When a group of local artists hatched an idea for a transportation-themed mural next to the site of Raleigh’s future train station, they knew it would be an ambitious undertaking.
The group had installed murals on four storefronts around downtown, but nowhere near the size and scope of its boldest frontier yet: a block-long industrial building in the Warehouse District.
Six months later, a blank wall on West Street has come to life with colorful images of handprints and smiling faces on a train. The group, Beautifying Emerging Spaces Together, known as BEST, is applying for official nonprofit status and electing a board, signifying a level of permanence that its members did not expect to achieve so quickly.
“We grew through this,” said Donna Belt, an artist and BEST organizer. “In the beginning, it was just a few people doing all the work. Now we have people who are excellent in their fields coming forward to say, ‘I can do this.’ ”
The mural takes its inspiration from the train station planned nearby. Local and state officials have assembled more than $60 million to make track improvements and build the station, which will replace the cramped, 50-year-old Amtrak depot on Cabarrus Street. The goal is to begin service in 2016.
With the mural, artists wanted to add some visual flair to an industrial block and create a lively, welcoming backdrop to greet visitors as they come and go from the nearby station. BEST got permission from Triangle Transit, which owns the Dillon building and is helping to coordinate Raleigh’s rail plans.
The mural conveys a sense of the movement of a community. Handprints at one end give way to people waiting on a train platform. At the far end, a train heads toward green, rolling North Carolina countryside and the coast.
Patrick Shanahan and Jason Craighead came up with the vision. Bill Beatty further developed the train and landscape. Ben Covington was also a leader of the design and construction team that used a series of mounted panels to display the images. Brick was treated with filler to smooth the painting surface.
“It’s showing a community living and growing together,” Beatty said.
With the first phase nearly complete, artists will take a break for the winter and return in the spring to tackle the second and final phase, which includes painting a sun, cityscape and depiction of the Wright brothers’ plane. More definition will be added to the outlines of bodies along the wall.
For previous projects, Belt and members of BEST used their own money. This time, BEST held a fundraiser and Kickstarter campaign to raise about $12,000 for the installation.
BEST looks for vacant storefronts or buildings that can be jazzed up by local artists – until a business comes in to revitalize the space. Even if the art goes away when a new business comes in, it’s still a worthwhile way to add creativity and color to downtown, supporters say.
A public dedication ceremony will be held after the mural is completed, and artists hope to be considering their next group of projects by that point. The goal is four to six per year, though Belt said the Dillon project would almost certainly hold the record for the largest.