More than a splash of color appeared on the Star Car Wash building over the June 3 weekend as Anchorage mural group Spellar started and completed the first mural in Bunnell Street Arts Center’s Peonies on Pioneer public art project.
Peonies on Pioneer, a brainchild of the Homer Chamber of Commerce Pioneer Revitalization task force and Bunnell’s current artist-in-residence Kady Perry, came about after Freeman read Perry’s proposal for a “compelling” public mural project, said executive and artistic director Asia Freeman.
“Growing up here I always wanted to see more murals and that kind of visible vibrancy of Homer’s creativity to show on the outside of our buildings the kind of innovation and creativity that happens in our buildings, whether it’s an art gallery or a restaurant or any kind of retail business.”
Perry’s mural project idea aligned with the goals of the task force, which is comprised of groups like the Economic Development Commission, Pioneer Avenue business district, Bunnell, Pratt Museum, and Homer Council on the Arts, Freeman said. The group came up with the idea of Peonies on Pioneer, which captures a key aspect of Homer culture.
“We got talking about how Homer has one of our state’s largest concentration of peony farms. There’s about 25 farms here. There’s about 75-100 in all of Alaska, so most of them are right here,” Freeman said. “As a form of economic development to promote Homer as a place to have your wedding, a place to visit to see our peonies, we thought about having peonies in our murals and also planting peonies on property along Main Street.”
The task force advertised the plan to businesses along Pioneer, who can sponsor a mural on their privately owned building for either $1,000 or $1,500. The mural sponsorship fee covers stipends for artists, paint and other supplies, and the in-kind contributions by volunteers, Freeman said.
So far seven businesses have committed to the mural project, Freeman said. K Bay Cafe, Art Shop Gallery, Ulmer’s, Alaska Communications, Skiff Chick Designs and, of course, Star Cash Wash, are receiving new murals painted by teams of local artists and volunteers. Spellar came into the picture when they met Freeman at an event for murals painted by Spellar artists James Temte and Nils Lane in Anchorage. Freeman told them about Homer’s mural project and they jumped at the chance to be involved, Temte said.
In addition to the new murals along Pioneer, they also plan to spruce up two existing Homer murals. A team of volunteers will work with artist Jean Steele to enhance her mural on the retaining wall of Kachemak Center on Heath Street. Freeman also wants to add a pop of color to the mural in front of Nomar by planting peonies in the area in front of it.
If artist-in-residence Perry’s role in this seems more behind-the-scenes, it’s because it is. Perry is an advocate for public art who started by creating a space for art in her hometown of Binghamton, New York, by way of a gallery, and now lives in New Orleans where she is working with the community and local street artists to create more public art in the city.
She helps the community envision art that expresses their identity and then helps them figure out how they can make it happen. Usually she works over the course of a year or more, so condensing it all into the six weeks Perry is spending in Homer is a challenge. In addition, Homer is full of artistically ambitious people who want to literally paint the town, Perry said. She suggested they start with Pioneer Avenue and expand from there.
Thirteen people attended the training session on Tuesday, May 31 that Perry held at Bunnell. Considering Homer’s population compared to the population of other large cities Perry where has held training workshops, Homer’s 13 people at the workshop showed enthusiasm for the program, Perry said.
The artwork should make sense for the community, hence the use of local artists. Perry’s Dali-inspired signature paintings of hands and eggs are not Homer, she said. Like the peonies, Homer wants to see what they know and love, Perry said. Other iconic images of Homer that came up in brainstorming were paintings that represented salmon, mermaids, foraging, pioneering, maritime culture, mountains, glaciers and the water.
“It’s a magical place, very special. I want to preserve that. It’s really fun going into different communities and realizing what the residents want,” Perry said. “I realized early on, they don’t want a social media frenzy around Homer. They just want this private, hyper-local mural program that resonates year-round with the people dedicated to staying here through the winter.”