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VOL. 43 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 6, 2019

Nashville a mural hotbed despite lack of support

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Beau Stanton mural at 144 Fifth Avenue North.

We’re Music City, sure. But Nashville’s increasingly becoming a Mural City, too, with examples splayed all over town.

The most recent has sprung up in walking distance from my house, on the Eastland Avenue side of the Kroger store at 711 Gallatin.

“We knew that East Nashville was a very creative community, so we thought a mural on the outside of the building would be well received and a great addition,” said Melissa Eads, a Kroger representative.

It’s the first mural on any Kroger store, she added, and came as part of a $12 million expansion. The idea – executed by Eastside Murals – was to represent “East Nashville and fresh food.”

It’s hard to get a line on the total number of murals in the city. Theron Corse, a history professor at Tennessee State, operates the blog nashvillepublicart.com, with public art “defined as anything outdoors.” It includes a map locating various artworks.

“Off the top of my head,” Corse tells me, “I’d say being a little generous about what a mural is, there are at least 600 in Davidson County, but that could easily be low-balling it. I haven’t driven down every street and alley, and new stuff seems to appear daily.”

I’d wanted to call Nashville a “hotbed” for murals, since it seemed like a good journalistic buzzword to apply. Brian Greif, a founder of the Nashville Walls Project, thinks that might be a stretch.

And Greif knows a thing or two about the street-art scene. Nashville Walls has organized murals here by 20 international artists, he says, including the “Silo Mural” in the Nations. It has also coordinated more than 60 other murals by local artists around Nashville, and has been involved with works in other cities across this country and Canada.

“The mural scene in Nashville is growing and active, but we are way behind other cities,” he acknowledged, listing Cincinnati, Buffalo and Gainesville, Florida, as similar-size or smaller cities with more active and prolific programs.

“The issue here,” he added, “is there is very little support from the city or other art institutions for mural projects.”

If so, that makes the works all the more noteworthy.

Mary Meeuwis sees what’s happening in Nashville as part of a global street art/graffiti movement. An added feature here is that it’s created a niche tourism market, she says. So she started a company, Nashville Mural Tours, to take advantage of what she considered a unique opportunity.

“That’s not to say other cities don’t have street art tours,” she says. “But I’m not sure other cities have people waiting in line for an hour to get a picture at a mural.”

Which murals does she think rate highest among tourists and locals? She lists these:

1. The Angel Wings, in The Gulch, by Kelsey Montague

2. I Believe In Nashville, various locations, by Adrien Saporiti

3. The Draper James wall, on 12South, by Pencil & Paper Co.

4. Nashville Looks Good On You, on 12South, by Bill Caywood

5. Silo Mural, the Nations, by Guido van Helten

She also expands the theme to include the Top 5 pieces or projects that most people miss:

1. The Elliston Place garage

2. Off the Wall, Charlotte Avenue

3. The Norf Art Collective murals in the Jefferson Street corridor

4. Murals on the Cornerstone Building on Church Street, curated by the Nashville Walls Project

5. The alley between Woodland and Main in East Nashville

An East Nashville resident herself (“technically Madison, but who’s watching”), Meeuwis is also a fan of the Kroger mural, and understands the thinking behind it and other commercial renderings.

“Businesses have caught on to the power of art, and we are living in a social media culture that demands content,” she said. “Murals provide content, culture, aesthetics, atmosphere and are used for branding.”

Corse, of nashvillepublicart.com, mentioned the mural, too, calling it “a sign of something new, national chains doing murals.”

“It’s not the absolute first example, but it’s definitely unusual and probably a sign of the times,” he said. “It’s beginning to seem outdoor art is part of the cost of doing business in Nashville.”

It also adds a vibrant visual counterpart to the city’s musical fame. Nice job, artists.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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