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Refreshing public murals - and civic pride

Alan Flurry

Lamar Dodd School of Art professor Joe Norman has taken art students into the world of public art commissions with the creation and restoration of murals and wall signs across the state:

Joseph Norman’s work graces the collections of such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His pieces have been acquired by the Smithsonian—oh, and also by Oprah. But these days, Norman is giving art students the opportunity to create work that can be seen well beyond the walls of a museum.

A professor of painting and drawing at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art, Norman directs Color the World Bright, a program to create and restore public murals. And while his decades of experience in the highest echelons of the art world have made him no stranger to the questions and criticisms that can accompany art, it’s an especially important lesson in the case of murals.

“When you’re painting a wall, everyone who lays eyes on it has an opinion,” he says. “A mural becomes a matter of civic pride, with everyone dropping by.”

Consider the case of a mural in Rutledge, Georgia. Never Forgotten, commissioned by the Rutledge Garden Club and completed in 2017, honors veterans. Norman and the students strove to depict a diverse collection of servicemen and women. Some sponsors of the project wanted to include a Confederate veteran, a position opposed by the students. The solution: a soldier in silhouette, allowing passersby to project their own take.

“We have a simple philosophy, to do good and bring people together,” Norman says. “Murals can transform a community.”

Indeed. The power of collective identity particular to public art works knows no boundaries. Fantastic job by Norman in sharing this knowledge and experience with students, cultivating a new outreach mechanism to localities far from UGA, and helping them instill and refresh their own sense of place.

Image: UGA students restore a vintage Chero-Cola sign at Oconee Brewing Company in Greensboro, Georgia. Photo by Taylor Lamm.

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