His arms crossed, Jace McTier surveyed the Rosa T. Beard Memorial Bridge in east Augusta on Thursday as he and a small group of city officials eyed a panoramic portrait on a painter’s easel.
“That’s a large canvas,” the veteran mural artist said of the 20-foot-high overpass, its walls mostly bare but showing some graffiti to motorists traveling south on Wrightsboro Road.
In seven to 10 weeks, the 15th Street crossing will be clean of gang symbols and knife references. In its place will come a massive mural with images that reflect a safe and engaging community where youth can learn and play.
“As a strong supporter of the arts and neighborhood revitalization and beautification, I’m extremely excited for the project to begin,” Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said after applying the ceremonial first brush stroke Thursday.
Using funds from a $1.8 million community challenge grant awarded to Augusta by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jace and his mother, Lucy McTier, and a team of 15 volunteers will begin painting the bridge next week, after it is spray-washed and dried.
The Greater Augusta Arts Council selected the McTiers to design the painting.
The concept for the mural was based on community input at meetings held in the 15th Street corridor over six months. Hundreds of residents were involved in the discussions of the subject matter that would be depicted.
Copenhaver said he “loves” the planned design because of the sense of unity and educational aspects it embodies.
“It shows a community coming together, and that is what I hope it achieves,” he said.
Included in the mural design are the T.W. Josey High School mascot, a majestic eagle; a young couple dreaming of their bright future; a young child imagining his future career; a Georgia peach tree; an American flag; and beautiful, safe green space being enjoyed by residents.
The mural has not been without controversy. In August, a Paine College official complained that the design failed to honor the
many contributions made to the community by former Richmond County educator Rosa Beard, a Paine alumna.
John Paul Stout, the city’s sustainable development manager in charge of the project, said the college has calmed its criticism and is on board with the design.
Paine officials have not commented.
“This work of art really represents a lot of ideas that residents of the 15th Street neighborhood have shared with us about the vision they see for their community moving forward,” Stout said. “Hopefully this mural can serve multiple purposes: provide the local residents a
beautiful work of art and hold Augusta accountable as we move forward and progress in our community.”
Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Augusta Arts Council, said volunteers are still being sought to help paint the mural.
“This turned out to be a perfect place for a mural,” she said, admiring a nearby path where walkers and bicyclists routinely cut through to get to the medical district from Paine College. “This is going to be a very visible representation.”
Lucy McTier, who has completed murals in Memphis, Tenn., and Charleston, W.Va., said she hopes the public art inspires.
“I just want people, when they look at this, to think about the pride and glory of our country and the original green spaces, educational emphasis and cultural places we had – and still have – here in Augusta,” she said.