McCallie Walls Mural Project: World’s First Drive Through Gallery | Kevin Bate | TEDxUTChattanooga

McCallie Walls Mural Project: World’s First Drive Through Gallery | Kevin Bate | TEDxUTChattanooga

Translator: Anna Sumina
Reviewer: Denise RQ How many of you have seen something
beautiful on your drive into work lately? No? Thanks… (Laughter) Inspiring? Eye-catching? If you’re one of the 13, 000 people
who travel up and down McCallie every day, it’s been a while. Unfortunately, you’ve seen chalky paint, boarded up windows,
and my favorite: bad graffiti. (Laughter) How do I know this? Well, I don’t just
drive up and down McCallie Ave. every day; I live there. I’ve lived in Highland Park
for almost 10 years. And one morning,
I was stopped at a stop light, and I took a look at my neighborhood. And I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it
be better if this wasn’t ugly?” This was an area that didn’t just need
a neighborhood cleanup; it needed beautification. But how do you bring beauty
in an area like this? Where do you start? Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and what I’ve been doing
for the past few years. Afterwards, maybe you can tell me
why I didn’t think of this sooner. You probably wouldn’t know this
without me telling you, but I’m an artist and a painter. A couple of years ago I found out about
a mural project on the Southside: the Discoteca Demolition Project. I’d never really done a mural before,
but I wanted on this project. I did what any
self-respecting person would do when they asked me
if I had experience: I lied. (Laughter) Don’t worry, the project
was a huge success. My piece was actually very well-received, and it led to a lot of commissions
for me around the city. I have pieces on the North Shore, I’ve got a few pieces on MLK, and I also have some work
in businesses around town. Now, fast-forward a little bit. I’ve been doing murals for a while,
and it’s been a really good living for me, and a great creative outlet. But there is something bigger
on the horizon, and it’s coming right at me;
I can’t see it yet, but when it reaches me,
it will hit me like a 2 ton-heavy thing. (Laughter) I’m working on the North Shore. I’m painting pretty high up on a ladder, and I hear a noise behind me,
and I mean directly behind me. I pull out my ear buds, and I turn around, and there in the intersection
is a double-Decker bus. The bottom level is full of people
waving like crazy and taking pictures like they’re free. Upstairs, everybody is on their feet
pumping their fists and chanting, ‘Paint! Paint! Paint! Paint!
Paint! Paint! Paint!’ (Laughter) But that’s when it hit me. This kind of artwork doesn’t just change
the way that buildings look; it changes the way that people feel. You see where I’m heading
with this, right? OK, meanwhile back at my stop light. Now I’m thinking to myself, ‘Would this work in my neighborhood?’ It’s easy to get people psyched up when you’re in the hottest,
hippest area of Chattanooga. But can I get people this psyched up about
an area they’ve avoided for so long? Can do it with art? Well, I had to try. I wanted to take this traffic corridor
and turn it into an event for everybody who experienced it. Whether you were waiting for a bus, driving through,
or living in the neighborhood. A little bit of research turned up
dozens of projects where street art, urban art, public art of almost any kind had made a big difference
in areas all over the country. Wynwood Walls in Miami,
Living Walls in Atlanta, hell, the entire city of Philadelphia. So now I had all of these ugly buildings and a browser history
full of success stories. I knew that McCallie could be changed, and I felt like I could do it with art. So, now what? Later on, a reporter would phrase it
so much more eloquently than I could when she called it
“a unique transformative agent”. I would call it simply
The McCallie Walls Mural Project. First, I would recruit stellar artists
from around the city and pay them to work. Let me repeat that: I would pay the artists
to work on the project. I know, right? What a concept. Offering artists exposure
as compensation? Unacceptable. Exposure doesn’t put mac and cheese
on the table, am I right? Secondly, we’d build a sense of respect
for the art and the area by inviting people from the neighborhoods
to come and work with us. My thought was that if somebody
worked on the piece with us, they’d have a sense
of ownership in it, a sense of pride. They’d want to show that off. They’d be less likely to tolerate
somebody trashing it later on. Third, we’d document
our work and our progress on social media
and the traditional news media. We wanted everybody in Chattanooga
to know what we were doing on McCallie. We also thought we’d entice more painters, more volunteers, maybe some viewers. maybe even some more neighbors
and some businesses to the area too. Oh, and in the process,
we might put some art on the walls. Now, the framework for, as far as I know, the world’s first
drive-through gallery is in place. I pitched the idea of funding this project
to the MakeWork Foundation, and they honored us with a grant. And we went to work! Six artists, very few
creative restrictions, and the full support of out neighbors. And we did this. (Applause)
Yeah, absolutely. A little sidebar here: the artists
who worked on this blew me away. A lot of these people had
never done large-scale murals before. They lied to get on the project. (Laughter) Here’s some more. I wanted to
show you some slides, if you don’t mind. This is David and Kendrick’s piece.
David should be in the building somewhere. If you want to show him
a little bit of love, I don’t mind. (Applause) Once we started putting
paint on the walls, the response from the city
and from individuals was phenomenal. ArtsBuild, The UNFoundation, Causeway, The Tennessee Arts Commission, The Community Foundation
of Greater Chattanooga all graced us with grants. That’s mine, by the way. (Applause) Don’t clap, I’m not doing it for clapping.
I just want you to know. In addition to all of those foundations, EPB, The Highland Park
Neighborhood Association, and dozens of people volunteered with
and contributed to the project. People were really beginning
to get behind this thing. This, by the way,
is my favorite volunteer, my son. You can clap for him. (Applause) Just last month, Causeway brought
50 volunteers out to McCallie for one of their Cause Mobs. In just under three hours they did this. Do you know what that sign says? That sign says,
“Hey! Welcome to Highland Park!” The McCallie Walls Mural Projects
have become very popular with people. They’ve become the backdrops
for many things from senior portraits to rap videos. Usher did give us
a shout-out on Instagram. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a number
at the top of that page. It’s really close to 2 million. That’s 2 million pairs of eyes
that saw our work and our city. It just astounds me. So, our first year
has almost come to a close. What have we done?
What has the project accomplished? Well, if you’ve been up and down
McCallie, you’ve seen it. That stretch is cleaner
than it’s been in years. I know that, I’ve lived there. Of course, we’ve put
some great artwork on the walls, but what about the less tangible changes? Well, Ace Hardware started advertising
their paint across the street… (Laughter) Coincidence? Maybe. The building owners now come to us
and ask to be included in the project. Which is great, because now
I don’t have to go door-to-door, and I went door-to-door. Business owners from around
the city have called me to ask me about replicating
the project on their street. Organizations outside
of Chattanooga’s arts community are taking notice of this art project
and what it’s doing. We held a fundraiser a few months back
of the flying squirrel, you may have heard of these:
you invite your friends on a weeknight and they’ll give you a percentage
of their sales towards your project. We were told to expect
between 300 and 400 dollars. Not a bad take
for a couple of hours for us. We invited all of our friends
and all of our Facebook followers, and at the end of the night,
when all was said and done, we had raised 3,200 dollars. 3,200 dollars! That’s all money
that went in artists’ pockets. That’s money that paid rent,
money that bought supplies, money that bought
new computers, other equipment. Now, people, not just foundations,
are getting behind this project. While we work, neighbors
would come to us and talk with us. Talk about the murals:
what they liked, what they didn’t like. A lot of these neighbors
had become friends, and some of them
even collaborators on later murals. People tell me all the time now, “I went out of my way to drive down
McCallie to see what was new,” or “I brought my friends from out of town
down McCallie to see what was new.” I live in the neighborhood. It’s not uncommon for me to see carloads
of people pull up at the base of a mural, get out, take pictures,
take pictures in front of it, and walk up and down the avenue. The old fears of this area are subsiding. So, now what for the world’s
first drive-through gallery? Well, we still have some ugly walls. But fortunately, we have inspired artists, who have lots and lots of eye-catching and beautiful artwork
to go on those walls. Do you remember my earlier question? “Wouldn’t it be better
if this wasn’t ugly?” Of course the answer is yes. I just didn’t know how much better
until I saw these results. Who is it that said,
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever?” Wrong. Everybody who’s driven up and down
McCallie in the past year, that’s who. Thank you. (Applause)

4 thoughts on “McCallie Walls Mural Project: World’s First Drive Through Gallery | Kevin Bate | TEDxUTChattanooga

  1. Hey Kev – You didn't lie about experience, I remember murals you did back in the early 2000's.  I might even have some pics of them still!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *