During the last visit to Athens in early December 2015, Todd Bressi, Public Art Master Plan Consultant with the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission, hosted a conversation centered around murals in urban and suburban environments. We met at Creature Comforts, so amidst the sound of brewing and the sweet malt smell, a small group of mural artists and advocates discussed the nature of the wall painting in Athens. All agreed that murals in any town from the smallest of isolated communities to big urban sprawl, provides pride, ownership, identity and a general sense of being or belonging. Murals are a fast way to establish these qualities as they use existing infrastructure, a building’s blank wall. In general, the group was encouraged by the new murals going up around Athens but also disconcerted as to the small numbers of painted walls. Discussed were ways to build a movement of mural making here such as through educational and community gatherings that may partner organizations, private businesses and civic groups. Tony Mallon, a Professor in the school of Social Work at UGA and Jill Helme of AthFest Educate, contributed to the conversation of creating public arts such as murals as therapeutic for the area and it’s population and possible here in Athens. The definition of Athens, or the personality of Athens was at the center of this conversation in that artists: David Hale, Dan Smith and Broderick Flanagan all spoke of the unifying nature of murals, the visibility of the town and it’s tourism appeal and the general healthy nature of art as a symbol of the local government’s support of Athens artistic nature.
Yet, how do we get there and why are we not there yet? Why isn’t downtown Athens filled with murals? What can we accomplish to start using this form of public art as a way to express creative Athens? Some ideas were to encourage businesses to invest in the arts with the help of the ACC government through funding, a better understanding of the sign ordinances and other zoning laws. Further suggestions were a mural map of Athens, an Urban Art Walk or tour, a leasing of a wall and a rotating program of murals that were temporary. Urban planning is something to consider in that Athens is made up of pocket neighborhoods with a downtown. Downtown murals could be incentive for other places around Athens to invest in beautification through murals and painted walls. Recognition of the artist as a working professional should be considered in this idea and be shown by funding and support. This is important as there is much talent here who do not sell their work in town but in other cities at galleries, commissions, on line and more.
While are a number of murals around, St. Edio, Normal Town, Little Kings, Pineridge, there is so much more that can be accomplished.
Respectfully submitted by Didi Dunphy, ACAC