EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part I of a 3-part series within the "Rising from Rust" project looking at how public art can help revitalize a city.
Walking down the path of the Richland B&O Trail, only one shade envelops the world around you: green.
On a muggy August day after rainfall, the air on the trail hangs heavy and the unmistakable smell of nature saturates the senses. The sound of your breath and the crackle of pavement under your shoes are the only things you hear for at least half a mile down the trail from North Lake Park, until the hum of a car over a bridge pierces the silence at 4th Street.
And then you see it – the unnatural pop of color out of the corner of your eye, a stark contrast to the emerald background in which it is immersed. Walk a little further under the bridge, and you soon find yourself standing before a behemoth canvas of paint -- yellows and blues and oranges colliding.
A smattering of graffiti tags accompany the art under the bridge, but mostly leave the painting untouched, save for one modestly hidden phrase: “Love More.”
The mural, titled “6:07 A.M.” was created by local artist Mark Calloway in 2016 as a partnership with Mankind Murals Inc. and Friends of North Lake Park. The goal of the mural was to brighten the B&O trail and entice more visitors.
This and other murals have been popping up across Mansfield ever since the creation of the nonprofit Mankind Murals Inc. back in 2015. A colorful revitalization of the city was exactly what creator Luke Beekman envisioned.
“I think Mansfield is really ripe for this opportunity right now to be in this stage of renewal and growth,” Beekman said. “It takes a lot of hard work to get where we’re going, and there are a lot of different players and people making it happen. The success of something like murals is in the ability to be collaborative and be open to the possibilities.”
A filmmaker by trade, Beekman serves as more of a project director than a muralist. He helps coordinate and envision a project - he sees the opportunity. He has the vision. Then he works to get the artists hired or brings together the community for a project.
“I’m able to step back and capture it from different angles as it’s happening, and to me that’s really gratifying because at the end of the day I get to help direct a piece of real life with artists and to actually have a finished project at the end that can be appreciated by a lot of people.”
Beekman was inspired to introduce the idea of public art in Mansfield while studying abroad during his education at the University of Miami in Florida. While in Prague, he discovered a free art wall – where anyone is welcome to contribute to the art – that was first created after the murder of iconic singer/songwriter John Lennon.
At the time of Lennon’s death in 1980, the Czech Republic was still under communist regime. Lennon’s lyrics of peace and freedom inspired a number of graffiti pieces featuring his lyrics and image on what came to be known as the “Lennon Wall.” Communist police continuously attempted to whitewash the wall, but by the next day it was again full of art. Eventually, authorities gave up, and the Lennon Wall still stands.
“In that circumstance, art was the driving factor and one of the things that helped change the culture,” Beekman said. “I think a town like Mansfield has a use for something like that.”
In Mansfield’s case, an infusion of public art could change the culture of the city by enhancing and highlighting the culture that already exists. It could create a renewed sense of adventure and possibility not just for visitors, but for longtime residents.
“I hope there’s going to be a very visible impression that art is positively impacting our city, and the impression of the city, and gives people an opportunity to explore and learn whether they’re from here or not,” Beekman said.