Paint the Town
Frieda Kahlo mural at 660 Fannin Street by Kimberly Brown
There’s color aplenty on the walls in Beaumont
Of late the rate has begun to accumulate
Be it Calder or Fannin or Orleans or Main
These splashes of color cause us to regain
Some sense of motion, vibrance, perhaps even pity
Lost to an abundance of gray in the city.
A parking lot is nowhere particular,
…and any brick wall that happens to loom blank and forlorn to one side is just so bloody depressing we relegate it to the corner of our minds we reserve for things we’d prefer to forget, like a frightening surgical procedure, a painful breakup, or how to factor algebra equations. No one ever gives directions by saying, “it’s just across the street from that empty lot that makes you think of crime and existentialism.”
There’s something magic about paint. Like spells cast by a sorcerer’s apprentice, paint can merely gloss over the underlying problems of dirty castles or boring locales, or it can transform something inanimate into something alive, with presence and personality. That’s the magic of murals.
Murals turn “spaces” into “destinations”. What was once an utterly forgettable blank wall is now a place people go out of their way to visit. The wall gains an identity, one which by the universal power of visual art is shared by people of all race, creed or origin. Foot traffic in the area increases. If vandalism was a problem before, it decreases. A sense of community begins to grow. Over time a mural can even acquire a history and become part of the visual and cultural tradition of the area. It’s no wonder that people with a concern for their city would see murals as an integral part of an improvement plan.
The Beaumont CVB has been pursuing murals and other public art projects for some time. They’ve been involved in all but a couple of private murals in town and weren’t directly involved with the city’s electrical box painting initiative. Their most recent work partnered with the Art Studio, Inc. to find artists and negotiate wall space in downtown Beaumont. Funded out of the CVB’s own budget, the project saw several murals to completion, with one additional painting pending approval.
Executive Director Dean Conwell says the CVB’s goal is to “increase the quality of life in Beaumont and inspire other organizations in the city.”
The CVB is operating on the premise that murals and public art are much less expensive than billboards – which must be renewed every year – and much more engaging to boot. Conwell hopes to complete between three and five murals a year, and invites interested property owners, particularly in downtown, to contact the CVB.
Now that the CVB’s first mural project is winding down, the Southeast Texas Arts Council (SETAC) is joining the initiative. Experienced with grant writing to agencies such as the Texas Commission on the Arts, SETAC is capable of securing a great deal of external funding. Working in conjunction with the Downtown Beaumont Cultural Arts District and the Beaumont CVB, SETAC will pursue negotiations with local business owners and artists seeking to complete at least half a dozen more murals within the year.