STARKVILLE — Standing in the afternoon sunlight on North Jackson Street Wednesday, Mississippi State University junior Marcus Williams rolled his paint roller in a pan of sky-blue paint and added some of the first brushstrokes to what he hopes will become one of many murals celebrating Starkville.
“We’re just starting out painting the background sky, and then we’ll be merging together buildings from around Starkville with buildings on campus,” he said as he painted the top of the 300-foot mural on the wall next to Cadence Bank.
Williams and several other students from MSU’s Department of Art began work on the painting last week as part of a partnership with the city and the Starkville Area Arts Council. When it’s complete — hopefully around mid-July — the mural will depict the iconic buildings of the city and MSU’s campus, such as the Greensboro Center and Humphrey Coliseum.
“We were actually going to do it last year, but COVID interrupted everything,” SAAC Executive Director John Bateman said. “(The mural) reflects this growing relationship that the arts council, the city and the art department have.”
The mural is based on the theme “From City Hall to Lee Hall: We’re in this Together.” Funding for the project came from MSU’s art department and private donors around town, Bateman said.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said one of her main goals when she was elected in 2017 was to create a “Mayor’s Mural Program” to help establish art and music as a priority for the city. After the board of aldermen approved this particular mural, she reached out to Bateman and SAAC for collaboration on the project.
Spruill said she has plans for other murals across town, such as potentially creating one in the breezeway from Main Street to the city parking lot.
“I think art and all other art in our lives, like music, enhances and enriches our existence,” Spruill said. “I think it’s an important element of our community, and I want us to do as much of that as we can.”
Bateman said public art brings tourism and other economic benefits to cities, and he believes the mural is the first step in building a vivacious and flourishing town.
“If we want to create a vibrant arts and culture scene, we need to keep the creative talent here instead of having to move somewhere else,” Bateman said. “It’s not just about beauty. Art creates a tangible economic impact. Art as tourism is tremendous.”
The MSU students painting the mural have majors as varied as architecture, geoscience and fashion merchandising, in addition to art.
Williams said this mural will also show Starkville how the community has overcome many of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re coming to the terms with the fact that the coronavirus has impacted us so much,” Williams said. “Not just Starkville, but everyone on a global scale. We wanted to show individuals in our community, in Starkville, that we can get past the coronavirus and show off our skills in the arts department.”
He added the art will not just draw people into the city but bring attention to the art department at MSU.
“Students prior to us have created things so special, so intimate with the city,” Williams said. “Now, we can do something like that as well and hopefully inspire future students here.”