Behind the Scenes with the Roanoke Art Mural Project

This article was originally published in the third issue of VIA Noke Magazine, printed in Roanoke, Virginia in October 2012.

Wandering behind the Davidson’s building on Jefferson Street in downtown Roanoke is probably not something one does on a frequent basis, but it may be something you want to do soon. Curious minds will be surprised to find a vibrant work of art on the previously bare walls. A school of fish escapes entrapment and flows along the wall followed by a predator; two fish ignore the danger as they fall in love amongst the chaos. What a colorful story in such an unlikely place!

Couldn’t we all use a little more visual stimulation where we walk, work, and live? This is the main idea inside the mind of Mim Young, the founder of the Roanoke Art Mural Project (RAMP) and a “make things happen” kind of mover and shaker. Mim and her husband chose Roanoke when relocating in 1995 based on the strong local arts community. With pride for her new home she explains, “I’d really like to see us look as vibrant and wonderful as it feels to live here.”

There are many different projects brewing under the umbrella of RAMP, the first of these being community-based mural projects such as the one in Grandin Village. Local artist Toobz collaborated with Mim throughout last winter to conceptualize, plan, and paint the large and colorful piece on the side of CUPS Coffee and Tea last February. Featuring local residents Pearl Fu and James Tarpley, the mural shows appreciation for all types of people who make a difference in our local community. Mim’s goal is to complete projects like this in several different neighborhoods. “It will help them think, ‘Hey, I live in a good place.’ They already do feel that way, but they may not see anyone else thinking that.”

“The World is a Village” mural by Toobz for RAMP on the side wall of CUPS Coffee and Tea in Grandin Village.

Revitalization is another aspect of RAMP. Seeking to replicate successful revitalization mural projects such as Mural Mile in Philadelphia and Wynwood Walls in Miami, Mim has been working hard to gain the proper permissions and garner a strong community interest in the mural district she is proposing downtown. “I’m calling it a non-profit corridor,” she explains. “It’s between 1st and 5th street and its boundaries are Campbell Avenue, Salem Avenue, and Norfolk Avenue. In that area there is an abundance of non-profit organizations doing wonderful work in very non-descript buildings. They are under-funded and some of these people are only working part time, but they’re dealing with issues like homelessness, helping bring water and sewer systems to rural communities, and savings pets’ lives. There are all kinds of organizations down there and people go by those buildings and have no idea what is going on inside.” In an effort to inform the public about the ongoings of these non-profits, Mim hopes that colorful murals representing their work will educate and adjust the perspectives of passersby.

For both of these projects, collaborating with building owners throughout the process is key and ensures that the final product is truly something that represents the community or organization. “I definitely have a specific strategy involved, because I don’t want something to go up and people say, ‘What’s that!? Why did they put that there!?’ I want to stretch their minds and their eyes with what we deliver, but I don’t want it to be something that people don’t understand. I would like communities to get together and figure out, what is the message for this village? What kind of message do we want to convey? And then I can go and put out a call for entries and curate the choices that they have to choose from based upon the message that they want to convey.”

To ease these two larger projects into the public eye RAMP has partnered with The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge for support through their Roanoke Youth Art Connections program. This partnership has allowed Mim to educate and work with at-risk youth to conceptualize two different murals for downtown, one of which is the completed school of fish on the Davidson’s wall. “I think I enjoyed the workshops most,” she admits, speaking of the time spent with the students to educate them about different styles of art and to help them choose a style to work from for their murals. “I loved opening doors and windows of their mind to art, and helping them develop a visual vocabulary.” The next proposed RAMP – RYAC mural will be much more visible if all goes to plan; keep an eye out downtown throughout the next few weeks for another exciting work from these RAMPartists!

In addition to these large and lengthy projects, Mim would like to manage several miniature projects; painted crosswalks, colorful parking meters, and small guerilla-style pieces in unexpected places are just a few of her ideas.

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