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How public art has taken off in Gainesville, Hall County
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Nick Day, left, and Cody Robinson, workers with Norton, install a mosaic designed by Mary Frances Hull, a local artist, in the downtown Gainesville parking deck as a part of the Vision 2030 Public Art installation on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Gainesville has been embracing its artistic side.

Public art projects have been taking off this spring, and Pearl Nix Parkway, Melrose Apartments, and the Main Street parking deck are a few of the spots that have gotten a new pop of color.

The 10,000-square-foot wall separating Pearl Nix Parkway from the Melrose Apartments on Davis Street is being painted on both sides.

Travelers on Pearl Nix Parkway now see a mural designed and painted by city of Gainesville employees. The mural, which has blue waves and spells out the city’s name, uses the same design elements found in signage for some of the city’s parks and at entrance points into Gainesville.

Regina Dyer, manager of the Gainesville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the mural designer, said the mural helps offer a warm welcome to Gainesville and brightens up the area.

“That’s a large corridor in to Gainesville, and I think it was just meant for a mural,” Dyer said. “It’s a large, blank canvas, and I’m really excited that we were able to do this.”

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A large wall along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has recently been painted by Gainesville city employees using a design already in use by the city. The project is not part of the Vision 2030 public art projects, but goes along with the spirit of the project. - photo by Scott Rogers

More than 30 city employees from various departments helped paint it, Dyer said.

“(Art) is a way for communities to express themselves. It beautifies areas that might not look so great. I think art is that one thing that can bring people together,” Dyer said. “… It really shows a community that cares.”

On the other side of the wall sit the Melrose Apartments, a Gainesville Housing Authority community with 114 units. Students there have been working since the fall to design a mural, with guidance from Jananne Waller.

“The mural is based around a beehive, so you can see the cells on the wall,” Waller said. “Just how bees come together and create something wonderful and work together, each cell represents something that’s important to (the students).”

The “Melrose Mural Squad” has been meeting weekly, and they began painting the wall on May 4 and are expecting to finish the mural this spring. It has been a valuable learning experience, Waller said.

“Every art experience is an opportunity for problem-solving, creativity, innovation,” Waller, who is an educator, said. “… Those are the skills that they need to be successful.”

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A sound dampening wall located between Melrose Apartments and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is decorated with colorful painting from volunteer youths. - photo by Scott Rogers

Jim Chapman, special projects coordinator for the Gainesville Housing Authority, said GHA is open to suggestions for new artwork or people looking to volunteer. He also said art can be an educational tool.

“We’ve been using art and creative thinking as a leverage or tool with a lot of the youth groups to challenge them to dream big and dream beyond their circumstance,” Chapman said.

For high school senior Davion Mosley, the mural has been an opportunity to step into a leadership role. He met Waller through an art class several years ago and now works with Waller to guide the students, who are mostly in middle school.

He said he has enjoyed working with the students and is considering a career path in either the arts or education.

“The kids are the most honest people you’ll ever meet. When we were designing the wall, we’d bounce ideas off each other,” he said.

He said he was proud of the students’ efforts.

“The kids designed the whole thing, and it was really cool putting all that hard work on to the wall,” he said.

Public art is also a priority of Vision 2030, a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce initiative. The public art committee has organized several projects, including the Brenau Urban Rural Discovery Secrets, or BURDS, that donors can sponsor. The small gold bird sculptures are located around the county.

Frank Norton Jr., the chair of the committee, said projects have been picking up this spring.

“There’s momentum for public art accelerating, and that’s a great thing for our community,” Norton said.

The projects are mostly donor-funded and have included artwork at the “Royal Space” near the Hunt Tower downtown and angel sculptures outside local public safety buildings. The Hall County Government Center has also displayed several pieces of art. Sculptures have been installed at the Sardis Road roundabout.

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Copper sculptures are installed at the Sardis Road roundabout on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. The sculptures are a part of the Vision 2030 public art committee effort. - photo by Austin Steele

Norton said public art is one thing a community can do to improve quality of life.

“I call it providing roundness of a community,” he said. “Our community is sensitive to the arts; our community is sensitive to the environment; our community is sensitive to the recreational aspects of Lake Lanier and our parks system.”

The wall along Pearl Nix was originally intended to house a mosaic, but the mosaic has recently been installed at the Main Street parking garage in downtown Gainesville instead, Norton said.

Mary Frances Hull, the mosaic artist, collected glass from business owners and donors to create the artwork.

She said she hopes it brings some color to a space where people might not expect to find it.

“There are so many places where you don’t feel happy, or you don’t feel fun. When you’re in a place where there’s art, especially in public spaces, you have a different emotion,” she said.

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A mosaic designed by Mary Frances Hull, a local artist, in the downtown Gainesville parking deck is a part of the Vision 2030 Public Art installation on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele
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