Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Arkadelphia - painting begins

After five intensive weeks of research and design, Arkadelphians began painting their new mural on Main Street. It was overcast with intermittent rain, but that didn't keep folks away.

There is something transformative about lending a hand to a civic project like this. Its scale, its seductive color, and its potential as a new embodiment of the town's spirit inspires people (many of whom hadn't heard about the project until they drove by and saw us painting) to want to say 'I helped' and be able to point to the very spot they painted.

We begin by blocking in large areas of color in the background, so the mural initially resembles an abstract painting made up of interlocking geometric shapes. Later, figures and other elements of the composition will be projected and painted in on top of the background colors. Community painting is also an opportunity for people not involved with the design process to learn about the project, talk about its subject, and visit with friends and fellow streetside critics.

I've always been interested in how this public activity seems to enable and encourage a kind of civic interaction that can be hard to come by these days. It used to be that residents of small town or neighborhood would have many opportunities to bump into each other - at the bank, post office, and library to name a few. But with the advent of new computer technology, we no longer need to go to these places, we can do all our errands from home - alone.

So a big mural like this presents a forum and point of reference for striking up a conversation about the weather, the economy, the government and what it all means. By making it look fun, ala Tom Sawyer, we also get a lot of people to paint and thereby make their mark into their community's unfolding story.
Original sketch by Norman Rockwell of Tom Sawyer
 laughing while others do the painting.

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