published Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Arts project aims to re-energize Chattanooga's M.L. King Boulevard

Monika Groppe with Mark Making puts up pictures Thursday on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Mark Making is in the middle of a yearlong effort to revitalize the neighborhood through public art.
Monika Groppe with Mark Making puts up pictures Thursday on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Mark Making is in the middle of a yearlong effort to revitalize the neighborhood through public art.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Many people have big dreams for Martin Luther King Boulevard.

And one by one, dozens of those dreams are being etched on the sides of buildings lining the historic street through the "Martin Luther King Mural Series," an extensive public art project themed around revitalization.

The aim is to beautify the boulevard and build support for more economic and community development there, says Frances McDonald, executive director of public arts group Mark Making, which is overseeing the yearlong project.

"It's hard to ignore dirty windows and broken awnings next door to vibrant paintings," McDonald said.

The series is funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga and the Tennessee Arts Commission, and stems from partnerships with the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association and more than 20 other local organizations.

The murals are being created through heavy collaboration among hundreds of students, members of the AIM Center and local artists, said McDonald.

The mural designs are inspired by participants' drawings of what revitalization looks like to them.

"If you get a lot of people with different goals, you're going to get a much better picture of what the community wants," said Monika Groppe, a 2011 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who is coordinating the mural series.

Groppe began dreaming about working to help revitalize the boulevard while she was still in college.

"It's sad to me that it used to be this rich, lively street and now it's fallen to the wayside," she said.

Since taking the "dream job" at Mark Marking, Groppe has become embedded in the neighborhood, interviewing residents, community leaders and business owners.

"Everyone I've met in the neighborhood is ready for change," said Groppe. "They are so tired of taking surveys and never seeing results. We're trying to listen to their wisdom and throw a new energy at it."

Groppe is now turning those interviews into posters featuring the residents' faces and quotes of their hopes for the boulevard.

These are being plastered across buildings on the boulevard temporarily as a way to build anticipation for upcoming murals and neighborhood projects, McDonald explained.

"We call them appetizers for more substantial work yet to come -- they are like little harbingers of change."

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