junior in strategic communications from Smithville, Missouri. “It invites in the community.”

Sheeran paints alongside Ashley Yong, a senior in journalism from Darien, Illinois. Both are representing the Student Unions Programming Board.

Yong likes how painting a storefront introduces her to the local business owners and lets her interact with community members passing by. It pushes her sense of community beyond the boundaries of campus. “That means a lot,” she says.

Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity

Jess Martin carefully paints "M-I-Z, Z-O-U" on a storefront window.
Jess Martin letters in a little black-and-gold spirit. Photo by Jenny McNamara

Five Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity members sit, stand and hunch in a line across the front of Skylark Bookshop on Ninth Street. Their illustration is of the game Crocodile Dentist. The day is still young, but they’re making good progress. “It’s pretty relaxed — it’s fun,” says Maggie Spratt, a junior in secondary education from Ellsbury, Missouri.

“I thought it would be difficult to sketch the whole thing,” starts Jess Martin, a junior in journalism from St. Charles, Missouri.

Syndney Fann, a senior in secondary education from Manchester, Missouri, finishes the thought. “Nope. We’re out here with acrylic paint, doing it.”

Arts and Sciences Student Council

Collin Brant stands in front of his window painting and dabs more paint onto his brush.
Collin Brant runs out of room for Truman’s head on the Lizzie & Rocco’s Pet Market storefront. Photo by Anh Braddock

The storefront window of Lizzie & Rocco’s Natural Pet Market on Broadway is too short. Truman was supposed to be kicking “a spooky football,” but his body and the ball have filled the space. His head won’t fit. Collin Brant isn’t quite sure what to do.

Brant is a Houston native majoring in food science and nutrition and minoring in biology. He’s on the executive board of the Arts and Sciences Student Council, which serves and advocates for the students in MU’s largest college.

He’s hoping that by participating in Decorate the District, a few of those students will see the council’s name and seek them out the next time they have an idea or concern about the college or need help finding an academic resource.

Brant is also hoping to show a little whimsy. So when someone suggests that, instead of a ball, a headless Truman kick his own noggin, his eyes light up.

“Yes!” he says. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Catholic Student Association

Katherine Lane holds up a paper of the sketch she and her friends are following for their painting.
Katherine Lane shows off the window design for Alpine Shop. Photo by Anh Braddock

Katherine Lane liked how well her window art came out last year, so she made sure to decorate a downtown storefront again this year for the Catholic Student Association. She brought a few first-time painters with her.

“It seemed like a good time — bonding with people, painting — and it’s nice to participate in Homecoming,” says Ethan Rackers, a sophomore engineering major from Wordsville, Missouri.

“I’m Katherine’s roommate,” deadpans Elizabeth Kelley, explaining her presence. She’s a junior in health sciences from San Antonio.

The group illustrated the game Trouble on the window of Alpine Shop on Broadway. Observant viewers can find religious symbols tucked into the design. “We wanted to have fun with it,” Lane says.

Marching Mizzou

The freshmen in Marching Mizzou’s clarinet section have found a close-knit friendship among their bandmates. “I’ve made most of my friends in Marching Mizzou — really all my friends,” says Kylee Oxler, a pre-nursing major from Liberty, Missouri.

Marching Mizzou members stand in a semi-circle and discuss what to do next on their still-in-progress painting.
Marching Mizzou members Andrew Warburton (from left), Angel Thao, Kylee Oxler and Tricia Carver adorn the windows of Pickleman’s on Broadway during Decorate The District. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that they are decorating the front of Pickleman’s Broadway location with an Uno card game theme.

“The game that ruins friendships,” says Angel Thoa, a fellow freshman clarinetist and a physics major from Fairview, Missouri. “It’s that ‘Draw 4’ card. You think you can trust people with it.”

This is the first year Marching Mizzou has participated in Decorate the District, something Andrew Warbritton, a junior who plays tenor sax, is glad of.

“We should be doing it,” says Warbritton, a math and history major from Jefferson City, Missouri. “It’s one of the most iconic things about Homecoming.”