Why do people paint murals on blank walls in their neighborhood? Most neighborhood murals have a purpose: to educate, inform or to welcome people to a neighborhood. A mural on the walls of the railroad viaduct on Greenleaf Street, a short walk from Nichols School, where I taught for 25 years was recently restored. The theme of that mural was the Nichols Neighborhood. The mural suffered the fate of many community murals, it had faded and had water damage. The restoration involved students at Nichols School, the original artist and other members of the community, which brings up another reason why people paint community murals–it is pride of place, people love their neighborhood and the desire to add something to it, and there is not better way show your pride than to give your neighborhood a work of art!
In Little Rock, the town where I now live, has a number of murals–several are related to neighborhoods. One of the older murals in Little Rock is the Stift Station mural, on the side of a building on Markham St in the Stift Station neighborhood. It was painted in 1966 by Roland Burnham, an artist and former tagger who was known for painting alien heads around town under the name of Balstovich. This mural has nothing to do with aliens, instead it showcases a neighborhood named after a stop on a street car line. Typically in neighborhood murals, the its name is prominently displayed. The Stift station mural is no different–Mr Stift built the streetcar line, and the station on Markham street was named after his company. The mural welcomes people to the neighborhood, and features a street car and the businesses on Markham Street.
Two murals in a different side of town welcome people to SOMA, short for South on Main street. Little Rock was divided by Interstate 640, SOMA is on the other side of the interstate from downtown. The SOMA neighborhood made up of older housing stock and historic buildings is quickly gentrifying. There are many locally owned small businesses, Loblolly Ice Cream. The Community Bakery, Midtown Billiards, The Root, an organic, locally sourced restaurant, The Essie Purse Museum and Bernice Garden, a sculpture garden. The mural, painted in 2015 by Shannon Norman welcomes people to the neighborhood and represents its people and businesses.
The last mural is painted on a wall facing the parking lot of the Root, an interesting restaurant housed in what recently was an ice cream stand. It is very popular and was recently enlarged by adding several shipping containers. The Root features locally sourced organic ingredients, and the line goes out the door at mealtimes, and has been named one of the best restaurants in Arkansas. It serves organic fruits, vegetables and meats and uses recycled plates, silver, linens, furniture and shipping containers. The colorful mural features huge fruits and vegetables and fits in well with the flower gardens and children’s playground in the parking area.