Creator of nation’s largest public mural commissioned for Chattanooga project

Authored By Mary Barnett

One of the nation’s top mural artists will be executing a 5,000-square-foot, three-story art project in Chattanooga that could be completed as early as spring 2012.

Meg Saligman, who has painted massive murals in Philadelphia, Shreveport, Mexico City, and the nation’s largest in Omaha, will be making her first visit to Chattanooga the last week of November. She will begin the first phase of developing a site-specific work of art on a privately-owned, centrally-located downtown building.

The project is initiated and managed by Public Art Chattanooga using private dollars and community collaboration, according to Peggy Townsend, the city’s director of public art.

“We have wanted to do a mural for a long time. So what we decided was to start out with our first mural as a high quality truly excellent mural from one of the top mural artists in the country,” Townsend said.

Diversifying the city’s public art collection is also a goal. “Right now we have a lot of sculpture,” she said.

Townsend said that while the project is being made possible by a grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation, there is still a significant amount of fundraising needed. Saligman will be doing several select presentations to potential private donors during an upcoming visit here.

Unique project brings unique opportunities

Many things about this project and the work of art itself will be different than the usual way public art is selected, acquired and executed, according to Townsend.

First the location, which will be fully disclosed during Saligman’s visit, is private property. Public Art Chattanooga typically deals with placing art on city property.

“This is a private property owner who is eager and willing to partner on this project,” she said.

The potential for this new dynamic to effect future mural projects and the pursuit of a robust citywide mural arts program is great, according to Townsend. She said she hopes the success and excellence of this mural will cause other private property owners to become excited and interested in the potential for their own buildings.

PLAN TO ATTNED

What: Community Forum and public input session with Meg Saligman

When: Tuesday, Nov. 29, 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Where: Bessie Smith Cultural Center – 200 East Martin Luther King Boulevard

How Much: Free

Community input sought for mural’s narrative content

Saligman’s creative process and community approach to her work is another way this project will stand apart from other public art initiatives.

Saligman is renowned for transforming two-dimensional surfaces of existing architecture into multidimensional murals that are site specific and collaborative.

In an effort to create a totally original work of art for each city she is commissioned, the artist takes an extensive approach to gather local input, opinion, history and issues before designing the narrative that will be painted on the wall.

“We want the content of the mural to come from the community,” Saligman said.

To that end a public input forum has been scheduled at the Bessie Smith Hall on Nov. 29 for interested citizens to voice their ideas.

“You probably won’t hear us ask ‘what do you want to see in this mural?’ But you might hear us ask ‘what is meaningful to you here in Chattanooga?’ and ‘what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen in the city?'” she said.

Combining good listening skills with good visioning is paramount to Saligman’s process. On a yet to be scheduled return trip, she will present ideas and images back to the community that will combine their ideas with her own local research.

Apprenticeships for local artists to work with a master

The new project will also allow for the creation of up to three artist apprenticeships. Local mural artists will have the chance to work with and learn from one of the field’s top professionals.

Local mural artist Shaun LaRose, who is on Public Art Chattanooga’ mural committee, said he has been a fan of Saligman’s work and community process for a long time now. He even used some of her methods while developing ideas for a collaborative mural he painted on Main Street several years ago.

LaRose said he believes part of the benefit of having artwork the caliber of Saligman’s in Chattanooga is the potential it has to advance the public’s overall relationship and feelings about public art.

“This will connect people that other work just can’t. When Chattanooga residents see this mural they will see themselves. It will not be just a detached piece of art. It will reflect them and that is a big step forward,” LaRose said.