If you walk or drive past the Corner in the next few weeks, you may be surprised to see people suspended from the top floor of the Graduate hotel. These aren’t aerialists or stunt doubles for a local action movie; they’re muralists painting the latest installation of the Charlottesville Mural Project. Using a swing stage, the artists will apply colors and abstract shapes to the west- and south-facing facades of the building. When finished, the mural will be six stories tall, featuring a design by Philadelphia-based artist David Guinn, and text from UVA professor and former poet laureate of the United States Rita Dove.
A collaboration with the New City Arts Initiative, the project began in February 2015, when Guinn and Dove worked together to select a poem and develop a design. “I wanted to express the emotion of Rita Dove’s poem, ‘Testimonial,’ with its beautiful exuberance and optimism, its enthusiasm for and wonder at life,” says Guinn. “In this spirit, I tried to create a space for the viewer’s mind to enter and connect with those emotions.”
The work also marks a new phase for the Charlottesville Mural Project—Ross McDermott, who has led CMP since 2011, will hand over the reins in mid-May to the project’s new director, Greg Kelly.
Kelly co-founded CMP with McDermott in 2011 as an outgrowth of The Bridge PAI, where he was executive director at the time. Inspired by the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia, the pair hoped to impact the visual landscape of Charlottesville and engage community members in the creation of public art. Kelly moved to Portland after the project found its footing, and Ross embraced the singular role of the project’s director.
During his time on the West Coast, Kelly reflected on Charlottesville and its art scene. “Three years ago, I needed to get clear of my identity with The Bridge and let it all go,” he says. Time passed and he pursued his own art projects in Oregon while maintaining connections in Virginia.
“This is cheesy, but I came back [to Charlottesville] last May for The Bridge’s Revel, and the word ‘home’ came into my mind,” says Kelly. “I definitely wanted to be back in this area of the country.”
While Kelly was deciding to move back to Charlottesville, McDermott made the decision to devote more time to his business, Surface Below Media, and begin a search for a new CMP director.
To locate the best candidate, McDermott and a hiring committee reviewed applications earlier this year, narrowing the pool to four finalists, and ultimately selecting Kelly for the job. “It felt serendipitous…like a great way to come back and re-engage with the arts community,” says Kelly.
This time around, that engagement will come on his own terms. “The best part of my eight years with The Bridge was the beginning, when I wasn’t wrapped up in the politics…wasn’t thinking about what the art scene wanted or needed. It was just a group of us, coming up with ideas and doing stuff,” says Kelly. “That’s what I love, and that’s the beauty of CMP. It’s not bound to anything but creative energy and possibility.”
Embracing these qualities, Kelly already has another mural in mind, and is keeping his eyes open for additional blank walls. “I believe in Ross and in what he’s done with the project,” says Kelly. “His standards are at a level that I can really respect.” The current and future director share a similar design aesthetic and both are confident in the two-murals-per-year model that the project embraced from the beginning.
One of Kelly’s primary goals is instead to cultivate resources to pay participating artists. “I would like for CMP to set a standard in the way we take care of the artists: pay them well and respect them as professionals,” says Kelly. He also hopes to nurture outreach opportunities by engaging youth and other community groups to collaborate on mural designs. “When the community owns the work, they’re part of the process and feel like this is part of our neighborhood,” says Kelly. “I care about that and I really love that process.”
What’s your favorite mural in Charlottesville?
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Drive-by art: CMP locations
Artists: David Guinn and Rita Dove
Graduate, 1309 W. Main St.
Blue Ridge Mountains
Artists: Duncan Robertson and Hurray for the Riff Raff
5391 Three Notch’d Rd., Crozet
Artists: CHS art students
Charlottesville High School, 1400 Melbourne Rd.
Artists: Southwood Community youth volunteers
387 Hickory St.
Artist: Christy Baker
1700 Allied St.
Artists: Michael Powers, Charles Peale, Jeff Hill and Mark Quigg
West Market St.
Rivanna River Watershed
Artist: Kaki Dimock
354 First St. S.
I Love Charlottesville A Lot
Artist: Rick Montoya
Fitzgerald’s Tires, 408 Monticello Rd.
Artists: Buford art students, UVA student Mary Kate Bailey (design) and UVA Student Art Council,
Buford Middle School, 1000 Cherry Ave.
Artist: Matt Pamer
513 W. Main St.
Artist: St. Anne’s-Belfield students
St. Anne’s-Belfield School, Faulconer Dr.
Artist: Avery Lawrence
Ix Art Park, 522 Second St. SE
Artist: Chicho Lorenzo
Johnson Elementary School, 1645 Cherry Ave.