One of Bradenton's anticipated public arts projects is closing in on the finish line. The 100-foot wide, 25-foot mural, which was borne out of an intergenerational community group that collaborated on the concept as well as the actual painting, is nearly done.
Muralist Michael Parker was commissioned to bring a group together to conceptualize a design for the mural and then work together to paint it. The Ruskin artist has collaborated with communities in the past, and is concurrently producing a similar mural project in Ybor City.
The Bradenton mural, which will grace the northern wall of the 14th Street West police substation, was a project that began in August when the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority selected Parker. He then held a series of free workshops to show residents how to paint to scale and mix large amounts of paint to create the colors they would need.
The core group was divided between about 10 senior citizens and about 10 young adults. Parker said both groups had strong, yet differing, opinions about what types of images the mural should include.
"The first ideas were the natural resources in Florida ... the native animals and plants," Parker told Patch. "There was a stark contrast in ideas and we had some heated conversations. We got to the root of the matter right away."
Parker described the older generations ideas about Bradenton as a place where they could go for the opportunities it provided them. The younger group strongly expressed the opposite — that the community has not allowed them to create anything that makes them want to stay, Parker explained.
The final image captures all of these ideas — natural resources, the lives seniors hope to live and the quandary the younger adults face about staying or leaving their community.
"Within the mural there is a way in and a way out," Parker said. "On one side we use urban imagery and on the other side stuff that is representative of Florida."
The mural is a dynamic blend at all of these ideas, including natural areas of Florida and a cityscape that may be elsewhere, the older generation and the quite serious faces of two Manatee High School seniors, predominantly featured. The approval of the final image slowed for a few months, and the actual painting of the 50 panels began in February.
Over the months, Parker said that bringing the two generations together to work on the project eventually brought them closer.
"By working together, they've gotten to know each other," he said. "It's helped to create an ongoing relationship that wouldn't be there if the project didn't exist. That's the one thing I could hope for."
The Downtown Development Authority has several recently completed and ongoing public art projects, including the substation mural, in the 14th Street district and downtown district.
"The role of public are is partly about bringing art into people's lives," Ann Wykell, DDA's public art coordinator, told Patch. "It's also about sending positive messages about the neighborhood and community."
Wykell said that before the mural panels can be installed, the shutters on the windows will have to be tacked down and the gutters may be replaced. The goal is to have the mural completed by July 4. Because the mural is made in panels, it may be moved if the community decides to use the substation space for a different purpose later on, Wykell said.
Wykell hopes the mural will be a "point of light that people will feel pride in," and that it will kick start other projects.
"The more that happens, the more the neighborhood will take a part in it," she said. "Art on the walls sends a message to everybody, both residents and businesses, that this community has pride and a lot going for it."
The painting of the panels continues at the police substation at 1404 14th St. W. on Mondays from 3:30 p.m. to about 7 p.m. for those who would like to contribute.