ARTIFICATION of Springfield
A mural project is set to bring beauty to downtown
“It used to be scary down this way.”
Barry Friedman, owner of the Alamo, 115 N. Fifth St., is reminiscing about conditions in downtown Springfield prior to the 2005 opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, situated on Sixth Street near his establishment. “Things are so much better than they used to be. Now the job is to make it look nice – instead of just some empty alley nobody cares about and then a parking lot.”
When Downtown Springfield, Inc. contacted Friedman about using the Alamo’s north wall as the inaugural site for its long-range mural project, he jumped at the chance. “Right now it’s just a plain wall,” he says. “I’m hoping a mural will attract people to the Alamo. Even though the museum’s right here, people just seem to go there and leave. I’m hoping this will attract them to maybe cross the street.”
The mural on Friedman’s wall will be the first of four such works proposed as part of DSI’s “Artification” project. “Public art has been very, very well-documented as an asset to any community,” says the organization’s promotion and events director, Ann Frescura. “Having a project such as this underway can only make the downtown experience bigger, better and more meaningful for those who live here as well as those who visit here.”
The idea of bringing murals to downtown has been around for several years, but after multiple false starts, this time all systems appear to be “go.” One key to the project’s current success has been the decision to use local artists, rather than bringing talent in from elsewhere. “Years ago we had looked into working with an outside group called the Walldogs, but that didn’t pan out due to scheduling conflicts, budget and other factors,” explains Frescura. “From that point on we decided it would be better to focus on our local artisan resources like Michael Mayosky, Troy Freeman and others here in the community we haven’t even yet tapped into.”
Mayosky has spent much of the last two decades making art here in town, and did his first local mural work for Penny Lane Gifts, 2901 S. MacArthur. “It would never have come to pass that I would be painting these [downtown] murals if not for Penny Lane,” he says. Also essential to Mayosky’s participation in the mural project is, of all places, the Springfield Fit Club. “I broke my arm on a mural last year and they have given me a personal trainer and put me in the Dynamics Program to rebuild me into a mural-painting climbing machine,” he says. “I would not have been able to get back on my feet to do these giant walls without their help.”
The first downtown mural will, appropriately albeit predictably, depict Abraham Lincoln, a subject which Mayosky originally had no interest in. “I said I’d never paint Lincoln because I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as the ‘Lincoln artist,’” he recalls. This all changed in 2009, when he was first approached by Frescura about doing a mural for Lincoln’s bicentennial. Never one to take half measures, Mayosky made a complete about-face from his previous Lincoln moratorium, instead challenging himself to paint Abe 111 times. “Who would do that?” he asks with a rhetorical chuckle. “I’m not obsessed with Lincoln but I wanted the challenge of painting one subject that many times. This mural will be the 109th and 110 and 111 will be murals as well.” Interestingly, his 100th Lincoln is actually made up of 100 smaller Lincolns, done in honor of the Springfield Art Association’s 100th year. “It’s made up of 100 canvases, little ones, and when you put them all together they make up a Lincoln. I’m hoping the SAA will be able to sell each one individually to raise money.”
Raising money, of course, is a primary concern for the Artification project. “Everybody’s behind this,” says Tony Comerio, chair of the Image and Design Council. “Everybody. We had an event at the Alamo last week and people lit up when they talked about this, they wanted more details, people got excited and went outside and looked at the building to try and picture how it will look.” Unfortunately, this kind of enthusiasm can only go so far without the dollars to back it up. “The truth is, it has been very difficult to raise funds for this project,” Comerio admits. “We’re still trying to get the word out and hoping that people will step up, even on a corporate level, and take some ownership of it.” The cost of each mural amounts to about $10,000, a figure which includes equipment and artist fees as well as materials. “I don’t think we’re even halfway to our goal for this first mural,” he says.
While Frescura confirms that the project is still several thousand dollars short of its budget goal for the initial mural, she points out that members of the local community are starting to come forward to help the project. “We have had a donation of scaffolding from Michael von Behren Builder which we are truly, truly grateful for,” she says, and goes on to mention that the project’s single most pressing need at this point is for a lift, to allow Mayosky maneuverability as he paints on the large wall. “We are trying to secure it either as a contribution or at a discount of some sort,” she says. “Whoever donates it will have a banner on-site saying ‘lift donated by…’” Donations can be made via PayPal at the DSI website at http://www.downtownspringfield.org/pages/artification.aspx or by calling 217-544-1723.
Comerio is optimistic about the long-term prospects of the project. “Once the first one is complete and people see what can happen and see the benefit of that, the hope is that we will be able to quickly roll that into some of these other locations that we’ve identified and get some other murals created,” he says. “There’s really no limit to where we can have these done and the ways they can improve our community.”
Mayosky’s take is somewhat more cynical, if tongue-in-cheek. “Here’s what’ll probably happen,” he says with a grim chuckle, “just because it’s my luck. I’ll paint this mural for free, which is basically what I’m used to, I suppose. Then once they see it, everybody else is gonna want one and all the artists after me will get paid.” His tone is weary but not defeated, and should not be interpreted as a swipe at the dedicated people at DSI and Image & Design. “Ann Frescura is the reason I did not give up on this entire project,” Mayosky stresses. “She is my biggest fan, and my close friend in the battles of the arts.”
Another muralist involved in the Artification project is Troy Freeman, who created an exciting seven-minute promotional video in which he creates compelling and specific virtual before-and-after examples of potential mural sites which really drive home just how much of a difference this project can make to the local landscape “For me, mural painting isn’t my main source of income, but it’s my passion. I love painting, I love doing large murals,” he says. Freeman works downtown, where he has maintained an office for several years. “There are a lot of ugly walls,” he says. “We have such a great tourist area downtown but there’s not a lot of nice things for people to see. Making murals is a great and easy way to market downtown, bring more tourists in. I think we can really put it on the map,” Freeman declares, citing other towns like Cuba, Mo., a town of 4,000 which has become a destination spot due solely to its self-branding as “Mural City.”
“I grew up in and around Springfield my entire life,” Freeman says. “I want to do something for the town I live in.”
Scott Faingold blogs about the arts as “Faingold at Large” at illinoistimes.com. He can be reached via email@example.com.