(Story and Photography provided by Do More Art)
We started DMA in 2018 because we were back living in my home county of Coffee, a place teeming with visual and performing artists but whose buildings and streetscapes did not reflect this creative spirit. One mural in Manchester led to three in our first year, which eventually took us to Tullahoma—the town where I was born and raised—for a Creative Placemaking project thanks to a Tennessee Arts Commission grant. Tara Aversa's Bertha the Octopus has become a beloved member of the community, and we've done 15 public murals(!) in Tullahoma since 2019, as well as a couple interior pieces. Which leads us to now.
Let's talk about OKC's Plaza Walls project Around the same time we started DMA, we were traveling to Oklahoma City regularly for our day jobs as journalists and tourism marketers. That's how we met Kristopher Kanaly, a well-known illustrator, graphic designer and street artist. What Kris and his team at Oklahoma Mural Syndicate do is truly inspirational: They repaint nearly every visible wall in the artsy Plaza District every single year. The result? Constantly changing art that would cover a surface larger than a football field!
This is a massive underpass Kris painted in the heart of Oklahoma City connecting downtown to Bricktown. We've visited Plaza Walls time and time again over the years and always leave inspired. We've even been fortunate enough to visit during the annual Mural Expo when the new art is going up, which was a true treat. When we were first getting started, Kris was incredibly generous with his time, always making himself available to hop on Zoom, sharing bylaws and best practices and holding our hand through those early months of nonprofit-dom. We also always really loved his art and selfishly wanted to get to see it every day as we drive to the grocery store, the gym, to client meetings.
We had been saving the right wall and project in Tullahoma, and that wall came about this year when two things happened: 1) We received a Tennessee Arts Commission Rural Arts Project Support grant and 2) local entrepreneur Cameron Newton granted us permission to paint his highly visible wall in downtown Tullahoma on the back of Daddy Billy's, a restaurant and bar that has served the area for more than 75 years. Then Cascade Hollow Distilling Co.—maker of one of our favorite whiskys, George Dickel—stepped up to sponsor and closed the gap on what we needed to make this community project a reality. Kris arrived in early November, just days after Sophi Odling completed Tullahoma's last mural Shift, and stayed with us for the better part of a week. He logged loooong 12-hour days on that wall, and after five days of painting and 100 cans of paint, Ballad of Tennessee was done.
Kris wove in many state icons—like the pearl, the black bear, a nod to the blues—and some you'll have to search out for yourself when you go visit. It was an instant hit, with so many locals telling us it's their favorite mural to date (we're impartial because we love them all!).
“I was inspired by all the things that Tennessee is known for, as well as facets unique to its landscape. When I'm about to paint a mural in a new place, I think about the community and how they'll connect with the art. While I have my own stories, characters and themes in my art, I like to mix in icons and things that matter to the local people. I also love playing with mysterious themes like space, UFOs, portals, stars and pyramids, all things that show up in my art inspired by my artist name, Pyramid Guy." —Kris Kanaly
Want to bring art to your town? Here's how This time of year is always busy with holiday events, sure, but it's also grant season in the public art world. The Tennessee Arts Commission offers a variety of distinct funding opportunities to encourage participation in arts activities in communities across all 95 of our state's counties. We're working on our own grant applications, as well as helping a few other rural communities write their own. If you're interested in doing more art in your town in 2024 and beyond, simply respond to this newsletter and we'll set up a time to chat and help you write a compelling application.
Hurrah! by Jenny Ustick was a grant-funded project we completed in 2023.
And if you want to support arts organizations like ours, please purchase an arts Tennessee Specialty License Plate for your vehicle, which directly contributes to efforts like ours across Tennessee.