Street Smarts: Murals Give Urban Landscapes a Bold New Look

There’s no need to step inside a gallery to look at art in Palm Beach County. Bold, bright, public murals can be found in unexpected and astonishing places. The back of a building comes alive with color, an empty alley is transformed into a beautiful, beckoning space where couples gather for wedding photos, the stairwell of a parking garage becomes a wild experiment in color.

There is nothing subtle about this art. These artists work big. Their art overpowers. Subtlety is for someone else.

“I love working big. For me, it’s easier than working small. Your whole body is part of it,” says Eduardo Mendieta, who has painted portraits of musicians on the wall of the Respectable Street nightclub in West Palm Beach, large banyan trees further east on Clematis Street and much, much more. “The painting sort of takes over because it’s surrounding you.”

Mendieta believes in the power that murals have to connect with people. “I’ve had people tag me on their wedding pictures because my mural is in the background,” the West Palm Beach resident says.

And he believes murals and public art have an important role to play in urban spaces. “I believe public art in general, whether it’s a sculpture or mural or anything, it gives art the chance to affect people in their everyday environment. When you have public art, it puts that out there and it not just helps artists and the artist community but gives something back to the community.”

Art can also help to bring a community closer together.

“I think art in general is a very important part of giving a place, a city, an identity,” says Raphael Clemente, executive director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority. “The DDA started using murals as a means to provide some warmth and some appreciation in areas where there was really nothing going on but they were still important parts of our downtown fabric.”

The first murals sponsored by the DDA were in locations between CityPlace and Clematis Street. “It was just to give some energy and some life back to those places,” Clemente says. “People started asking for them and we started collaborating with more artists.”

Large-scale murals can now be found on sides of buildings and inside the stairwells of parking garages throughout downtown West Palm Beach. Mendieta and a group of fellow mural artists have been commissioned to create a new work in the city’s Northwood neighborhood. For now, Clemente’s favorite is the Evernia Street parking garage with its two giant, glass-fronted stairwells. “It just explodes on the street at night. Everyone looks at it,” he says. “[With] mural art, street art, every one is a one-off creation, giving some originality and flair to a place.”

In the hands of artist Sharon Koskoff, murals can be used to create colorful learning environments. “Art is visual and that is a very important sense,” the Delray Beach resident explains. “If your school is positive and happy and interesting, you’re going to have those kinds of attitudes.”

Working with a team of volunteers from Art in the Alley, a group of artists who have used their art to revitalize alleyways and garbage cans in Delray Beach, Koskoff recently painted a mural in the courtyard of Delray Beach’s Pine Grove Elementary. The artists transformed the courtyard with bright and cheery murals of the sun, flowers, ocean waves, trees, manatees – there’s even a flamingo. When the students saw the results, their eyes lit up.

In Lake Worth, murals are engines for community redevelopment, infusing downtown neighborhoods with art and color. The LULA Lake Worth Mural Program began in 2011 and, four years later, compelling and captivating murals can be found throughout the city’s redevelopment area. These murals create jobs for artists, revitalize blighted buildings and strengthen ties within the community. And the art remains for everyone, resident and visitor, to enjoy.

In the Boynton Beach Arts District, located off West Industrial Avenue, murals sprawl across 80-foot and 20-foot walls and adorn the garage-like doors of the industrial bays that serve as artists’ studios.

The murals, which are as distinct as the artists who create them, have attracted lots of attention for BBAD since it opened in 2011. MTV’s cameras have rolled there. The murals have also provided stunning backdrops for individual music videos, exercise videos, family portraits, wedding photos, even a wedding itself, and tours stop by on a regular basis.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on here,” says artist Rolando Chang Barrero, who is also director of BBAD.

Local schools hold concerts there, the Palm Beach Symphony has performed and a local high school art club came by to create their own mural.

If the outside walls of the arts district were bare, would so much be happening? “I don’t think so,” Barrero says, bearing testament to the power of murals to amaze.

Find more public art in The Palm Beaches