There's no question public art can be an essential tool to create a sense of community — and fun — in a city or town. And murals, where blank walls are transformed into vibrant canvasses, offer a special way to celebrate a town's history and promise.
Painters created the "Enjoy the Little Things" mural during the
Soiree on State festival in Cayce. Photo: City of Cayce.
"Art can be transformative and the impact of murals has value beyond the art on the walls. It is a form of expression that gives voice to what is important in our community. It creates a sense of place," Cayce Mayor Elise Partin said.
Throughout South Carolina, mural designs show everything from wildlife to city symbols, vistas to historic gems. In Summerville, for example, walls of downtown businesses feature murals that depict a giant Mason jar and a red, white and blue peace sign, while the image of two American redstart birds brighten the wall of a town parking garage.
"Summerville is trying to add images that are relatable to the community. We're the birthplace of sweet tea and we're a patriotic town in a large military influenced area. I think when people come here they feel that sense of community," said Molly Willard, director of development for Summerville DREAM, the downtown revitalization organization.
In Cayce, the city is in the midst of implementing an arts district around State Street, the area that was the original downtown. Public art is seen as essential to that vision. Recently, a mural titled "Enjoy the Little Things" was created by a local artist and painted on the side of a State Street convenience store. The artist contacted the property owner, received permission for the mural and recruited local students and the general public to help paint it during the city's art festival, Soiree on State.
Cayce is now holding a call for artists, as the city looks to add more murals to the arts district. The proposals from the artists will be reviewed by city staff, the selection committee and the participating property owners, City Manager Tracy Hegler said.
"The aim of the mural project is to bring art to public spaces by transforming empty walls into energetic and engaging spaces for the community," Partin said.
The city is seeking artists with a "strong point of view and the ability to create complex, engaging designs," Hegler said. Artists can use Cayce's history, environment and signature events for inspiration, but city leaders want the final designs to be more than a literal representation of an object or event.
The city has worked directly with the property owners where the murals will be painted, and those owners have the final say on the chosen artwork. The city has budgeted $20,000 from hospitality tax money for the projects, Hegler said.
"We have a vision of creating an Arts District on State and Frink streets and murals are part of that vision," Partin said. "The city has been actively engaged in revitalizing State Street, specifically through 'previtalization' efforts. The 'previtalization' process, appropriately described as 'the art of what's possible,' has already led to the redevelopment of several derelict and underutilized properties into new and thriving businesses and has led to the formation of an active artist group and increased artists offerings. The goal of the Call for Artists is to provide public art that helps to make State Street a destination location in the city and brings more foot traffic into the area which will positively impact the success of our businesses."
Artists work on a mural at the intersection of Broadway Street and
Fourth Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. Photo: City of Myrtle Beach.
In Myrtle Beach, the City Council has adopted a new master plan for the downtown area that creates an arts and innovation district. The private sector has also formed a group to push for more murals in the downtown Myrtle Beach area, with two new murals completed this summer, and four more are planned.
The city has asked its Community Appearance Board to get involved with the regulation of murals, said Carol Coleman, the planning director for the City of Myrtle Beach.
"It's public art, so anywhere you have a blank wall, it helps if you put something attractive on it. What's attractive is subjective, so that's where our Community Appearance Board comes in. They weigh in on things like the color, the subject, the size," Coleman said.
The city has also put money into maintaining the murals that are already there, including work being done to freshen up the whale mural at the back of the city's convention center.
"You need to maintain murals, or they could turn into visual clutter. Our goal is not to create visual clutter, it's to create something that's attractive and gives a new view to somewhere you might not have noticed before," Coleman said.
The "Whaling Wall" mural at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, dating to 1993,
received a refresh in 2018. Photos: City of Myrtle Beach.
In Summerville, downtown area murals tie into the town's history and feel, Willard said. The bird mural on the parking garage, for example, is a stop on a bird walking tour that features sculptures nestled in downtown Summerville. The Mason jar painted on the rear of the chamber of commerce building was done by a local artist and is a nod to the town's claim as the birthplace of sweet tea.
The town also has a handful of new murals including one that displays a hand displaying a peace sign with the flag wrapped around the forearm. At the other end of the building is a community-themed mural, with the work done by six local artists.
"Murals are making a resurgence," Willard said. "We've identified some additional wall spaces where we as an organization would like to see something happen."
And, once the murals are complete, they're sure to attract visitors looking for a splash of color or an eye-catching design. And they're sharing the artwork with others.
"Murals are successful if they draw people to a location and bring them joy. Successful murals create a sense of place and community and make the area walkable," Cayce's Mayor Partin said. "Already people are taking their picture in front of the first mural, as can be seen on Instagram and other social media."