Latest Example of Public Art Makes Debut in Southeast

Photo:Lillian Boyd

Roanoke City’s public art program has arrived at Tazewell Avenue, under the I-581 overpass on Tazewell as drivers or pedestrians head in or out of Southeast Roanoke, near the heart of downtown. They cut the ribbon on the Gateway Mural recently; a series of columns wrapped in a weather-resistant fabric that were first painted with images of native flowers, landmarks and favorite activities in the area.

North Carolina artist Brenda Councill, recruited by the city’s public arts commission for the project, enlisted the help of the community to paint the panels before they were wrapped around support columns for the overpass. Even some of the guests at the nearby Roanoke Rescue Mission picked up a paint brush to help – that happened on community “paint nights.” Wrapping artwork around columns as tall as 17 feet was “always hazardous.”

“One of the main elements of the mural project was to involve the community,” said Councill, who came to Roanoke to study the “history, the culture and arts in the area” before committing her ideas to the project. Each of the columns features an activity in the area, like biking, hiking or the arts. “A memorable experience. An enlightening one for me,” said Councill at the ribbon cutting.

The project was initiated after residents in the area said they wanted to see the public art on display elsewhere in the city come to Southeast. “We’ve put public art all over the community. It’s another economic development tool,” said public arts coordinator Susan Jennings. “People want to live and work and visit communities that are lively and have a lot going on.”

Jennings said Councill had the best plan for integrating the community into the public art project, as well. Some of the Rescue Mission painters were in the recovery program there.

By Gene Marrano