Painting the City: The Surge in Mural Artwork

Photo Taken by Summer Griffin of a mural at “Art in the Alley” Wilcox Way, Greensburg, Pa.

Written by: Amara Forysth

“Not just anyone that paints can go put up a mural,” said Mary Briggs, the co-founder of You Are Here. Mural Artwork has had a surge in popularity across the U.S. Within the past decade. This is due partly to the growing recognition of street and public art as well as the value they hold in enriching urban environments. Seton Hill University Art History Professor Maureen Kochanek commented that cities that were specifically in “Urban decline began to beautify the buildings with public art.”

According to Kochanek, these art pieces can contain profound depth and meaning layers. “They speak to the history of people who live there, creates hope, and uplifts the community,” and “creates pride of place.” As explained by Kochanek, these types of patterns are beginning to appear more and more in cities across the U.S. and even locally right in Westmoreland County.

In the local city of Jeannette, Briggs, affectionately dubbed the ‘benevolent dictator’ by the You Are Here team, is one of the co-founders of the art gallery and maker space. Kochanek describes Briggs as a “powerhouse for arts administration.”

Logo for You Are Here,

“Mural artwork makes places more livable and intimate,” said Briggs. There are a few existing murals as well as future mural projects in the works within Westmoreland County. Locally there is art in the alley in Greensburg; from the point of view of Kochanek, creative spaces like these “Give creative people this forum” and are “fun and Instagram worthy.” Briggs said You Are Here has been approached by three building owners who are seeking to connect with mural artists, which is “a lot for Jeanette.”

Because “paint is going to weather and deteriorate,” Briggs interprets the transitory quality of murals as a summons for collective community involvement in preserving their life-span. It is imperative that the artist retains a maintenance plan or “engages another artist to rehabilitate it,” Briggs said.

“Vandalism could occur,” said Agnello, a Seton Hill University arts student, “which would be unfortunate for both the artists and the town.”

The “academic primary elements of design and readability translate”, said Kochanek. Further explaining that, although they have recently gained more popularity, murals have been a flourishing art concept for years. Additionally, the overall design concept of historic murals can still be seen today.

There have also been many long-standing mural artists, such as the “international phenomenon” British graffiti master and painter Banksy, said Kochanek. She describes Banksy’s work as the “best example of public art that inspires activism” and retains a “compelling and powerful voice.”

Briggs said that, between the growing popularity of mural artwork and its increasing incorporation into urban revitalization projects, the likelihood of mural artwork making its mark on the world is high.

“I do think that art will continue to grow like it has in the past years. It brings life to a dark alley way or even a whole town itself. It’s also a way for artists to get their works out without being in the studio,” Agnello said.