It started with a hashtag: #PutAMuralHere.
Jedidiah Gant – known for his blog turned social media powerhouse, New Raleigh – had been noticing huge blank canvases all over downtown: boring, imposing building facades devoid of windows or color.
To see if anyone else saw potential art projects, Gant started posting photos to New Raleigh’s Twitter and Facebook pages. The off-white monolith of the city’s One Exchange Plaza building. The historic bricks alongside Hargett Street’s Landmark Tavern building. The side of the shuttered Our Place porn shop.
“It was obvious that art on buildings can grab attention and make a layer of culture,” Gant said.
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Raleigh has had wall murals for decades, such as the Coca-Cola sign on Oakwood’s Side Street Cafe. And the city’s newest landmarks – the Convention Center’s Shimmer Wall and the science museum’s globe – are effectively murals in three dimensions.
To help facilitate more murals, Gant is forming the Raleigh Murals Project. He’s partnering with artist JT Moore and Sean Kernick, who’s started the new magazine Oak City Hustle.
Raleigh Murals Project likely won’t commission its own art, but it plans to bring local artists together with interested building owners, helping seek grants and other sources to pay the artists. And it will operate a website cataloging all of the city’s murals.
“Where it will go, we don’t know,” Gant said.
As the mural effort takes shape, several are already in the works. Within weeks, artist Luke Buchanan will begin one on the side of the new Death and Taxes restaurant on Salisbury Street. James Goodnight, who’s restoring the building, said the mural will cover a “big ugly wall.” The design involves a fire escape and maze.
“It can add a little bit of beauty to downtown,” Goodnight said.
A few block south, Shaw University is partnering with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and Raleigh Arts Commission to paint the concrete walls along Blount Street at the pedestrian overpass. No artist or design has been selected yet, but the school hopes to unveil the mural next year for its 150th anniversary.
On the west end of downtown, Boulted Bread recently finished a mural on its South Street building. The colorful design represents a quilt square in a nod to North Carolina culture.
“We didn’t want to do something like our logo,” owner Sam Kirkpatrick said. “We wanted to make it something for everybody.”
Kirkpatrick said he’s already seen people stopping to take pictures or comment on the mural. Art on building walls brings out strong opinions, as the comments on the #PutAMuralHere hashtag showed.
With each possible mural site Gant posted, many voiced support for the idea. But a few said they’d like to keep the walls blank.
“The brick on a lot of these buildings you’re calling for murals on adds character,” one woman wrote. “Let’s not have so many murals that it’s cliché and becomes trashy.”
While Raleigh closely controls exterior building signs, city rules are wide open for murals outside historic districts.
“As long as they don’t run afoul of signage regulations, there really isn’t any permitting needed at all,” said Grant Meacci, who heads the city’s Urban Design Center.
In addition to paving the way for new art, Raleigh Murals Project hopes to help restore older murals, such as the faded butterflies across from Marbles Kids Museum. Sign painter Marlon Ferguson did the mural in 1992 as a city parking deck rose next door.
“There’s something depressing about a blank wall,” Ferguson told The News & Observer at the time.