Since the fall of 2000, the ORBI Mural Team has been working with mural organizers in and around the Ohio River Valley. The Team members, Marilyn Knisley, Cindy Yeager, Geoff Schenkel and Terry Fortkamp met with the ORBI Project Director in the spring of 2004 and decided share their experience and resources on the ORBI Web site. This page is the result of our work together and in communities around our region.
This page has three sections, click on any of the links below to jump to that section:
- Lessons We Have Learned — things to keep in mind as you create your mural project based on our experence in the Mural Team program
Suggestions for Planning Your Community Mural — specific advice on planning, development, materials, working with artists & building owners
Internet Mural Resources — links to useful information for mural creators
If you are considering creating a community mural in the ORBI region, click the Email ORBI button to contact the ORBI Project Director. The ORBI Mural Team can help you get the kind of hands-on help you need to get started.
Lessons We Have Learned
- Murals are not just paint on a wall. A mural can be a powerful tool to bring your community together. Murals tell the story of your community to everyone, not just tourists, not just your neighbors.
- Poorly planned mural projects that do not have strong local support often produce needless conflict and tension in your community.
- Murals are not just large pictures about local history. In fact, some of the most powerful designs in our region aren’t pictures at all, they are paintings of traditional quilt squares.
- Look for local money and resources first, before you look for outside grant funding. Basing your project on local resources also insures that you won’t try to create a project that is too big for your ability to carry it out.
- Conservation of a mural is as much dependent on long term community support as it is on technical fixes to preserve paint on the wall. If no one cares enough to maintain the mural in ten years, it won’t matter how good your paint was or whether you used a sealer on the wall.
Suggestions for Planning Your Community Mural
These suggestions come from Mural Team members Cindy Yeager and Marilyn Knisley –
Where do you start?
Most people who want to create a mural know they need a wall, an artist, a subject and money. So that is where they usually start.
The best place to start is by answering the question: What is the purpose of our mural? Understanding what you expect from your mural, will shape how you answer all the other questions you will face, such as where the mural will go, what the mural will depict, who will pay for its construction, what type of artists you are looking for to paint it, whether or not the community will support and preserve it.
Creating a mural is a process that accomplishes your goals. If you think of the final product, the mural, as a tool in this process of reaching your goals, you will begin to realize that it is in fact the process and not the mural itself that achieves your goals.
Avoid the Perfect Storm
People in your community will have expectations for their mural, and the mural may produce multiple results. Some results may not be what you intended, but knowing, at the beginning, who expects what from your mural project is essential to maintaining community support throughout the long process of creating the mural. Like a ship heading out to sea, you need a vision of where you are going or you may find yourselves “in over your head,” “up a creek without a paddle,” or, if you are very unlucky, in the middle of “the perfect storm.” Does everyone in your community have to be involved in the process? No. But it helps to have fair representation from all of the players. If you will be soliciting businesses for funding support, you will be wise to seek the counsel of a business representative or two. If business people are initiating the process, having members of the community who are non-business people–members of the local historical society, members of the local fraternal or veteran organization, school teachers and students, homemakers, local artists or visionaries, ministers, etc—is helpful to creating a sense of community involvement and indeed building a base of financial support.
It is important to get the community at large involved for many reasons. The more people feel ownership of the mural the more they will be able to focus on the longer term goals of the process. If people are involved in some way, whether in decision-making, wall preparation, painting, or fund-raising they feel as though it is their mural. When this happens you have people promoting the project and events connected to the project to others, the wall is less like to be damaged by vandals, and it is more likely the mural will be maintained for years to come.
Get People Involved
How do you create public interest in a mural project? One certain way is to identify places in the community which people frequent and to offer an opportunity for public feedback on the idea. Suggestions including hanging large long pieces of freezer paper on the wall of the library or at local businesses and providing a few pens for sketching of mural ideas or topics. Newspaper articles are fine; posters can be helpful, but the best way to connect with the majority of community members in small towns is to stir up word of mouth interest by using a variety of activities to get people talking about what they would like to see. At some point, you should plan a public meeting to clarify what the mural is and is not about—uninformed gossip can create problems and hard feelings if not dealt with directly. Public meetings are also useful communication tools because everyone can share the specific information in a simple and concise way.
Identifying the mural’s purpose at the beginning will also help you determine what people or organizations are crucial to the process. For example, if the project’s purpose is to bring in tourism dollars then you will have to involve local tourism businesses and agencies. If your purpose is to beautify the park, then the parks and recreation department should have representation. If the focus is to be community history, you will need the historical society.
Leadership and Decision-Making
Create a committee that will take leadership responsibility for your project for the long haul. Murals simply do not happen quickly. Getting the community to support the idea is the first step. The committee will then need to find a wall that is the right size and in good condition to hold paint and that can be worked on safely. The process of deciding on subject matter, design and choosing an artist should be a continuing dialog among the project leadership, the community and the person or people who will end up painting the mural. There is no easy formula for this process. Doing research and finding out how other communities have created their murals is an important part of creating your own mural process. While you should plan your financial support throughout the process, you should be aware that until you have clear commitment of local funding, a design and specific plans for painting and choosing an artist, you will not be in a position to successfully apply for grant funding for your project.
Getting organized early and identifying roles help avoid problems with responsibility and decision-making. For example, the parks department may want a mural in the park. If they are the organization in charge, it may be difficult to put a mural in the downtown business district. If an agency or organization that already exists is crucial to your project, you may have to shape your project so that you can meet both of your sets of goals using your mural. Clearly, you will have to work with the needs and goals of individuals and organizations that own the building or buildings where you will be painting the mural. Your contract with the artist or artists must clearly spell out who owns the rights to the mural itself and the rights to photograph or reproduce the image of the mural. Clear agreements and contracts are vital to making sure that everyone involved in the project is fully aware of everyone else’s expectations and goals throughout the process.
As you plan your project, you will need to make a number of decisions. How much community involvement do you want in design and painting? This involvement could include children in the process using local history lessons, story sharing, drawing representations of the mural theme, or even putting some paint on the wall with the artist. It takes a special kind of artist to incorporate times and opportunities for kids to participate in this process, and not informing your artist of your expectations from the beginning is unfair to him/her and ultimately hurts your credibility with future mural artists. Solicit resumes from artists after placing ads in appropriate publications and on the Internet. The Ohio Arts Council and the Arts Section of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History can be a good resources for available artists and the soliciation process. The state arts agencies have a resource guides to local and regional arts councils that may also provide useful information. You can fund links to the Ohio and West Virginia state arts agencies on the Links page.
Here are some specific recommendations on paints from Mural Team member Geoff Schenkel:
I like to use Sherwin Williams Metalatex 100% acrylic paint. I start with Black, White, Safety Yellow, Safety Red, Safety Blue, Liberty Blue, and Safety Green. I mix my colors from these and use artist acrylics for additional tinting. Working in this way I feel very comfortable, fully believing that I have an almost unlimited range of possible colors.
For detailed technical information on this product see this site . . . http://www.sherwin.com/apps/PickPros/display.asp?type=data&id=34
In my experience Metalatex is a durable choice that has proven to be a more affordable option for smaller, community based mural projects. Its biggest drawback is that within 3-5 years you see significant fading of the colors.
NOVA COLOR ARTISTS’ ACRYLIC PAINT is 100% acrylic option with a high light fastness quality, although it is more expensive. Go to http://www.novacolorpaint.com/ to order paint or to receive a free color chart. You can also call, write, fax or email to: NOVA COLOR ARTISTS’ ACRYLIC PAINT ARTEX MANUFACTURING COMPANY, 5894 Blackwelder Street, Culver City, CA 90232-7304 Open Monday – Friday 8:30-5:00 Pacific Time Phone (310) 204-6900 • Fax (310) 838-2094. I used Nova Color Paints when working on a mural project in San Francisco. I liked working with it and the colors stay richer longer. It is much more expensive than Metalatex but is supposed to be more economical over the long run than many other mural paints.
Planning for Grant Funding
State arts agencies, and the Ohio River Border Initiative, can be a useful sources of supplemental funding for your project, but no project is ever completed with only grant funding. Local financial support is essential because all sources of outside grant funding require some kind of local matching commitment. Remember also that mural projects, like most art projects, require good solid planning and fiscal responsibility. Find a good treasurer for your organization, one with a good standing in your community. Open a bank account in your committee’s name, establish yourself as a non-profit organization or find an established local agency or non-profit that will act as your fiscal agent. Be aware that the timing of most grant programs will require that you have all of your planning done at least several months in advance. You may have to put off applying for grant funds for up to a year because of grant deadlines. Do you research into grant funding opportunities as early in your project as you can to insure that you don’t miss deadlines.
Internet Mural Resources
Here are some resources that Mural Team member Terry Fortkamp has found, along with her comments:
I’ve discovered Metro Murals of Portland, Oregon at www.metromurals.org. This site is very valuable in many ways. All that I was going to write – my knowledge of materials as a sign painter/muralist is described well in this site.
I spoke with Bruce Westfall ( www.brucewestfall.com ), a sign painter/artist from Glouster who went to a Mural Symposium in Canada in 2001. These Canadian Symposiums happen yearly and the 2002 one is described in a site called Mural Routes at www.muralroutes.com . There is a brief synopsis of the workshops and an artists roundtable discussion.
Mural maintenance is discussed by a woman and man from the Canadian Conservation Institute and the Aquarius Coatings Co. and they suggest two web sites: www.goldenpaints.com and www.novacolorpaint.com. One workshop describes a coating called Armaglaze – a seemless coating which when painted over murals makes it easy to clean off dirt and is UV resistant and helps colors stay bright…Aquarius Coatiing Co: 1-800-661-2298.
At another commercial art supply site – RexArt (www.rexart.com) I read more about why not to paint oil on brick. It’s the alkaline nature of concrete that destroys oil products. New concrete surfaces aren’t free of moisture for 2 to 3 months and the site describes how to test a building’s paint to see if the surface will hold up (a scratch test). At this site they suggest the use of 100% acrylic for brick describing the two different Liquitex types of acrylic paint suitable for murals: professional grade medium viscosity concentrated artist’s color and professional high viscosity artist”s color. This site also suggests that one can use opaque extender or gel medium on underpainting to extend paint. I also want to put in here my concern for using the latex enamels like the kind I used to paint the Glouster mural..for the sake of cost…Some colors really do not hold up! The colors are fading at an alarming rate. Also in regards to coating the mural…the Metro Mural site suggests protecting the murals with a coating of Golden MSA Varnish (MSA means Mineral Spirits acrylic) – It screens ultra violet light to reduce fading.
Contracts with artists were part of the workshops and samples of contracts written by Paul Sanderson are available through Mural Routes book: Model Agreements for Visual Artists: A Guide To Contracts in the Visual Arts. (CARO 1982-$35) http://www.muralroutes.com or email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Rural Action in Trimble, Ohio has published an excellent handbook of community murals. Here is a link to more information on the handbook and how to order it. http://www.ruralaction.org/arts_toolbox.html
Sources of information about mural artists:
www.ohioonlinearts.org to locate mural artists
www.theguild.com to locate mural artists
www.robertdaffordmurals.com Web site of mural artist Robert Dafford
www.ericgrohemurals.com Web site of mural artist Eric Grohe
www.barnartist.com Web site of mural artist Scott Hagan
Sources on creating murals:
www.whatkidscando.org/studentwork/muralintro.html for getting kids involved
www.theantidrug.com/pdfs/muralguide.pdf for steps involved in creating murals
http://www.processedworld.com (Issue 2001 – Wiggle Mural) good project summary
www.lamurals.org/index.html for tech support
Some sites about mural projects: