What is SPARK?
The community SPARK events are a series of gatherings aimed at activating downtown Harlan and beginning the discussion about public art in Harlan County. This project grew directly out of the work of the Community Engagement Project led by Carrie Billett in the summer of 2017. The first SPARK event was held in December of 2017. Although this started out as a Harlan-centric project we quickly realized the need to incorporate voices from the Tri-Cities region. We've hosted five meetings so far. The SPARK events have engaged over 150 participants from across Harlan County.
The first SPARK event was held in Harlan on December 8, 2017. The evening included food, music, bonfires, and an art exhibit. This event served the double purpose of activating the downtown space and kicking off the mural design project.
Community members created and presented inspiration panels. These panels included images of flora/fauna, murals, visual art projects, inspirational quotes, and other images. Each participant presented their panel to the group and shared their thoughts about what type of mural they would like to see in Harlan.
This event was so successful that we wanted to repeat the process with Tri Cities community members. The second SPARK: VISUALIZE! was held in Cumberland on February 12. Community members again presented inspiration panels.
The content presented and vision for each region differed greatly. Harlan folks seemed more inspired by inspirational phrases that branded the downtown area while instilling a sense of pride. The Tri Cities folks focused on flora and fauna more.
The first SPARK meeting was an opportunity to envision (VISUALIZE) a Harlan County filled with public art. The second SPARK picked up that vision and presented and opportunity to practice making sample murals; an opportunity to get excited (ENERGIZED) about this process.
Robert Gipe facilitated this meeting. Gipe split participants into groups and challenged them to create a sample mural that included an statement, a question, or a command. Groups were encouraged to consider font, color, size, and placement of their design. Although we plan to create 5-6 murals throughout the county it is still vital that this process include collaboration.
The third spark event was an opportunity to report back to participants about the kinds of images, text, and designs that community members shared in previous meetings.
Robert Gipe facilitated this meeting and presented a power point about the ideas observed in the past Spark meetings.
Up until this point the Spark events have functioned as a community-wide mural strategy. The ideas and inspiration shared by community members will be used to inform the mural artists and designers we use. Many of the inspiration panels included historical images, images that incorporate the natural landscape, and images that highlight natural beauty or native species.
One important aspect of the murals will be telling our story or messaging. Gipe’s Appalachian Studies class came up with some sample messages [to left].
The next step in this process will be learning from other cities that have created a vibrant and thriving downtown area.
Pineville Main Street Director Jacob Roan joined us for the fourth SPARK meeting. This meeting was a joint meeting of the Harlan and Tri-Cities cohorts. Pineville has seen a great deal of success in the past few years. They have a thriving music scene, successful new restaurants and a beautiful downtown space. Roan is quick to impress that this work didn’t happen over night. Much of their success is due to the strategic plan that was development and implemented five years ago. Roan used this meeting to share various aspects of their success. Participants at this meeting included local community members, city council members, public officials, business owners, and people representing non-profit organizations.
Where we go from here
In addition to engaging community members in Harlan and Tri-Cities we have also used the SPARK model to engage students in Anne Fairchild’s Humanities class at Harlan County High School. This collaboration is laying the foundation for work we hope to complete during the summer and early fall to fulfill a GEAR UP grant through Berea College. The GEAR UP grant will include creating a mural in the Tri-Cities area with the help of HCHS students and collaboration with Pine Mountain Settlement School environmental program.
Harlan and Tri-Cities are both ready to create their first mural. The Harlan Mural was designed by Bob Howard and Harlan Tourism and Convention Commission staff. The mural will be placed along the old Napa Auto Parts store in Harlan across the parking lot from the Harlan Center. The mural will include a mountain scene creating an ombre effect and will use the phrase “We are resilient.” The Tri-Cities mural design will incorporate local flora and fauna and will also include a collaboration with staff at Pine Mountain Settlement School.
Artists Lacy Hale [Whitesburg] and Pam Meade [West Liberty] have been contracted to design the murals in collaboration with trainees during the summer of 2019. These projects will be part of the 2019 SEKYRP [Southeast Kentucky Revitalization Project] Design School supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission and Philcap.