Midtown Raleigh News

Train mural complete after year of work by volunteers

The mural by the community group BEST at South West St. will be dedicated Monday. The mural is 200 feet long, and work on the project began in the summer of 2012.
The mural by the community group BEST at South West St. will be dedicated Monday. The mural is 200 feet long, and work on the project began in the summer of 2012. Sarah Barr - sbarr@newsobserver.com

A group of community advocates and artists this week will celebrate the completion of a transportation-themed mural that hundreds of people have contributed to during the past year.

The 200-foot mural that spans the side of a Dillon Supply Co. building on South West Street features riders on a train, a symbol both of the train station planned for nearby and the way communities work together to move forward.

The mural is a project of Beautifying Emerging Spaces Together, or BEST, a group dedicated to community-driven artistic projects, which often involve repurposing vacant buildings.

On Monday, the group will hold a celebration at the mural to mark its completion, including the blowing of a stream-driven whistle. The celebration begins at 5:30 p.m.

Donna Belt, the founder of BEST, said that the goal of the group is not just to give artists a space to work but to encourage the entire community to participate.

“By expressing themselves, they can become part of a really strong, united community,” she said.

Work on the mural began in August 2012 after the group got permission from Triangle Transit, which owns the building, earlier in the year. Since then, more than 70 volunteers helped raise funds and prepare the wall for painting; 36 artists contributed to the mural, and 150 children added their handprints or outlines of their bodies to the wall.

The children’s handprints begin at one end of the brightly colored mural and gradually give way to the outlines of figures, then fully rendered figures, and eventually to a painting of a train with smiling riders, including famous faces from Raleigh.

In one frame, a woman carries a sign that says, “Come each of you with your colors and forms fresh from dreaming.” A sign on the front car of the train reads, “Together we will place tracks to a future beyond anyone’s imagination.”

Lidia Churakova, an artist who contributed to the mural, including doing all of the typography, said the experience was a great one.

“The community of artists is extremely supportive,” she said.

Angela Zappalá, an artist who painted many of the mural’s portraits, echoed Churakova. She said that one of the best parts of the experience was talking with viewers as she painted, learning about their own perceptions of the block.

“I just felt like I got to know the community,” she said.

Impact on the nonprofit

The project also has helped solidify BEST, which had existed as a loosely knit network, Belt said. Now, the group has filed as a nonprofit and set up a board.

“This mural has helped us to grow, and we’ve grown in proportion to the support and inspiration the community,” she said.

To complete the mural, the group raised about $10,000 in cash and in-kind donations, in addition to the thousands of hours in donated labor from volunteers and artists.