|Museum of Public Art brings color to Old South Baton Rouge|
On a sweaty Saturday morning in August, three graffiti artists more prone to painting the sides of subway trains in New York City were adding their touches to a wall in Old South Baton Rouge.
The artists, James Top, Part-One and King Bee, were brought in by their friend and local artist Dr. Kevin Harris for the inaugural mural of the Museum of Public Art, a fledgling non-profit at the old Habitat Imports on 14th Street just off Government Street.
While working atop scaffolding on his portion of the wall, James Top wiped the sweat off his face and joked, “The sun blesses this city in no other way than I've seen the sun bless a city before.”
All three got their start in the subway stations, tagging the sides of trains in the '70s and '80s until the city cracked down on the trend. They kept painting, though, as more people recognized their work as legitimate art. Top has painted community murals in Harlem, where he runs a gallery, and also works with Graffiti Universe in the Bronx.
The mural in Baton Rouge pays homage to subway graffiti as a form of public art, and features a subway train running across the top of a long stretch of blank brick wall. Below it is a long panel printed in vinyl that Harris created of train trestles and more graffiti art. It's the first aerosol art/photography mural in Baton Rouge, Harris says.
“It's an honor to be part of something special like this,” Top says. “[Harris] has a vision; he's a pioneer here with this artistic movement. It feels like the 1970s again.”
Top says a lot of neighborhood residents peeked in to see the progress during their two-week stay. “It's good to know you are part of an art project that will be appreciated by people who wouldn't otherwise get to see it,” Top says.
The Museum of Public Art is separate from the BR Walls Project, which is working to beautify downtown's buildings, though Harris sees them working toward a common goal. Harris' focus is on supporting Old South Baton Rouge, and the museum will have exhibits from a variety of artists, live painting events and workshops for students. The project's already seen interest from local graffiti artists, like Kevin Eli, who showed up as the wall was being painted to show Harris some of his original work.
Harris says he's seen a lot of encouragement from neighbors in the area. “They like the idea of someone taking an interest in their community,” he says. “When a neighborhood like this changes, you lose people.”
The museum also will host community events in the building as well as the outdoor space next to the mural to drum up support for the project. “We're trying to let people know that the train has left the station,” Harris says.
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