The Impact of Murals

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  • Topic: Public art, Art, Arts
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The impact of murals: the process and the paintings
Jeanine Guidry, 10 July 2011, Richmond, VA
Ron Chew, in his excellent essay “ Community-based arts organizations: a new center of gravity” mentions the interesting, and widespread, acknowledgement that traditional European art forms like ballet, opera, and the symphony can no longer be considered the sole windows into a community’s artistic soul and the sole measure of this country’s creativity (Chew, 2009, p.1-2). A segment of arts organizations – once viewed as less attractive distant cousins to the “big boys” – has emerged at the center of this more expansive vision of the arts. These typically small and midsized arts organizations, often community-based in their mission or practice, provide a canvas for the works of emerging artists and are bustling laboratories of experimentation and innovation. The work of these organizations moves people to understand that art can be about more than engaging in an aesthetic experience. Art can also comfort in times of trouble, heal personal wounds, inspire community participation, and foster a more compassionate society. That last sentence is what inspired us to start Arts in the Alley in 2008.

Situation Analysis and Research Questions
Arts in the Alley is a Richmond, Va.-based initiative that brings together volunteers of diverse backgrounds to revitalize run-down inner-city alleys by cleaning the area and painting murals, thereby turning the alleyways into colorful outdoor art galleries. Goals of the project are making the neighborhoods better places to live, work and play; impacting the lives of volunteers and especially at-risk teenage volunteers; and increasing community engagement among current Arts in the Alley volunteers. Up to this point we have grasped the results of Arts in the Alley solely through observation and experiential learning – in order to plan for the future as well as better communicate with potential funders, volunteers, and building owners, we need to find out what the proven expected results will be. In this paper I will start with a definition of some important terms, provide a brief historical background of murals and mural painting, provide a brief outline of public arts projects and murals in particular, continue with a literature review exploring and examining what others have found the effects of public arts projects to be, and conclude with potential next steps. The research questions:

1. To what extent does an Arts in the Alley project affect the community in which it takes place? 2. To what extent does an Arts in the Alley project affect the life of a volunteer who participates in the project? 3. To what extent does an Arts in the Alley project affect the life of the artists/designers who (help) design, and often paint, the murals for the project?

Definition of terms
Jack Becker, founder and artistic director of FORECAST Public Artworks, defines public art as “work created by artists for places accessible to and used by the public” (Becker, 2004, p.5), and as such, Arts in the Alley is a public arts project. However, Seana Lowe gives a specific definition in her doctoral thesis for a subcategory that applies to Arts in the Alley: Community art is a form of public art that is characterized by its experiential and inclusive nature. With community art, artists work with non-artists in grassroots settings, creating art in the public interest (Lowe, 2000, p.364). Most literature, though, refers to public art and does not further break down into categories like community art, so for the sake of this literature review we will primarily research public art projects. Joshua Guetzkow, in a literary review on how the arts impact communities presented at Princeton University, emphasizes the importance of definitions when trying to determine the impact of public arts projects on the community (Guetzkow, 2002, p.1). We have already addressed the definition of...
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