If you’ve eaten downtown at Jean-Robert’s Table, walked by The Banks on your way to a ball game, or driven north on Central Parkway past Music Hall, you’ve surely noticed ArtWorks’s latest batch of eye-catching murals. To see the painting in progress this summer, we spent a morning cruising the town with founding director Tamara Harkavy. She took us to a handful of the 12 new murals (46 have been painted since 2007) and explained what happens behind the scenes. The first thing we noticed was that Harkavy sees every building as a blank canvas. “See that wall right there,” she says, “I don’t know who owns that place, but I’ll find out.” The second takeaway: With decent-paying jobs for young artists and constant community engagement, these murals do more than distract drivers.
In the spring, roughly 400 hopeful students from across the tri-state bring their portfolios to the Contemporary Arts Center to interview for the program. The best 150 are chosen to spend the summer painting alongside professional teaching artists. Each student makes $1,500. “And they learn other kinds of skills—teamwork, public speaking, letter writing, money management,” Harkavy says. “This is the first job for many kids, and we want to set them up to be gainfully employed in the future.” Each mural’s lead artist works with the community to create the design. At the beginning of the project, the students present the plan to the community, and once the mural is finished, they come together again for a celebration. “This is nothing but good,” Harkavy says.
The Avondale Pride Mural by Cedric Cox, 3521 Reading Rd., Avondale
Fun fact: Basketball legend Oscar Robertson developed the strip mall on which this mural is painted. The design was inspired by a map of Avondale, with the red and blue lines representing Reading Road and Victory Parkway. As nice as it looks, we wouldn’t recommend using the painting for directions.
A Tribute to Newport by Kyle Penunuri, 1023 Monmouth St., Newport
The faces in this mural may not seem familiar, but they all played a role in Newport’s history. There’s General James Taylor, who founded the city, artist Leon Lippert, educator Mildred Dean, labor leader Vincent Saint John, and entertainer Stepin Fetchit, who frequently performed at Northern Kentucky clubs.
Sunset Walk Through Helentown by Tammy Stephens, 315 E. 15th St., Covington
This year, Harkavy wanted to increase the program’s presence in Kentucky. One result was this mural at the Covington Re-Use Center. Each day while they were painting, an older man would bring a folding chair and pretend he was sitting on the front lawn of one of the houses the students were painting.
Cincinnati’s Table by Scott Donaldson, 713 Vine St., downtown
Jean-Robert de Cavel wanted his restaurant’s mural to be “over the top,” and ArtWorks delivered. Inspired by the still life work of the Dutch Masters and the fantasyland paintings of Cincinnatian Michael Scott, the mural is a cornucopia of creativity. There’s a lot to process, but don’t miss the flying pigs.
The Singing Mural executed by Jenny Ustick, 1223 Central Parkway, West End
In the early planning stages, the possibility of painting this mural on the side of Music Hall was discussed. For obvious reasons, they eventually moved to the CET building across the street. Renowned local illustrator C.F. Payne created the design, which includes such cultural luminaries as Grover, Erich Kunzel, Ruth Lyons, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Redlegs.