Grant helps boost Blacksburg art initiative
BLACKSBURG – The murals continue to blossom across downtown Blacksburg’s walls.
Planned for several years as both an anti-graffiti campaign and a cool beautification project, the mural initiative got off the ground two summers ago and has gathered steam ever since.
A $1,200 grant received just before Christmas from the state’s Virginia is for Lovers campaign is the program’s latest achievement, said Kim Kirk, Blacksburg’s neighborhood services coordinator and one of the chief organizers of the murals. The money is going toward a new painting planned for the side of the Draper Road building that houses the She-Sha hookah lounge, Kirk said.
While smaller than some of the private support the mural project has gained, the grant marks a new coordination with groups outside the town. The Blacksburg Partnership economic development group and Montgomery County’s new regional tourism office were instrumental in connecting the mural effort with the state money, said Kirk and Hart Fowler, the editor and publisher of 16 Blocks arts magazine and the driving force behind the paintings.
“Our mural project has become a part of our downtown,” Fowler said recently, sounding both satisfied and a little surprised.
A mix of local artists, ranging from a painter who teaches at Virginia Tech to some whose earlier paintings earned them legal problems, have completed murals.
Connections have been made to Roanoke artists and inquiries have come in about expanding the project to Christiansburg and Floyd, he said.
Surveys carried out for the town indicate interest in bringing the project to other business districts around Blacksburg, and apartment complexes have asked about sponsoring art at their properties as well, Kirk said.
Kirk and Fowler created the mural program as a synthesis between the town’s anti-graffiti efforts and 16 Blocks’ championing of a regional arts scene that includes outlaw taggers as well as more-polished art professionals.
Having tried for years to scrub away or paint over graffiti, Kirk was impressed by the skill on display at a show that Fowler set up for street artists. Fowler also pointed out a study showing that taggers were less likely to leave their marks on mural-covered walls.
With Fowler connecting downtown property owners with painters and Kirk lending an array of support – plus the gravitas of the town’s official sanction – the mural project has become part of Blacksburg’s new drive to build its arts reputation.
Town spokeswoman Heather Browning recently called the murals “a real marriage between local artists, the town, and the business community.”
“What originated as a graffiti abatement program has grown into something much more personal and purpose driven,” Browning wrote in an email. “Our goal is to establish Blacksburg as a Creative Village. What better way to sell that concept than by the beautiful works of our local artists in prominent outdoor spaces downtown.”
Newly completed murals include a naturalistic depiction of regional flora and fauna on a retaining wall along Jackson Street.
Artist Michael St. Germain had earlier painted a mural around the corner on Draper Road, and the two complement one another as a vision of the watershed of Stroubles Creek, the waterway that ran through downtown Blacksburg and that now flows underground, covered by the modern town.
St. Germain’s murals were supported with $2,000 donated by Up on the Roof: Blacksburg’s Premier Young Professionals Group, an organization led by town Councilwoman Krisha Chachra and others, Fowler and Kirk said.
Other murals finished in recent months include pieces by Anthony Carson and Roanoke street painter Toobz. Both are in an alley beside the D.P. Dough eatery. Long a tagged-and-vandalized area of downtown, the alley has become a gallery of murals, with more projects on the way, Fowler said.
“I feel fortunate we’ve been able to produce these pieces…Not only have we been able to do standard pieces, we’ve challenged with the bizarre and the creative,” Fowler said.
“Recruiting artists who used to be taggers and turning them into artists for hire has been beautiful…Public art is balance.”
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