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[Lending a Hand]

From ordinary to exquisite: Asheville Mural Project uses student’s talents to create public art

By Constance E. Richards

Molly Must Molly Must at work on the Asheville Mural project.

Molly Must ’11 peers down from the scaffolding at the intersection of Broadway and Lexington Avenue, fielding questions from inquisitive passersby. The colorful mural taking shape on the Interstate-240 overpass is the result of three years of planning and months of design and painting to beautify a section of Asheville that receives both foot and automobile traffic but, like any urban roadway, has lacked visual appeal. Now Must is transforming an ordinary space into an exquisite place by and for the community.

Dubbed the “Lexington Gateway Mural Project,” the series of allegorical paintings that will grace the concrete piers is an offshoot of the non-profit Arts2People community arts organization. Must, who directs the Asheville Mural Project, is creating one of the most significant parts of the design. “Asheville Saints,” to be painted on the insides of the 3-by-4-foot concrete columns, portrays local legends, living and past. “We are memorializing people who have made a difference in some way,” says Must. Recalling murals painted on underpasses she saw in Montreal, the West Virginia native entertained various ideas but decided to create an ode to Asheville of sorts. She is collaborating with local artists Josh Spiceland, Dan Beck, Kurt Theasler and Steve Lister as well as a phalanx of other community volunteers.

With a $2,500 Undergraduate Research grant, she attended a public art seminar in Philadelphia, which helped crystallize her vision for the project. Her application for the grant tied the mural work into a small but concise piece of research literature on community murals, Undergraduate Research Program co-director Mark Harvey says.

“Molly’s project is a type of community-based research whose benefits reach beyond the confines of the academy and into the community we are proud to share with our neighbors,” Harvey says.

Contributions from the city of Asheville, local businesses and private donors help pay for materials and the $40-a-day scaffolding. The mural depicts local life and history, seamlessly moving through significant eras—from the first inhabitants, the Cherokee, to the modern world—filled with symbols of community and the natural world. Other parts of the 6,000 square feet of surface center on the arts and other subjects. “The mural defines the space. Before, it was a dirty, dingy, negative space,” Must says. “I love public art and always found it inspiring.”

For more information visit: www.ashevillemuralproject.org

Constance E. Richards is a freelance writer in Asheville.