Making muralists: New public art project aims to teach mural-painting skills to 20 local artists

It all started awhile back, Jody Parmann says, when she was walking with her children through the Military Street tunnel at the Blue Water River Walk. Then covered in graffiti, Parmann grew annoyed when one of her kids took to reading some choice four-letter words out loud.

You might know Parmann from the Raven Café, which she owns with her family. Or you might know her from her mission to facilitate more public art projects throughout downtown. It was her efforts that led to the Michigan Mutual mural last summer, for example.

It was after that River Walk stroll when an employee at the Raven, who is also an artist, mentioned how they wanted to learn more about painting murals.

The idea to transform the Military Street tunnel began to take shape.

“I want more public art in Port Huron. When looking for funding for projects, I’m presenting the same two muralists every time; there’s only a couple in town,” Parmann says.

“So what if I make more muralists?”

Parmann reached out to David Stoneberg, the muralist responsible for painting the Michigan Mutual piece — among many others around town. She asked if he’d be willing to help teach local artists mural-painting skills. Apparently comfortable with his workload, Stoneberg agreed.

“He was surprisingly enthusiastic about it,” Parmann says. “He said that he’s always wanted to teach.”

Parmann got the Port Huron Parks & Recreation Department on board, as well as city manager James Freed. The tunnel was scrubbed of graffiti and repainted, the renovation of which includes new lighting, landscaping, and cameras.

[Read more about the renovations.]

After securing funding from the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and its Blue Water Arts Committee, Parmann is now ready to train 20 local artists how to paint murals.

Putting ‘more tools in their tool kits’

The application window for the Making Muralists project is officially open. Parmann is seeking out 20 local artists to help paint the interior of the tunnel, each of whom will receive a roughly 7 ft. by 7 ft. section to create their works of art. Conversational prompts will be staggered between each mural.

An example of conversational prompts that could complement the mural project.

Artist David Stoneberg is working with Parmann to create a muralists’ guide, teaching artists how to quote jobs, which paint works best on which surfaces, and other tips. He’ll also be on hand while the artists are painting.

What the artists paint is up to them.

“I’m open to whatever their style is,” Parmann says about the application process. “I just want them to be comfortable and excited. Artists tend not to get excited about being something that they’re not.”

Local artists have until June 30 to apply, an application process that requires an artist’s name, their mailing address — artists must live in either St. Clair or Sanilac counties — and examples of their past work. The painting event itself will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11 and 12.

Selected artists will be provided painting supplies and a $100 payment for their work.

“The ultimate goal is to teach local artists how to be muralists, and for more public art in the community,” Parmann says. “Now they’ll have more tools in their tool kits.”

Learn more about the Making Muralists application process online.
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