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More pier murals planned for Virginia Street

Lawrence Pierce
Organizers of the Peer to Pier project have targeted 12 columns flanking Virginia Street for the third round of Interstate 64 murals. However, the piers on the south side of Virginia, pinched between eastbound Virginia Street and an approach to the I-64 onramp (foreground), have little room for artists to work safely.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hours after artists who painted murals on Interstate 64 bridge columns last summer were honored by City Council, organizers were making plans for a third round of the Peer to Pier project.

This year they're targeting the 12 piers along Virginia Street -- six on each side of the road -- beneath I-64 near Pennsylvania Avenue.

"It's time to get a round started for 2013," Lori Brannon told members of the Strong Neighborhood Task Force on Wednesday.

Brannon, a neighborhood planner in the city's Planning Department, convinced task force members to start the pier project two years ago after seeing similar murals in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.

In 2011, artists painted murals on 10 piers beneath I-64 along Washington Street, five on each side of the street. Last summer they painted another 10 piers on the north side of Kanawha Boulevard.

While the task force hopes to tackle all the cross streets from Washington to the river, Virginia Street rose to the top this year.

"One reason Virginia Street is good," City Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis said, "Virginia Street directs you to the Civic Center, so it's going to get a lot of visibility.

"One thing that impresses me is you need to stop to appreciate the murals," she said. "On Washington Street, I saw a class group walk around each of the piers and look at them."

Fundraising for this year is already underway, Brannon said. Davis has secured a promise of $10,000 of city funds, which would need City Council approval, she said.

"I talked to [FestivALL Director] Larry Groce. They're going to ask the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation for funding again. That gets us to $20,000." FestivALL organizers provided $10,000 for the murals in each of the first two years as part of their support of public art.

The mural project will cost more this year, Brannon said, because there are two more piers than in past years. That adds $4,000 to the budget. And the task force needs at least $3,000 to pay for scaffolding rental and clear coating the finished murals.

Assistant Mayor Rod Blackstone said he's got some ideas on how to raise the missing $7,000.

"One is the West Virginia sesquicentennial. We can tie this to the sesquicentennial: June 20 is one day before FestivALL starts.

"I've also talked to people at the state level," he said. "If we do this project at the state level as a West Virginia project, we stand a good chance of getting funding from the state. If we make this a statewide initiative, try to engage artists across the state, we could get up to $30,000.

"And there is a private enterprise who has expressed interest in helping out," Blackstone said. "It looks optimistic."

Painting of some of the piers could cause safety problems because the columns stand close to traffic lanes, Brannon said. Similar problems last summer forced the city's Traffic Engineering Department to devise a safety plan involving warning signs and orange cones along the Boulevard.

"On the north side [of Virginia Street], piece of cake -- lots of room on both sides," she said.

"On the south side there's not a lot of space between the piers and the berm. So we would be looking at some kind of traffic control. I'm not saying it's not doable, but there are some pretty major hoops to jump through."

In addition, stains running down some of the columns indicate stormwater leakage from an expansion joint that runs above the columns, she said. Several artists complained last summer that runoff from expansion joints caused problems.

A grassy area at the west end of project zone could provide additional opportunities, Brannon said.

"We'd have to work with the Division of Highways, but there's room for some interpretive signage. Right now we don't have anything that explains what the project is all about."

With 20 murals completed and 12 more planned, Peer to Pier is reaching a good size, said Joe Denault, a West Side city councilman.

"We're starting to get to a critical mass where you can print brochures and attract visitors."

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


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