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Peer to Pier Mural artists sought

Lawrence Pierce
Artists are being sought to paint murals on 10 columns along Kanawha Boulevard beneath Interstate 64 this summer in the second Peer to Pier project. Artists will receive $2,000 each, but they must buy their own paint. Last summer, artists painted piers on both sides of Washington Street, including this one by Charly Hamilton.
Lawrence Pierce Artists can get paid $2,000 for painting murals on these columns.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- How would you like to paint graffiti on an Interstate bridge pier -- with the blessing of the city and get paid $2,000?

Ten lucky people got the chance to do that last year, and another 10 will do it this summer.

The sponsors don't call it graffiti, of course. It's public art: the Peer to Pier Mural project. You can see last year's efforts as you cross the Elk River along Washington Street on your way to the West Side.

The first Peer to Pier project proved so successful that Charleston's Strong Neighborhoods Task Force -- made up of City Council members, city staff members and volunteers -- decided to do it again.

They targeted the 10 piers beside the westbound lanes of Kanawha Boulevard - two each under each ramp, six under the main lanes of Interstate 64.

Lori Brannon, a neighborhood planner with the city's Planning Department, got the idea for pier murals after seeing similar projects in other cities. Task Force members adopted the idea and raised $23,000 from several sources, including FestivALL.

Brannon is back this year to coordinate, along with Naomi Bays, the public art chairman of FestivALL.

Temporary public art has been a part of FestivALL for years, Bays said. You might recall the sidewalk chalk artist, the resin art in trees, children's art along Fife Street or the drive-through art show on Quarrier Street.

"In 2010, we decided to encourage not just temporary but permanent art, so a little bit of FestivALL will be left over for people to enjoy," Bays said.

In addition to helping support Peer to Pier '11 with a $10,000 donation, FestivALL sponsored the colorful sculptural bike racks that are scattered around downtown.

FestivALL will once again donate $10,000 toward the pier murals, this time with grant money from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, Bays said.

The city of Charleston will supply the rest of the money this year after two funding sources -- the Sustainable Kanawha Valley Initiative ($10,000) and West Side Main Street ($3,000) -- dropped out, Brannon said.

And the task force decided to narrow the project theme, she said.

"It worked real well last year, but we wanted to adjust the theme a bit because we're on the Boulevard. We wanted to relate it a little more to the river -- how the river shaped Charleston -- from the transportation side of the river, when salt barges came through, to how we use it today for recreation.

Just as last year, murals must wrap completely around the four-foot-diameter cylindrical columns, and extend from two feet to 12 feet off the ground.

Artists have until May 4 to submit proposals to Brannon. More information is available at the public art participation link on the city's website, cityofcharleston.org.

A task force committee will choose the 10 winners after a blind review. While previous winners are free to apply again, jurors may give preference to new artists in case of close decisions, Brannon said. "They want to see artists with some connection to Charleston. Preference will be given to local artists.

"We're hoping to work with at least one artist to get [their mural] done during FestivALL, but we're asking all artists to have a presence during FestivALL. We'd like the public to have a chance to participate."

Artists will be encouraged to try to link up with rising student artists from area schools - hence the "peer" part of the project name. Given the vacation timing of FestivALL, though, that didn't work as well as hoped last year.

"But some artists knew people who they recruited," Brannon said. "Jeff Pierson, who did one of the columns, had a lot of people come by and help. I think that helps the community embrace the project, and we want to encourage that."

With the success of last year's project, the city of Wheeling asked state highway engineers about doing something similar there. That prompted the DOH to adopt policies for public art, Brannon said.

"They were pleased with how it went, so when other requests started coming in, they decided to put a policy in place."

For more information about the mural project, call Lori Brannon at 304-348-8105.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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