R.J. Thompson wants to paint the town. As a board member of the nonprofit community development organization Bona Fide Bellevue, his mission is to get public murals on empty walls throughout the borough.
Earlier this year Thompson and Kent Kerr got community feedback on various aspects of Bellevue through research-based activities.
“We determined that Bellevue is a very creative place and there are many incredibly talented artisans here,” says Thompson, a resident since 2012 and director of the Mural Arts Program. “The community wanted to make that more apparent. A good way to do that is through murals; creating these permanently changed fixtures or areas.”
There already are a few spaces – donated by private property co-owners Scott Streit, John King and Christopher Driscoll – slated for some paint: a 10-foot-by-10-foot wall at 411 Lincoln Ave. and a 10-foot-by-12-foot wall of the little house at Revival on Lincoln. They’re highly visible brick canvases in the main business district.
To generate money for these projects, the organization launched an In Our Backyard campaign. The $2,098 it raised was matched by ArtPlace America. On Dec. 11, Bona Fide Bellevue will host an event at Revival on Lincoln to raise the remainder of its $7,000 goal. The online campaign ends Dec. 15.
Local artist Jennie Denton of Lamplight Creative has submitted two designs for murals celebrating Bellevue’s heritage. They have simple forms and basic colors, which will allow residents of all ages and skill levels to grab a paintbrush and lend a hand.
“We wanted to democratize this, so we’re taking a paint-by-numbers sort of approach,” Thompson says. “Through the construction of these murals, we want the community to be engaged in the work and take ownership of it.”
Once completed, Denton can sell prints and T-shirts bearing her design, with a portion of the proceeds coming back to Bona Fide Bellevue to fund additional murals. Potential sites include a retaining wall at Bayne Park on Balph Avenue, inside the Center of Bellevue church property, and walls at Northgate Junior/Senior High School and Bellevue Elementary School.
Thompson says the long-term goal of the project is to prove there’s a demand for community art — not just in Belleuve, but throughout the Greater Pittsburgh region. He’s involved in the Route 65 Corridor Study, a public examination into making the most of the 50-mile stretch of roadway.
Murals, he believes, will stimulate business growth in the communities dotting Route 65.
He sites a mural on an exterior wall of a coffee shop in Austin, Texas that reads “i love you so much.” Hundreds of natives and tourists alike pose in front of the romantic sentiment each year and they patronize nearby stores before and after snapping a selfie.
“If you’re visiting Austin, you get your picture taken there. It’s obligatory,” Thompson says. “Something so simple created such a memorable place and businesses sprang up around it.”