Sudden splashes of color have begun to emerge on bare walls in downtown Brunswick.
Murals have popped up in two locations so far — the Study on Union on Union Street and a law office on Richmond Street. The first mural proclaims a love for all things Brunswick, while the second is a two-story-high statement about the meaning of justice.
Both murals, though, depict images of hope. And there’s more to come.
The murals are the beginning of an initiative called the Brunswick Mural Project, led by Glynn Visual Arts. The first goal of the project is to install six murals in downtown Brunswick in six months.
“I don’t know that we’ll have them all done in six months, but they’re definitely underway,” said Susan Ryles, executive director of Glynn Visual Arts. “We’ll be close, I think, which is a pretty audacious goal, really.”
The Brunswick Mural Project was born through the planning process for the Community of Hope initiative being led by Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority. The Community of Hope project’s main purpose is to create a resource center in the historic Risley buildings in downtown Brunswick, adjacent to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, that will be a multilayered support resource for local families.
Subcommittees within the Community of Hope project have been formed to focus on the many goals of the initiative. Those goals include creating more early education opportunities, job training programs, access to healthy food options and to transportation — all in one location. An arts subcommittee, spearheaded by Glynn Visual Arts, aims to incorporate arts programming throughout the various elements of the Community of Hope project.
“One of the goals of Community of Hope is to integrate arts into the programming that’s going to be provided over there eventually,” Ryles said. “But in the meantime, part of Community of Hope’s vision is to rebuild and recreate community, particularly in the Risley area but all over downtown.”
The mural project offers a way to get a jump start on that goal.
Murals are accessible to all, Ryles said. The artwork is physically incorporated into the community. It’s visible on business walls and along roads that community members walk along and drive down daily.
“You don’t have to go to a gallery. You don’t have to go to a museum,” Ryles said. “It’s right here for everybody to see.”
When the Community of Hope arts subcommittee began to ponder the potential mural project, discussions had already begun among some local artists and business owners to create murals downtown. A coordinated effort then began to bring everyone together for the Brunswick Mural Project. The first six local artists and mural locations have been chosen.
The mural at Study on Union — a wide-stretching painting that is framed by live oak trees and depicts the picturesque Sidney Lanier bridge at sunset— will also include historic photos of the area.
Megan Torello, the artist, said murals are a powerful art form that are often unexpected and can spark conversations and connections among viewers.
“It’s really important to add color to this sense of community that’s really just growing so much right now,” Torello said. “Just to be a part of that is exciting.”
Sheri Cuttino, who co-owns the Study on Union with her husband, said downtown Brunswick offers a variety of assets that many seem to be unaware of. She hopes the murals will change the view some have of downtown.
“We wanted something that celebrated the downtown Brunswick area, because we like it so much,” she said.
Local attorneys Rita Spalding and Denise Esserman had seen murals in other cities and felt the exterior walls of their office offered an ideal spot for the art form.
“It’s to enhance downtown Brunswick, to beautify the city,” Spalding said.
The law office’s mural, designed by Jeff LeMieux, an art professor at the College of Coastal Georgia, conveys layers of significant meaning that ultimately speak to a commitment to justice.
The two-story mural represents Themis, the Greek muse of justice. The design references Alphonse Mucha, a Czech painter who worked in Paris in the early 1900s — the same time the building in Brunswick was constructed.
The mural, which LeMieux completed during the college’s recent week-long spring break, includes several attributes of modern justice.
“It’s a contemporary dialogue today — ‘What is justice?' — and I think we have some mistaken ideas about justice,” LeMieux said. “And so the symbols in this are very important to me.”
Themis holds a pair of weighing scales in the painting to symbolize the balance of seeking truth in justice. A sword represents the need for enforcement. And the blindfold covering Themis’s eyes refers to the importance of blind justice.
“Every art object is somebody’s idea about good,” LeMieux said. “I don’t care what it is. And so we learn to see what that is, interpret it, understand it, and then the beauty is we get to decide whether we agree or disagree.”
Art initiates dialogue, he said, and LeMieux hopes the mural project will spark important conversations in Brunswick.
“This is a great community, just ready for an art explosion,” he said.
The next phase of the Brunswick Mural Project, Ryles said, is to create a process in which artists can apply to create murals by submitting design ideas.
Ryles said the mural project organizers hope to involve more members of the community in the creation of the murals during the second phase of the project. One mural will be designed for the Risley campus and will be painted on a giant canvas — in order to abide by historic preservation guidelines that do not allow painting on original brick.
Community meetings will be organized that will allow local residents to play a role in the creation of the second phase of murals.
“It gives them pride, and it gives them ownership in their community and establishes a sense of place that the community can identify with,” Ryles said. “A lot of the imagery also, I think, will be determined by the community in some of those designs and some of those later murals.”
The project requires collaboration with community members, building owners and artists, Ryles said. Everyone has a voice in deciding what sort of art will be showcased on the community’s walls.
“Part of that is history and pride in community, local place-making — like Megan’s is about Brunswick. It’s about ‘We love Brunswick,’” Ryles said. “Why do we love Brunswick? It’s all on that mural. It’s the beautiful sunsets. It’s the gorgeous oak trees. It’s the history.”
LeMieux’s mural on justice provides a completely different take on love for the community, Ryles said.
“I think that’s an image of hope, and this is an image of hope,” she said. “The imagery that we will be depicting in the murals will be imagery of hope, and that’s how it ties in with the Community of Hope.”
Different artists and community members will find their own ways to represent “hope,” she said.
“It leaves us really beautifully wide open for how to interpret what hope is,” Ryles said.
Those with questions or a desire to donate to support the project can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The project is also seeking business sponsors. An open house event for the project is planned for First Friday in May.