Community Mural Program
History of The Baldwin City Community Mural Program
Jeannette Blackmar, March 2021
The idea of a community mural program was initiated in January 2016 during a Baldwin City Tourism Bureau strategic planning session at the Three Sisters Inn. Tourism Bureau participants met to review annual plans referencing the “Baldwin City, Kansas Visitor and Tourism Development Plan” (2011) that included development of “murals depicting local historic events” to attract visitors to downtown Baldwin City.
The creation of a mural program became part of the Baldwin City Tourism’s Bureau long-term strategic priority to create a cultural tourism program leveraging Baldwin City’s rich historic and cultural heritage as a core resource to instill community pride among residents, increase visitors to Baldwin City and train and employ a cadre of local artists. Spearheaded by Jeannette Blackmar, Communications Specialist Baldwin City Chamber, and Lucretia Carlson, Co-Chair Baldwin City Tourism Bureau, a series of public interest meetings were held in 2016 that resulted in the creation Baldwin City Community Mural Program.
Fundamentally, the mural program emphasizes community engagement and collaboration that includes a representation of arts and cultural nonprofits, local artists, residents, Baker University, USD 348, elected officials, downtown business owners and other community leaders. Importantly, the development of mural themes would not be pre-determined but derived through deliberative discussion focused on topics such as “Who are we?”, “What is our history?”, “What makes Baldwin City unique?” by Baldwin City residents, local artists and program partners. At its core, the vision for the mural program embeds identity, placemaking, community pride and heritage and creates opportunities for respectful and engaging discourse among community members. The mural program would both train local artists in the skill of mural making and employ these artists to create murals in downtown Baldwin City working in collaboration with the Baldwin community. While initially focused on downtown Baldwin City, the program could extend beyond.
Efforts to create murals were aligned with the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce and City of Baldwin City’s community visioning work that sought to identify Baldwin City’s assets, growth opportunities, challenges and strengths. The Program formally kicked off in May 2016 with plans for the first mural in partnership between the Chamber, Tourism Bureau, Lumberyard Arts Center and City of Baldwin City. All murals as part of the program seek to engage community participation, showcase Baldwin City’s cultural and/or natural heritage, integrate student apprentices from both USD 348 and Baker University and feature an interactive element in the mural design.
Between 2016-2019, three murals were completed in downtown Baldwin City with financial support from community donations, City of Baldwin City, Maple Leaf Festival Committee and Douglas County Community Foundation and in-kind support (see below for detailed information on each mural). Formalization of the program continued with logo development, the creation of a Facebook page – Baldwin City Community Mural Project, and regular monthly meetings.
In 2017, spurred by the creation of the Baldwin City Community Mural Program, the City’s Facade & Mural Grant program was reevaluated and a separate grant program, “Public Mural Grant Program,” was created to support the development of murals in Baldwin City. The Baldwin City Community Mural Program has received recognition from surrounding communities. In 2018, Ottawa Main Street and Ottawa CVB used our program as a model to create their community mural finished in 2019. In 2020, the Eudora Chamber of Commerce expressed interest in establishing a mural program based on our program.
Between 2019-2020, the Program hit a hiatus and shift in organizational lead partners due to staffing changes at the Chamber, Lumberyard Arts Center and Baldwin City Library as well as dissolution of the Baldwin City Tourism Bureau in 2018. Due to these developments, the mural program shifted organizational leadership to the Lumberyard Arts Center and the Baldwin City Library. Led now by Jeannette Blackmar (Executive Director, Lumberyard Arts Center) and Wendy Conover (Executive Director, Baldwin City Library), the mural program seeks to continue where it left off: creating murals throughout downtown through collaboration and establishing a “Baldwin City Mural Walking Tour.” During the 2020 pandemic, five murals were painted on Sullivan Square park benches to “create engaging spaces” as part of the City’s Sesquicentennial celebration to honor Baldwin City’s history.
The Baldwin City Community Mural Program is one facet the Lumberyard Arts Center and Baldwin City Library plan to work with the City of Baldwin City to develop a robust arts and culture public policy to grow downtown vibrancy that will spur economic growth through cultural heritage tourism, attract people to reside in Baldwin City and create a dynamic creative community.
Baldwin City Mural Program Blogs and Articles
Maple Seed Fountain: Baldwin City’s Community Mural
Painting the Town: Baldwin City Mural Project on the Horizon
Baldwin City Mural Project has Ambitious Goals
Ribbon Cutting, Welcome Baldwin City Mural
Sullivan Square Mural Benches
Lumberyard Arts Center Through Time
Ecotones: Stability through Change
Murals have the opportunity to tell a community’s story, create a unique experience, engage citizens in public life, increase foot traffic and tourism, increase appreciation for the arts and artists, and increase overall attractiveness of the space. The intangible benefits of public art—aesthetic beauty, cultural interpretation, education, inspiration, and general improvement of the physical environment—are well-known. But because these are considered “soft” benefits, they are sometimes dismissed.
However, experiences throughout communities across the United States show that public art can be a source of publicity and cash income, as well as beauty. Murals have become a unique and appealing way of increasing tourism and improving commerce. As noted by the American Planning Association (2011), “the recognition of a community’s arts and culture assets (and marketing of them) is an important element of economic development.” In fact, cultural heritage tourism is the fastest growing niche tourism industry contributing $171 billion each year to the U.S. economy (McNulty and Koff, 2014). We envision the following outputs and outcomes to be achieved through the community-participatory mural program:
Implementation of cultural planning workshop(s).
Local artists trained in the skill of mural making.
Employment for local artists.
Creation of downtown murals through a community participatory process.
Increased community empowerment through community involvement and ownership of a local community initiative.
Strengthened understanding and exploration of community values.
Increased pride in place for the residents of Baldwin City.
Development of new partnerships and strengthening trust among existing partnerships.
Improved communication and cooperation among arts and other groups.
Integration of culture into the larger community more effectively, increasing awareness of the potential of arts and cultural activity to contribute to community and economic development.
Increased tourism and economic vitality to Baldwin City.
Improved visibility of local artists, cultural workers and organizations.
Improved access to the arts and development of larger audiences.
American Planning Association. 2011. Community Engagement – How Arts and Cultural Strategies Enhance Community Engagement and Participation. Arts and Culture Briefing Paper. Chicago: IL.
Destination Marketing, Planning & Development. 2011. Baldwin City, KS Visitor and Tourism Development Plan.
McNulty, Robert and Russell Koff. 2014. Cultural Heritage Tourism. Partners for Livable Communities. Washington, DC.